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 II


Minako was sipping on her second deluxe triple chocolate milkshake when she saw Usagi come into the room. She waved enthusiastically to show Usagi where they were seated, even though they always sat at the same corner booth. Instead of running over with enthusiasm to meet her friends, today, Usagi looked a little withdrawn.

"Oh uh," Rei sighed, "another fight with Mamoru?"

Ami hushed her as Usagi reached the table and took her usual spot on the right side of the bench against the window. She looked at the others passively, then rested her face in her hands with a sigh.

"Usagi, the usual?" Unazaki said, as she cleared some plates off the table in the booth beside theirs.

Usagi shook her head, "No thanks, maybe in a while." Then turning to the others she added, "I thought you all had plans today?"

"Well it's difficult to garden in the rain," Makoto sighed, gazing at the clouds outside. She was still dressed in her clothes for outdoor work. Her wide brimmed hat sat on the bench beside her, useless without sun to shade.

"I was going to an street fashion show in Harajuku, but its been cancelled," Minako added.

"I didn't have any plans," Rei said, slightly irritably, "other than getting away from Grampa who is using the poor weather as an excuse to clean out the bath house." She rolled her eyes and slouched a bit on the bench. "Not my idea of a fun afternoon."

"What about you Ami?" Usagi asked. "Weren't you planning on starting your volunteer work at your mom's hospital today?"

"Yes," Ami smiled, "but the training has been postponed because the instructing nurse fell ill." Then she added, with concern, "Are you all right today? You seem a bit down."

Usagi sat back and stared and her fists, balled up in her lap. After a moment or two, she looked up with concern all over her face. "To be honest, everyone, there's something I have to tell you about."

She proceeded to explain to her friends the situation that had occurred at the lecture hall. Each of her friends interjected at various points to clarify, and in the end, they were all sitting around her with expressions of shock.

"Well, the planets really did exist," Ami suggested, "Nemesis and Astera. So, perhaps Miss von Frauke has just done her research well."

"I don't know," Makoto said with suspicion in her voice, "it seems a big coincidence to me."

"But these kinds of theories about hidden or missing planets in our solar system have been around for ages. Conspiracy theorists love this stuff." Ami seemed to have a point as she relayed information to the group about various theories on hypothetical planets. "It just seems like Miss von Frauke has bought into the hype."

"But Ami, don't you think it strange that this woman would know so much about a planet that was tied to our recent enemy? It just screams sneaky to me." Minako had consumed the rest of her milkshake with the excitement of the story and didn't seem to notice that she just slurping up chocolate flavored air.

Rei placed a reassuring hand on Usagi's shoulder and smiled. "I'll look into it, okay? If there is any tie to Sailor Astera, I should be able to sense it."

"Thanks Rei," Usagi said sincerely. Business matters aside, Usagi was delighted to see Unazaki coming over with a delectable slice of chocolate cherry ice cream cake. No one seemed to notice the small amethyst crystal on Usagi's necklace as it pulsed with a soft violet light.

_______________________________

"Where are you?" the voice kept asking over and over again. At first it had sounded distant and muted, like a mumbled question underwater. For some undeterminable amount of time, the voice had steadily increased in clarity. Now, she could here it clearly around her as it invaded her peace.

Even if the girl had wanted to wake from her blissful rest to answer the question, its unlikely she could have answered it truthfully. She'd found comfort in this place, but she did not know where she was. There was warmth here, and a feeling of belonging. The rhythm of life near by kept her company and she felt no fear or want. She kept her eyes comfortably closed not knowing if they could even be opened.

"Where are you?" the voice persisted, growing more aggressive. The girl tried to ignore it. If she did not know the answer, what was the point in replying? Where she was and who she was had never had any bearing on her here.

However, the atmosphere of her solitude was becoming diluted, and with it, her resolve. Even with her eyes closed, she could sense darkness growing around her and feel the warm sensation slipping away like the last moments of a fantastic dream. For the first time since she had awoken here, she felt a sense of urgency growing.

"Where are you?"

This time the voice echoed loudly in her mind, coming from within. Its fierceness had an undertone that startled the girl; there was concern there as well. Someone was searching for her and they were reaching out to her desperately. Suddenly it seemed like her time in this place had been spent waiting for this call. For some reason it was now very important that she answer.

When the girl opened her eyes, the light filtering into them was so brilliant that she could see nothing at all. As her eyes adjusted, she struggled to discern her location. Nothing she saw seemed to fit. This long alleyway between two brick buildings was cool and dark but completely unrecognizable. It was still daytime, but the sun was setting.

I don't know where I am," she said, half to herself and half to answer the question.

"I'm sorry?" another voice said. "Are you lost?"

The girl turned to see an older woman placing a bag of trash out in the alleyway beside her back door. The woman seemed concerned, but there was no recognition in her face. This woman couldn't have been the one calling to her.

"It's nothing," the girl said with a wave of her hand, "just a wrong turn."

The girl thanked the woman who then retreated into her home with a smile. Turning out of the alley, she made her way for a few blocks, looking into the faces of passers by who avoided her probing violet eyes. She had no idea who had been calling to her so forcefully, and now that she was in this city among so many strangers, she became nervous and unsure. These thoughts swirled around in her mind and she became dizzy and senseless in the fading daylight. As she felt herself falling forward in a daze, she caught a glimpse of a young blonde girl in pink walking away from her. The girl turned to look before crossing the street and the light from the setting sun glinted off a silver chain around her neck. The reflection off that chain spoke to the nameless girl, but she could not force herself forward any farther. The curl of the long blonde pigtails was the last thing she saw as she slipped to her knees and fell into cold darkness.

______________________

Luna caught up with Usagi at the shrine later on. She and her friends had spent the afternoon trying to remain carefree, but a sudden burden seemed to have settled on them with the unsettling arrival of the foreign lecturer. Rei had spent some time in mediitation while the others had tried to discuss normal, everyday things.

When Luna arrived, Usagi filled her in on the details.

"It is troubling," she replied. "Doesn't seem at all like a coincidence."

Usagi nodded in agreement as she rolled the amethyst crystal back and forth between her forefinger and thumb. Rei hadn't come up with anything pertinent by dinner time, and so the girls decided to venture home. Luna and Usagi walked together in silence; the latter trying to shake off the feeling that she was missing something important. Mamoru was waiting near Usagi's house when they arrived.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" she asked after greeting him. Mamoru's eyes looked red and heavy and his face was strained with emotion that she could see. Luna sensed the tension and felt instinctively that it was best to move on.

"I will see you inside," she said, then scurried off, leaving the couple alone. Mamoru stayed leaning up against the wall beside Usagi's house. The air was very still and silent around them and Usagi moved closer to him to wrap her arms around his waist tightly. She inhaled his scent. Mamoru was never one for showing too much emotion, but there were feelings inside him that were welling up in his throat. Of course, Usagi could feel his pain.

"It's all right," she said in a comforting voice. "Do you remember everything now?" she could feel him nod. He was silent for a few more minutes as he tried to gain control of his voice.

"I found out something else today," he said, "about that lecturer. She is staying in a nearby hotel, only a few minutes from the university. I got the address."

"How did you find her?" Usagi asked as she pulled away to look into his face.

"To be honest, it was a little strange," he said. "After the lecture I went to the skating rink to try and recall everything." He paused and Usagi grasped his hand tightly. "When I left, I was full of so many thoughts, so much emotion. I went home to try and sort it all out. This note was on the steps to my apartment. I don't know why I picked it up," he said, "but I could sense something from it." He pulled out a small scrap of paper, typed, with an address and room number. "I checked it out right away. The hotel says no one is registered as staying in that room, but I saw her go into the building as I was leaving," he said, "the keycard she used had this room number on it."

Usagi frowned. This woman was more and more suspicious.

"And I could sense something from her as she passed," he said. "Only, I don't think she noticed me. She was very upset, I could feel it. It chilled me."

"There must be a connection," Usagi sighed. "I don't want to believe it, but there's just too much going on around her."

"I didn't stick around," he said. "I wanted to come and let you know about this. Maybe we should look into that hotel some more. Their records are obviously being altered."

Usagi agreed and told Mamoru about the conversation at Crown. They agreed that tomorrow they would lay everything out and decide on the best course of action. Their goodbye embrace was prolonged by a sense of inevitable separation which both longed to avoid. Long shadows split the street into light and dark stripes, mirroring the strips of clearing clouds turning orange in the light of the setting sun.

"If something does happen, it won't happen the same way this time," she said, giving voice to their similar concerns. "I won't let it." As she held him, she felt a warmth issuing from the crystal on her chest.

_______________________

Miss Anya von Faulk was, moments later, ripping a delicate hair tie from her dense, black hair and aggressively hurling it across a rich looking hotel room. Her eyes, burned with frustration as she dragged a brush through her hair, knuckles blanched with the anger of her grip.

"Why is this happening?" she said to her own furious reflection. She was still oblivious to the sarcasm of the reporters. In her heart, she could care less what these people thought of her. Only one thing truly mattered to her at that moment, her motivation for continuing this facade of a lecture series: somewhere in Tokyo her sister was waiting for her. Her beautiful, powerfully dark sister with unmatched rage and passion for revenge was somewhere nearby. "I must find her," Anya said, pausing to examine the knotted strands caught in the brush bristles.

She changed into night clothing and moved to the bedside, sinking into the plush comforter. These lectures had all been planned carefully to alert her sister to her presence. Anya had waited three years in the protective sanctuary her sister had left her in, waiting for the return of Astera. But she had not come back, and time had passed. Anya could not thing of a foreseeable reason why Astera had not yet appeared, then or now. Breaking her promise to her sister, she left the sanctuary to go to the one place she knew her sister had gone, this city. Still, Astera did not appear, and Anya was practically screaming her name.

Frustrated, she found sleep would not come easily. She lay in her comfortable bed glaring up, riled at everything. The light from the city played on the textured ceiling, creating an artificial star field. Glinting lights of the solar system - how long had it been since she had seen her home? And now, to know that she could never see it again, that is was gone, demolished in an instant. It was as if her roots had been torn away. That dark moon Nemesis and her peaceful sanctuary could not have compared to the glory of the planet Astera. Anya rolled on her side, pressing her eyes shut tightly to hold back angry, threatening tears.

Her sister had to be alive, somewhere in Tokyo. Sailor Astera was all Anya had now, she all that was left of home. Shuttering, Anya reached out and clasped her hand around a small obsidian stone. It's cool surface released a calm over her, steadying her nerves and pushing the tension from her mind. It became clear to her what her next move must be. The power given to her by her gracious sister and father had allowed her to survive, to follow in her sister's footsteps. The time had come for her to take up the sword of revenge for every unfair hand they had been dealt. It was her time to rise.

Pushing the covers aside, Anya walked to the balcony slider and pushed it back. The sun had just dipped below the horizon and the dying light was fading fast. The chill night air wrapped around her arms and legs, lifting her hair and causing her skin to prickle with alertness. Far below her, the city buzzed with the growing night life. Energy was rising within Anya as well, a pulsing ebb and flow of power she could feel flowing from her right hand clutched around the obsidian stone. She stepped up and stood unnaturally, effortlessly on the thin steel rail of the balcony. She closed her eyes as a sapphire flame ripped open around her hand and rapidly engulfed her whole body, shredding away her night clothes and lighting her skin with an ethereal, burning blue glow. Shifting her weight slightly, she slipped from the balcony rail, a blazing blue fireball plummeting down, reflected in the surface of the building beside her.

When her eyes flashed open, the flames around her erupted with tremendous fury, blasting some of the nearby windows into fragments as she seared past them. People on the street screamed and ran from the descending fireball, and as she neared the ground, Anya released a rancorous laughter tinged with the power of hatred. Its sound echoed eerily around the city as the fireball exploded in a supernova of bright blue light.

Sailor Obsidia had risen.

____________________________

It's really dark here, and I feel like I can't take in a full breath. I hear faded voices around me, but I don't understand them and I can't seem focus enough to try harder. My chest feels heavy and my limbs refuse to move; there is nothing I can do. As I drift in and out of consciousness, I begin to see visions of a desolate planet, dark and barren. "Where is this place?" I ask myself, floating full of a dark sensation. There are shadows of figures moving around me, shouting and screaming. Is this the end of everything? Are they fleeing for their lives? When I see the explosion, it blinds me. But this is a dream; I'm not really seeing this. When the white light fades, there is nothing left but chunks of cooling rock, drifting aimlessly in the space where that planet had once been. I am floating cold and alone.

I move back into semi-consciousness and I hear a soft, sweet voice telling me that I am safe. It assures me that I will be taken care of and urges me to rest. I feel obliged to follow the kind instructions, so I drift again into the darkness. This time, there is a man standing before me, but he is little more than a mirage. As I try to focus on him, I realize I can see through him. There is a young girl at his feet unconscious, her deep velvety hair spilling all around her. Something warm and violet is glowing above her chest. I feel sorry for her; there's something painful in her situation that I can connect to. I want to help, but I am drawn away from the scene by some unseen hand.

In my new darkness I hear a woman laughing maniacally. Once again, I cannot open my eyes, but I feel the delicate slipping of cold thin hands along my shoulders. They grasp me and shake me viciously, violently thrashing me around against my will. I try to scream and tell her to stop, but I find that my voice makes no sound in this place. She won't stop the shaking, I realize. She's hurting me, and I am terrified.

_________________________________

When Usagi burst through the doors at Hiwaka shrine, Rei, Ami, Minako and Makoto all jumped to their feet. Usagi had called them all in a panic only moments before. Even in the middle of the night, they were there for her.

"Usagi! What happened?" Ami asked as Makoto moved towards her friend to support the blonde as she caught her breath. Holding her hand out towards Rei, Usagi passed the silver chain to the priestess and collapsed to the floor. Minako rushed to get a glass of water for Usagi while Rei examined the artifact Usagi had presented to her.

"This is the necklace you've been wearing lately, right?" she asked.

"It's the stone you found after the battle at the ice rink," Makoto added.

Usagi nodded, slowly regaining her composure. "Just now," she said, "it shone brilliantly with a bright purple light, and it got so hot I broke the chain pulling it off." Usagi pulled down the collar of her top revealing a small, red burn where the stone had been resting. She told the others that after she tore the necklace off, she had dropped it to the ground where it burst into blue flames. "After the fire died out, a beautiful purple light lifted up from the crystal and flew out away from me faster than I could follow! I'm so worried. Does this mean that she will return?"

The stone was now cold and dim in Rei's hands, but she turned it over and over trying to sense something from its dead core.

Minako had come back in to catch the end of Usagi's story. "Sailor Astera couldn't come back evil though, could she? You told us you saw her healed."

"I did," Usagi said after a grateful gulp of water. "But those flames! There was no good in that. There is definitely something wrong here, I know it now. I really didn't want it to be true!"

For a moment, all five girls remained silently focused on the stone in Rei's hand. They all had vague memories of the battle with Astera, but most of them were supplemented by Usagi's explanations of what had happened. The stone she had found, they had assumed, must have been a fragment of the amethyst crystal Astera had used as a weapon. It was Ami that had originally determined the crystal to be the source of Astera's true spirit. But Usagi couldn't help but wonder if what she saw had been real. Could they be sure the Sailor Astera that left the battleground reborn would remain a new soldier of peace?

"I just can't believe she would come back as our enemy," Usagi said, shaking her head with tears in her eyes, "Not after everything." Her voice faded away as she recalled the losses of the fight. Even though in the end, everyone had been saved, the pain had really been too much. Rei moved closer to Usagi and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I've done some readings but so far nothing concrete has turned up," she said. "But I am confident this will help me."

"In the meantime, we should do some serious fieldwork," Ami said.

"That's right," Minako added, "we should start with the Anya woman Usagi met earlier today."

"Mamoru found out where she's staying," Usagi told them. She filled them in on what he had seen.

"Isn't that suspicious as well?" Ami asked. "A note just showed up at his apartment?"

Minako nodded in agreement. "It could be a trap," she said, chewing on her fingernail.

They considered this for a moment before Makoto broke the silence. "Let's find out when her next lecture is so we can investigate her from a distance."

"I've already looked into it," Ami said. "There's a lecture scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. Some of us should go check it out." "Usagi and I will go," Makoto said. "Right?" Usagi nodded.

"Me too," Rei added, "it will give me a chance to get a close up impression of her."

"I will try to dig up some more information on her background," Minako said. "Since there is some celebrity surrounding her visits, there ought to be some details I can scrounge up on what she's been doing."

Once again, the calm collective sense of resolution from her friends made Usagi feel they could face any trouble that may lay ahead. As she listened to their developing plans, she became increasingly hopeful this problem could be solved swiftly. The girls agreed to meet up after some sleep before branching out with their plans. Ami would be around later in the afternoon because of her volunteer work.

"You know how to reach me if something comes up," she said, holding up her communicator. Minako and Makoto agreed to walk Usagi home while Rei made plans to spend the rest of the night searching the flames for answers. Usagi shivered in the evening air as they descended the temple steps.

Chapter Three