Chapter V: Minister Kuzreo

As Astera faded, Ami came to again. Blind with frustration and anger she managed to stand and launch herself at the fading image of Astera only to fall face first into the sand sobbing and choking on her tears.

Meanwhile the other girls had begun trying their luck with the Minister; they were doing little damage and exerting much energy. It seemed as though all of their attacks were being deflected somehow. Ami crawled over to Usagi who had finally sat up and began to comprehend the situation.

"Usagi!" Ami pleaded, "Transform! Why haven't you fought them?" Usagi looked up into her friend's eyes as fresh tears began to well.

"Mamo-chan," she said as she choked on those tears, "he doesn't care any more!" She did not know if these tears were of pain of the heart or body but Ami could see she was in both. Ami checked her own selfish pain and focused on her friend.

"Usagi!" she shook her harshly, "you have to fight!" She stood, stepped back, and held up her pen, "Mercury Star Power, MAKE UP!" Her school uniform faded and she surrounded herself in a cloak of water that became her senshi outfit.

"Listen Usagi," she said in a more soothing voice after she transformed, "we have to stick together." She nodded and turned to the fight. She paused, "Come when you can, but remember, we need you." Sailor Mercury ran off to help the others.

"Burning Malanda!" Sailor Mars shouted as ringlets of fire shot at Minister Kuzreo. He easily dogged them and returned fire with fire, as the mandalas seemed to reverse direction and amass together to form a giant ball of cosmic proportions. Mars jumped out of the way just in time.

"Is that all you've got girls?" he laughed.

"What do you say, Venus?" Jupiter asked, "Lets show him what we've got!"

Venus nodded, "Venus Love Me Chain!"

"Sparkling Wide Pressure!"

A chain of hearts surrounded by electric energy buzzed through the air and caught Kuzreo in the leg. He stumbled and tripped, falling backwards, but he caught himself with his massive arms and flipped over once and landed upright.

"Mercury Bubbles!" Catching his balance on his good foot, the Minister then found himself in a misty fog in which he could not make out his own hand from an enemy. There in the haze the four female warriors stood poised for their next move but none of them could have been prepared for Minister Kuzreo's next incantation. A smile spread over his face as the fog began to lift. His olive eyes flashed silver as he turned his gaze upon the girls.

"I hope you've enjoyed out time together," he said, "Now, I'm afraid, we will have to part."

Sailor Mercury reached for her earring and brought across her visor just in time to see a surge of invisible energy wrap around her. She was stuck in that position, a look of shock plastered on her face.

Sailor Venus was beside her with an arm raised to call upon her crescent beam but no words were uttered from her still, gaping mouth.

Sailor Jupiter's eyes were shut and her arms folded across her chest. A small spark of lightning sat frozen in time above her tiara.

Sailor Mars stood frozen over Usagi, her mouth hung open in mid-scold and her hand raised at a threatening position.

All around was silence.

Usagi's eyes shifted from Rei to the others. Slowly, she stood and walked among the motionless figures of her friends. She inspected the spark above Jupiter's head and turned to Kuzreo. "Put them back," she said emotionlessly.

He laughed, "You'll have to excuse me, I'm just taking orders."

She looked from girl to girl seeing no signs of life in them; they looked real but it was the kind of real you would expect of a wax museum or art show. She didn't understand what he'd done.

He noticed this, "I have stopped all molecular motion in their bodies," he explained. "They are totally vulnerable. Soon they will die." Usagi sat in the sand. She did not want to fight again. She wanted to know why Mamoru was not in love with her any more. She wanted to know what she had done. How could he fight their destiny?

"This is going to be a beautiful collection, don't you agree?" Minister Kuzreo was very pleased. He hoped to gain favor in the mistress' eyes before the other Minister was roused.

"However," he hissed, "there are only four here and I believe that the collection calls for five." Usagi still move, she just sat staring at her feet in the sand.

"Please, just let them go," she mumbled. "I don't want to fight." She looked up with the same stoic face. In reality, she was filled with emotion and she wanted to let it all out but there was so much it was over bearing. It was always this way, always about her friends protecting her. "Just take me. I know that's what you want. I don't want to fight."

The Minister smiled and his eyes grew bright with a silver glow. Usagi pulled her eyes tightly shut and waited for pain but no pain came. Instead, she heard the Minister let out a terrible cry of shock. She opened her eyes and saw a trail of roses from just in front of her all the way to the Minister's foot. The last was wedged deeply in his flesh, a think line of blood running down the side of his boot.

"Mamo-chan," Usagi looked up to the slide where a man in a black tux and cape stood. He skidded down the slope on his feet and landed beside Usagi then knelt down to her.

"Usako," he said quietly, "are you all right?" She nodded. He stood and turned his attention to the matter at hand.

"What do you want from them?" he asked the Minister. His hand was wrapped tight on his cane; his knuckles were white under his gloves.

"I want nothing to do with them," he motioned towards the frozen soldiers, "I just want her." Usagi stood up finally. Her mind was racing; he was here. “He still cares,” she thought. “Was I wrong?”

"If you are all that stands in my way." Kuzreo added, "You will be taken care of immediately." With that he unsheathed a gleaming sword. The silver hilt encased seven topaz crystals and he held it with exceptional skill.

Tuxedo Mask gripped his cane still inside his cape. “This will do nothing,” he thought, “Usagi, I need you.” He began to back up taking care to keep focused on the Minister who followed keeping the distance between them.

"Are we running away from a fight?" Kuzreo asked as Tuxedo Mask reached Usagi.

"Usagi," he said to her, "transform." For a second his eyes darted to look at her, but that second was long enough. Usagi saw the concern in his eyes turn quick to pain as the shinning sword sliced into his shoulder. He winced in agony as he fell forward to his knees with a cry.

Usagi fell beside him, afraid and suddenly alert. "It's okay," he said clasping his shoulder. The crimson life seeped through his fingers in thin lines soaking into the black of his jacket. Usagi stood and turned to Kuzreo who was pleasantly pleased with his warning shot. The anger on Usagi's face was now clear and she clutched the brooch on her chest.

"Next time, I won't miss on purpose," he sneered. "Allow me to add you to my collection now." His eyes glowed bright and Usagi found she was unable to move. Kuzreo laughed victoriously but a faint sound behind him made him turn. As he did he was confronted with a right hook to the jaw.

Staggering back, he saw his assailant fall to the ground once again. Astera's kiss had rendered Derek an empty shell but he had found a small bit of energy deep within himself. It had been just enough to see Ami and the other's transform, and just enough to help.

The blow to the Minister had been quite weak indeed, but it served to distract his attention from his power and the girls were able to break through the spell.

"Crescent Beam Shower!" Venus continued as if no time had passed.

"Fire Soul Bird!" Mars shouted without skipping a beat.

A huge burst of combined energy caught Kuzreo as he turned and he let out a painful cry. Usagi's brooch opened and the crystal shown brilliantly as it pulsed with light. The wings around Usagi's naked body spread and ribbons surrounded her body. Her white gloves formed from these ribbons and her red-heeled boots as well. Her blue skirt appeared and the red bow on her lower back. A golden crescent moon flashed on her forehead of a moment before her tiara appeared and her crystal blue eyes opened with determination. All this happened in less than a second and the Pretty Suited Solider Sailor Moon held her scepter at the threatening angle.

"You've harmed my friends," she said, "you've hurt my lover," she silently prayed for Tuxedo Mask, "and you will be punished," She said with an air of authority.

"Oh, please, Sailor Moon," Minister Kuzreo said with a twinge of pain and a note of sarcasm. "You are hardly a match for the Mistress."

"The mistress? You mean Sakura?" Sailor Moon asked.

"Sailor Astera will destroy you," he clutched his sword but his strength was leaving him.

"I've heard enough," Sailor Moon said, "I don't know why you are here but your evil is not welcomed!" Realizing he was now outnumbered, injured, and face to face with the future terrifying Now-Queen Serenity the Minister cried out like a child to Astera. She was nowhere in sight.

The scepter swung around Sailor Moon and a massive amount of energy shot out from the end of it. As the attack was about to hit Kuzreo, Sailor Moon's anger cleared in a sudden revelation! Minister Kuzreo was only a pawn of Astera's! He had taken over Toroku's body!

"NO! STOP!" She cried out running after the attack. But it was too late. The staggering figure was struck down in mid howl. As the lifeless body of Kuzreo struck the ground, the image faded. There in its place lay a pale, young faced boy. Mamoru looked up and thought his mind was surely fooling him.

"Toroku..." he called as he staggered to his friend's side. "Toroku!" He shouted in fear as he fell to the dead boy's body. Sailor Moon and the other watched him weep silently as a red rose appeared upon his friend’s chest.

Sailor Mercury could not bear to watch and turned away. How could it have been avoided? Her eyes fell upon the slab of cement where Derek had been lying after his heroic stand. She gasped and looked around nervously but he was nowhere to be seen. Something was shinning on the ground near the place where he had been. Sailor Mercury ran over to it and crouched to pick up the silver ring. A bright sapphire gleamed in the center of the band.

She read the inscription on the inside of the band, "For my Little Ami-chan. I love you, Eternally."

Chapter VI: Minister Thyrei