written by Patrick Drazen
using characters created by Naoko Takeuchi and others associated with
the manga and anime “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon”
Chapter 1: “An Unusual Summer Begins! A Cat and an Apprentice Arrive!”
Tsukino Usagi had gone to the docks so many times she was sure she could have done it in her sleep. She loved the sights, the smells, the noise, the nonstop activity, and couldn’t imagine how it could be any other way. The men there were of every age, from teenage to ancient, and their looks ranged from god-handsome to dog-ugly. Not that her heart could ever stray from her beloved Mamo-chan; there was no chance of that. Still, one can’t help but notice certain things.
Especially in summer. Edo was the worst then; hot and steamy and humid, at least when the rain wasn’t coming down by the bucketful. Still, in the middle of it all, the docks were full of men working wooden ships of every size, moving cargo on and off on their backs or, in some rare cases, using draft animals. In high summer most of them would be stripped down to their fundoshi loincloths. That’s when her mother spoke most sharply against going to the docks. “Remember that your father is a samurai for a respected daimyo.” Usagi knew that ‘respected’ meant that Kuruda, the daimyo who retained Tsukino, was not so big and not so powerful, but had had the good sense (or good fortune) to ally himself with Tokugawa. As long as the shogunate didn’t change hands again, as it had so often the last few years, the daimyo was secure, which meant that Usagi’s father was employed. She knew her family was better off than many, especially in the countryside.
“Mind what I say, Usagi,” her mother would go on. “Those dockworkers aren’t fit company for a respectable girl. They’re only too anxious to teach you more than you want to know. Ask your grandmother if you don’t believe me.” Usagi nodded and bowed to her mother and went down to the docks anyway. What did mama know? When the work was hardest and time was short, the last thing a dockworker wanted was to fight with an uncooperative 14-year-old girl. There were plenty of other girls around offering—or even selling—that kind of fun. And if things did get a little scary, she could always find Mamo-chan, and count on his protection.
And even if he wasn’t there, something wonderful was always happening. Crates of fragrant tea from China passed through the port, with a smell that went right through the bags and boxes and made Usagi dizzy with delight. There were bolts of silk, barrels of sake, planks of lumber, bales and bales of rice, even the occasional herd of oxen or pigs. Once in a while something huge or heavy or just plain strange would arrive on one of the tall alien ships from Europe—but that was happening less and less often lately. Tokugawa Ieyasu had become shogun two years earlier, and the visits by western ships and western people, including the crazy western priests, had dropped off almost immediately.
She’d heard one of those priests one time trying to speak Japanese, and had to run out of the building because of an uncontrollable laughing attack. The priest spoke the language well enough, except for one word: the word for God. He tried to pronounce it “kami”, but it kept coming out “kame”—the tortoise. Here he was giving a sermon that a tortoise created the universe, that the tortoise is good and powerful—I couldn’t help myself, Usagi reflected. Besides, if something’s funny, why shouldn’t we laugh? Just because father’s a samurai, we don’t have to pretend to be so serious all the time.
She rounded the corner of a shed, and saw the building owned by Chiba the rice merchant. And there he was, in front:
“MAMO-CHAAAAN!!” echoed a dozen stevedores in high girlish voices.
Her beloved, Chiba Mamoru, was sitting on top of a bale of rice, laughing along with the stevedores, not embarrassed by Usagi’s attention or the jokes about it. He was counting the cargo as it went onto another ship from the warehouse. The family rice brokerage was fairly successful, growing a little bit every year. Not like those crazy speculators down in Osaka; they were gamblers, just as likely to lose everything as to make a fortune in a given year.
She sat herself down on an adjacent bale and just watched Mamoru for a minute. He had taken to smoking a pipe lately, maybe trying to look older than his eighteen years. In any case, he did all right as long as he just puffed at it absent-mindedly; any long sustained draw would send him into a coughing fit, which never failed to amuse the older men on the docks.
Usagi didn’t mind. She cared too much about Mamoru to ever laugh at him—well, hardly ever. Sometimes some odd thing about him would just strike her as funny, and she’d laugh until tears came to her eyes. She couldn’t help it; when she was amused she laughed; when she was sad she cried; when she was bothered she complained. As if she never heard of the word decorum.
At least today she was behaving herself, watching as Mamoru counted the bales of rice, noted the numbers on a piece of paper, then checked the calculations with an abacus. Finally, he put down the paper and turned to her. “Aren’t you supposed to be studying now?”
“Study what? Flower arranging? I think these flowers are much prettier than anything I could come up with.” She got onto her feet, spinning in place and showing off the floral design on her light silk kimono. Unfortunately, she took one too many spins, tripped over her own feet and fell on her face.
The dockworkers chuckled, but not too loudly. They didn’t want to have too much fun at Mamoru’s expense. He just reached a hand out to help Usagi to her feet.
“Usako, who don’t you keep up with your studies? You know your parents want to be able to offer you as an accomplished young lady.”
“But why should I? You like me the way I am, don’t you?”
“But someone like you should know so many things. Flower arranging, music, dance…”
“But I’m no good at any of that!” She sat herself back on the bale of rice.
“How do you know when you don’t even try? You’re not a child; girls younger than you get engaged every day. Someday soon, your family will show you off during an omiai dinner. What are they going to say?”
“I’ll tell them that my match has already been made by destiny, thank you very much. Who needs a matchmaker?”
“Your parents will have something to say about that.”
“What? My father’s a samurai for a successful daimyo; your father--”
“My adopted father.”
“Sorry. Anyway, he’s a successful businessman. It’s all perfect!”
A rumble of thunder interrupted Usagi. The storm had been building without their noticing. “Storms can ruin even the most perfect day, Usako. Think about that on your way home.”
“Home! If you don’t beat the storm it’ll soak you to the skin.”
“So what? Flowers need water.”
“But not a flood. I’ll see you tomorrow. I won’t go anywhere, I promise.”
The wind started picking up; all the experienced dockworkers knew what was coming and started preparing for the storm. Mamoru jumped off his bale of rice and started putting up the shutters. There was no choice now; Usagi had to try to get home before the skies opened up.
She ran down a couple of back-alleys, past noodle shops, taverns and warehouses. She passed a boarded up building that used to be a Catholic church. Father said being Christian was kind of a fad back when he was my age, Usagi reflected as she ran, her wooden geta deftly dodging mud puddles and horse droppings. Can’t imagine why; we have so many gods around here as it is.
She turned one corner, and almost plowed into a fat man trying to push a heavily laden handcart out of the mud. He cursed at it, then left it in the middle of the road and ran under the eaves of a building. Usagi soon realized why; the rain had started. She realized something else; she hadn’t been paying attention and had gotten lost. So much for finding things in my sleep, she thought a little bitterly. She didn’t want to take shelter with the fat man, so she looked around and saw an open door to what seemed to be a warehouse. She ran inside just as the skies opened up.
She didn’t know how long this one would last; summer rains can go on all day, or take only a few heartbeats. In any event, Mamo-chan was right; she’d be soaked to the skin before she went from one street to the next. May as well wait here. There were only a few lumpy sacks of vegetables here, so she settled herself on the most comfortable-looking one and waited.
As the rain beat down on the roof, she thought she saw something move in the shadows of the warehouse. Was it a rat? She took off one geta, ready to throw it if the rat showed itself. After a minute, the shadow appeared again—and turned out to be a small black cat with a mark on its forehead.
“Come here, Blackie. Is that your name--Blackie?” Then she noticed the odd mark on its forehead: a scar shaped like a crescent moon. “I’ve never seen that on a cat before. Maybe that’s your name: Mikazuki. Is that who you are?” The cat just looked steadily at Usagi. “It’s a nice name but a bit of a mouthful. How about just Mika? How do you feel about that, Mika?” This time, the cat meowed, then turned and walked out the door. Through the doorway Usagi could see that the rain had stopped, at least for the moment.
Usagi got home to find that luck was with her. She should have been with her mother or grandmother for the past two hours studying womanly arts—and flower arranging was on the schedule for today—but Lady Haruko, the wife of the daimyo Kuruda, had taken a notion to visit some of the families of her husband’s retainers. She was pleasant enough company, and very well acquainted with most of the political scandals and court gossip of recent years. However, she tended to lose track of time, never staying on a visit for less than an hour.
So Usagi didn’t miss anything. The lesson would have been suspended when the daimyo’s wife arrived. She heard the clicking of wooden sticks and walked around to an inner garden.
There, her younger brother was being given basic sword fighting instruction by their father. They were dueling with bamboo rods. Usagi couldn’t help but feel envious. Why should father teach him about swords, just because he’s a boy? I’m older. If there was an emergency, I could probably handle his blade. I’d probably have to.
Then the idea struck her; why not? Mama and grandma have company; father and little brother have their lesson. Let’s take a look at it and see. With that she sneaked through the house to her father’s study, where his two swords—one long, one short—and armor enjoyed a place of honor. It had been several years since they saw battle, but he maintained them in top condition, just in case.
Usagi knew this as she took the katana—the long sword, still in its scabbard—out of the room and into the back garden. She didn’t want to start swinging around a blade that was sharper than a razor indoors. A good sword, in the hands of a master, can cut through bone.
She carefully drew the sword, picked out a bamboo stalk as a likely opponent, swung—and missed her target by several inches. The sword was heavier than it looked. Still, she wasn’t about to give up. She swung again; the blade cut into the bamboo, and stayed there. She pulled and twisted at the blade; when it suddenly came free of the bamboo, she lost her balance and fell on the grass. So did the sword, missing a large rock by inches.
Maybe next year I’ll be ready, Usagi thought glumly as she cleaned the blade, put it back in its sheath and snuck it back into her father’s room. There she noticed that her fall had left a large mud and grass stain on her kimono. She’d have to change it quickly before her mother—
That wasn’t too bad, Usagi thought as she undressed for bed. Mother couldn’t scold her too harshly while there was company in the house, so that spared her until after dinner. In the middle of dinner, another of the samurai under daimyo Kuruda showed up. That prolonged the dinner and delayed a scolding even further. Finally, once that guest had been sent on his way, Usagi’s mother didn’t have time to deliver anything except a brief but stern warning.
As she slipped into her futon, Usagi couldn’t have been happier. I really like my life, and I don’t ever want it to change! Well, maybe one part…
Usagi closed her eyes and settled into her nightly fantasy. She looked forward to the day she and Mamo-chan were married, and he’d be sleeping not in a building on the other side of town but in the same room, right next to her, where anytime she wanted she could reach over and—
Her hand involuntarily slid along the futon, until it hit a lump. A lump that wasn’t supposed to be there.
Usagi’s eyes shot open, and she breathed a sigh of relief as her impulse to scream evaporated. There was the black cat with the crescent moon on its forehead. “Good evening, Mika. You scared me half to death. What brings you here?”
“I came to give you a message.”
The impulse to scream came back, as a cold terror gripped Usagi. A talking cat?! This was not supposed to be happening, unless-- “W-W-What do you want from me, Mister Demon?”
“In the first place,” the cat sniffed, “I’m not a mister. In the second place, I’m not a demon. But there are demons in this house tonight, and I’ve come to help you fight them off.”
“What do you mean? Why would—” Usagi’s question was interrupted by a strangled cry. “Father!”
She checked her father’s room; he was gone and his futon was a mess. She could hear her mother and brother in another part of the house, both crying hysterically. Without a second thought, she went to the study, grabbed the long sword and ran to the inner garden, where a half-dozen men dressed as ninja had her father pinned to the ground. One of them took a short knife and made a quick cut in Tsukino’s right wrist. As soon as the cut was made, they at once jumped clear of him.
“At least now you won’t be able to interfere,” one of them hissed; his voice really did sound more like a snake than like a human being, Usagi thought.
“I will have revenge—” Tsukino began, before passing out from loss of blood.
The ninja with the snake’s voice kicked Tsukino in the side. “And how will you get it, fool? Your son is too weak, your wife is no fighter...”
“Don’t forget about me!”
The ninja turned as one to see Usagi, brandishing her father’s sword. She swung the blade up and over her head—and promptly embedded it in the top of the doorframe. At this the ninja all burst out laughing.
“You don’t even know what to do with that thing, do you?”
Tears started to burn in Usagi’s eyes as she pulled the blade loose. They were right; what was she doing? She didn’t know the first thing about the way of the sword.
“Usagi!” Mika stood behind Usagi, speaking softly so that the ninja could neither see nor hear her. “Repeat after me: O Moon, I summon your power!”
“Just say it!”
“O-tsuki-sama, chikara-wo yobidasu!”
The moon came out.
At least, that’s how it appeared to Usagi. The sword took on a strange silver glow, shedding its own light rather than reflecting. And so did she. Her simple yukata was now shot through with threads of silver, each of which shone like a firefly. She started to look at her new clothes.
“No time! Attack!”
Remembering her wounded father, Usagi opened her mouth—and out came a bloodcurdling yell that scared even her. She didn’t let it stop her, though, from raising the blade over her head and charging the six intruders.
This time there was no clumsiness, no bad moves. It was as if all Usagi had to do was think of one of her father’s combinations, and the sword moved of itself to execute it. The glowing sword blocked, slashed, parried and thrust, as if with a mind of its own, until the ninja—more humiliated than injured, and unable to land a single blow against this fierce young girl—broke off the attack. They retreated over the back wall, one of them stopping only long enough to say, “Things here are not done yet.”
Usagi kept her sword at the ready for another minute, until she was sure that the ninja had retreated into the night. Only then did she lower the blade in a state of stunned surprise. “What did I just do? Was that me?”
“With a little help,” Mika commented behind her. “You did a wonderful job, Usagi, but right now your father needs to be looked after.”
Usagi called her mother. The entire household gathered around Tsukino. They stopped the bleeding as best they were able, but the samurai had already lost a lot of blood and was almost in a state of shock. Usagi’s mother sent little brother for Akimoto, an old herbalist who had been the family physician for years. While he was gone, Usagi sneaked away to return the sword to her father’s room.
“Excuse me,” a strange, high-pitched voice shouted at the front door a few minutes later. The maid ran to answer it, and less than a minute later was leading the visitor to look at Tsukino’s wound.
This wasn’t the first time Usagi compared her Mamo-chan to other boys. This one, who said he was an apprentice to Akimoto named Shinnosuke, was young; about Usagi’s age. And, while Mamo-chan was handsome, this boy was definitely “cute”. Well, Usagi tried to brush off the interest she felt in this boy, some women like that kind of boy; some men do, too. But, as worried as she was about her father, she kept scanning this visitor, looking for something vaguely familiar, although she couldn’t have said what.
The boy’s face was framed by black hair which was just a bit too long. His eyes were distorted behind European-style glasses, hooked onto his ears with string. As he studied the wound, practically putting his nose into it, he simply looked strange. But when he was through, took off the glasses and turned to Tsukino, he seemed serious and very sad.
“You are a samurai, and I am sure you are very brave,” he told Tsukino. “Are you brave enough to hear the truth?”
“I must hear it,” he nodded.
“This hand will never be able to hold a sword again.”
“But the cut is not deep. Surely you have some kind of medicine—“
“The people who did this to you deliberately cut a certain—how should I say—rope in your arm. This rope is what lets you move your hand. Once this rope has been cut, we can try to put the ends back together, but they never grow back together to form one rope. I’m sorry.”
“Who are you to tell us these things? You’re just a boy. Where is your master?” Tsukino’s wife asked angrily.
“My master is at home with a fever. But he would have come himself in spite of the fever if he thought I could not understand this case. And if I did not understand the case, I would have been the first to say so. The truth is, this hand will be almost worthless for a long time to come.”
“Then we’re ruined? We’re to be thrown into the street!”
“NO!” Although he’d lost a lot of blood, the samurai’s voice still carried authority. “Don’t be stupid, woman. I will speak to the master of this. He was thinking of expanding the household guard, and would trust me to select and train the new recruits. I can do that with one hand until the other heals.”
But he just said it won’t heal! Oh father…why? Who would
want to attack you?