written by Patrick Drazen
using characters created by Naoko Takeuchi and others associated with
the manga and anime “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon”
Chapter 8: “Revelation! An Attack and a Surprise!”
By noon of the next day the ward was full of rumors about the murder of daimyo Kuruda’s secretary Morobiki. Fortunately, what could have been a time of suspicion and worry for Usagi was saved by politics. Morobiki had become so heavy-handed with his power that he had alienated many of Kuruda’s other staff. In fact, the anti-Morobiki faction was rather sizable, and they had more than enough ammunition to begin speculating as to why the secretary was on the docks at midnight. Usagi’s part in his death was never suspected, so her father’s position in Kuruda’s household remained secure.
Usagi and her friends didn’t know about this, because they were back at the noodle shop on the docks, waiting for Minako’s rehearsal to begin. Minako herself was running late, but perhaps that was because of her late night rescue of Usagi. Usagi especially wanted to say as little as possible about those events; it would have embarrassed her in more ways than one. So she had sworn Minako to secrecy.
That day, Minako was supposed to accompany the chanter, or tayu, on the shamisen. This tayu had a magnificent natural voice, but it still needed training to fit into the very precise stylized patterns of bunraku.
As Minako tuned the shamisen, she couldn’t help but think that she was stringing a bow, getting ready to shoot down some opponent. At first, the director, who had been prominent in Hokkaido back when Nobunaga was ruler of Japan, would not even let her sound a single note. Minako had to sit holding the instrument, back perfectly straight, with the large bachi pick in just the proper position. She spent hours just being seated exactly right. Rather than be discouraged by it, Minako took pride in her ability to tough it out. She thought that not many samurai could stand up to this kind of training.
The director was fixing a few minor problems in one puppet’s kimono. Minako’s mind was still wandering, until she realized that maybe she wasn’t as tough as she thought. The room was taking on a kind of dreamlike quality. A mist seemed to fill the room, making the others indistinct, hard to see or hear. She should have gotten more sleep last night…
Shiro, who usually waited outside in the street, had come in and seen the others begin to transform into demonic versions of themselves. He leapt onto the director’s head, then his back. This didn’t stop the others from approaching Minako, with baleful glowing eyes and hands turned to outstretched claws. But at least his shouting has pulled her out of her trance.
“Get the others, Minako! They’re next door!”
She turned toward the door, but saw only the tayu, now large and grotesque, fangs bared to take a bite out of her throat. She ducked barely out of reach, and only had time to stick her head out into the street and yell, “SENSHI!!” before she was pulled back inside.
The others heard and tumbled out of the noodle shop. They didn’t see anything in the street, so they looked in next door.
The fog was so thick that they couldn’t see the walls, but they could see the monstrous figures that staggered toward them, even as one of them held Minako down on the floor.
Rei reached into her pocket for the ofuda she always carried and flung them around the room, calling out “Akuryoo taisan!” The monsters froze in their tracks, letting Minako scramble to her feet and join the others, but the fog only lifted to reveal dark ninja ready to attack.
“We’re supposed to transform now, right?” Makoto asked.
“Mgrmph.” Usagi had raced over with a mouthful of noodles.
“USAGI!!” Mika screamed. “This is important!”
“Sorry,” she gasped, having swallowed all the noodles at once.
As they transformed, the little theater literally burst open at the seams. Senshi and ninja spilled out into the lanes nearby, leaving the puppet company still unconscious after their ordeal.
No self-respecting ninja would have fought in broad daylight like this, but they seemed to have no choice. Apparently Beryl had thrown all her forces into this latest trap. Fortunately, the docks were more familiar to Usagi than anyone else, and she took advantage of all the blind alleys, warehouses and piles of cargo she could see to keep the dark ninja from overwhelming her friends. All the while her moon katana vaporized any ninja within reach.
Shinnosuke’s near-invisibility helped here. Even though it was broad daylight, only a slight shimmer in the air betrayed where he might be as he blindsided as many ninja as he could with his nunchaku.
Minako didn’t dare use her bow and arrow in the street, for fear of hitting passersby. Instead, she bounded up to the rooftops of the waterfront buildings. She drew away some of the ninja from the attack; then, when she’d dispatched them with her golden arrows, she stayed above the fray as a sniper, attacking whoever she could.
Makoto took to the fight like a fish to water. Whether on attack or defense, her silver tonfa rang out as she made her way through knots of ninja. She seemed at first to be enjoying herself immensely.
Rei didn’t have any more ofuda, nor was there time to use them. The jintsuukon was all she needed at first, as she tried to drive off the ninja.
These ninja, however, were not to be driven so easily. They avoided the weapons as best they could, fighting back with all the skill they had. And the senshi were beginning to weaken. This was the longest, hardest battle they’d ever fought, and it was beginning to show. They soon made more and more careless mistakes, missing with blows that should have been a hit. They were getting exhausted, and the ninja were counting on that. Finally, with Minako still on the rooftops, the others—even Shinnosuke—were forced into a blind alley.
“Why are they doing this? We still have our weapons,” Rei asked.
Then they saw why. The ninja parted to reveal a grotesque monster. It was a puppet nine feet tall and only partly human, for no human ever sported six arms. The balding, green-skinned monstrosity held a shield in one hand, which it used to deflect Minako’s arrows. The other five hands each held a whip, and all five of them went flying at once. They reached their targets, then flew back. The monster had snagged the katana, the jintsuukon, the nunchaku and both tonfa. The senshi in the alley were helpless.
The monstrous puppet slowly advanced on them, shield raised high on the left side to block Minako’s arrows. However, the monster didn’t think about the right side. Not until a bale of rice caught him on the side of the head and sent him spinning. The weapons flew into the alley; the senshi made a dive to reclaim them.
As Usagi stood up, she could have sworn that she saw Mamo-chan standing on the roof of Chiba’s business establishment. But her eyes blinked and he was gone. Time to worry about that later. The monster was on the ground, and they had their weapons back. The fight had turned.
Rei ran up and, with a bloodthirsty cry, drove the jintsuukon into the monster’s chest. Foul-smelling dark blood geysered up through its wooden chest for a moment, before the beast began to fade and shrink back into a puppet. The remaining ninja in the alley started to back away, but found themselves blocked by Shinnosuke. His invisible blows drove them back onto Usagi’s katana, Makoto’s tonfa and Rei’s jintsuukon. Those who fled the alley were easily picked off by Minako.
At last it was over. The four in the alley simply sat down where they were, exhausted and overwhelmed. Minako made her way down from the roofs and joined them. The first words out of Usagi’s mouth were to Minako: “Was that…?”
“Yes, that was Mamoru-san. I’m glad he had the presence of mind to do that. Otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened to us.”
“Is it just me? That fight wasn’t as much fun as the others,” Makoto sighed.
The two cats walked into the alley. “These battles were never supposed to be fun,” Mika scolded. “Lives are at stake here.”
“Fine, fine,” Usagi said in an annoyed voice. “Now go chase some rats or something.”
“Wait a minute!” piped up Minako. “I know what’ll make us feel better in a hurry: a nice hot bath!”
“But it’ll take forever to go home and heat up the water,” Usagi began.
“Stop whining and use your eyes,” Rei cut her off. “There’s a public bath at the end of the street.”
“Sounds mighty good to me,” Makoto nodded.
So the five of them started down the alley, until they realized that it was the five of them. Rei stopped and turned to Shinnosuke. “And where do you think you’re going?”
He started to blush again. “I thought we were going to the bath house…”
“Forget it! What kind of games are you thinking of playing!” Rei seemed highly offended.
“Besides,” Makoto added, “the bath is the only place a woman can be herself. So you and your ‘male privilege’ will just have to meet us tomorrow.”
“Don’t get us wrong,” Usagi hastily added. “We all like you and everything, and you’re a nice boy, but that’s just the problem. You’re a boy. It’s just too much to worry about. I’m sorry.” Usagi turned to join the other girls.
“Wait!” Shinnosuke called out. He thought about something a long time, then gestured. “Just follow me.” Shinnosuke led the girls to a deserted alley.
“If we’re going to spend time together, to fight together as the senshi and serve the Moon Princess, there can’t be any secrets. I’ve been hiding something since before I met you, and you need to know this about me.” Shinnosuke undid the rope that held up his pants, and let them fall. All he wore underneath was a fundoshi loincloth. With a swift movement he pulled down the loincloth.
The four girls silently stared at Shinnosuke, naked from the waist down and blushing profoundly. Usagi broke the silence: “That’s such a shame. How did you lose your chinchin?”
“YOU BLOCKHEAD!” Rei yelled in a voice that must have carried all the way to Mount Fuji. “She never had anything to lose!”
Shinnosuke pulled her clothing back up and bowed. “The truth is,
my name is Mizuno Ami.”
Twenty minutes later, they were all in the bath.
“My father was killed by some brawling drunkard just a few days before I was born,” Ami was explaining. “My mother cut her hair off for the funeral, and the next day labor started. When I was born, she decided that being a widow was a problem, and being a widow with a girl child was even worse. She couldn’t continue my father’s trade, because he was an artist. She couldn’t go to my father’s family, because they disowned him when he became an artist. She had to remarry, but she thought that having a son would make her seem more attractive than having a daughter. So she pretended I was a boy. As soon as she could, she sold me to Master Akimoto as an apprentice. And until now things have worked out fine. But…” Her voice trailed off as she glanced down at her breasts, her nipples riding just above the level of the bathwater. They were somewhat smaller than her companions’, but still would have fooled no one. “I keep thinking that these can’t be kept hidden too much longer.”
“What will you do then?” Minako asked.
“I don’t know. I would like to keep studying healing.”
“I hope you do,” Rei said enthusiastically. “You’re very good at it.”
“Thank you.” Ami blushed. Apparently she wasn’t used to praise, either.
“This is amazin’,” Makoto gushed. “You know what it means to be a scholar! My daddy always says that education is wasted on girls.”
“Do you think your master will let you keep studying with him? I mean, even if he finds out?” Usagi asked.
“I hope so. I’d like to study both Chinese and European medicine. I think we can learn enough from the two so that someday we can cure anything at all.”
“That may not happen,” Makoto said, putting a fresh wet cloth over her eyes. “I hear that the Shogun wants to get rid of everythin’ European.”
“He can’t do that!” Usagi whined. “That means I won’t see any more tall ships!”
“That’s right, Usagi-chan,” Rei said, “he’s doing it just to inconvenience
you.” And she playfully splashed Usagi, who shrieked and splashed
back. The other girls took sides and joined in, churning the water
and laughing until the attendant told them to be quiet.