written by Patrick Drazen
using characters created by Naoko Takeuchi and others associated with
the manga and anime “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon”
Chapter 9: “Mystery at the Urabon Festival! A Challenge from Beryl!”
It was almost impossible to believe, but Usagi had turned 14 years old just a few days before meeting Mika, and now, with everything that had happened, only a month had passed. It was the middle of summer: time for the four-day Urabon Festival.
At first, Usagi didn’t seem to have much to look forward to. Her mother had spent the past month working on new yukata for the family. Now, with the festival fast approaching, it seemed that they would be one short.
“But why me?!” Usagi whined. “Why do I have to wear old clothes to the festival? It’s not fair!”
“It may not seem fair to you,” her mother replied, “but it didn’t seem fair to me that I should do all the work by myself. You could have spent the past month learning how to sew, as you were supposed to. Then you would have gotten a nice new yukata out of it. You have only yourself to blame.”
That was the really unfair part, Usagi thought; there was nobody else to blame. Grandma had left to visit other members of the family the week before, so she couldn’t look for help there. She didn’t have money enough to buy one, and the few stores which might have extended credit to a member of daimyo Kuruda’s household staff didn’t have anything she liked. Urabon looked rather bleak this year and, as often as her friends asked her in the days before the festival, Usagi refused to even commit to going.
The day before the festival was to begin, Usagi went to her room from the bath to find a bundle wrapped in paper, leaning against the window. She had no doubt what was in it. The only question was, where did it come from. Had her mother relented, making a new yukata for Usagi after all? Or had Mamo-chan sent it as a surprise gift? She quickly unwrapped the bundle.
It was unlike any design Usagi had ever seen. The overall color of sky-blue wasn’t close to anything in Usagi’s wardrobe. The sleeves and hem were trimmed with a pale yellow arrowhead pattern that was almost white, but not quite. The color of bones. There was no note, no indication at all of who had sent it.
Usagi slipped off her robe, and, not bothering with undergarments, put on the yukata. It seemed to fit perfectly, and she walked around the room for a minute. The hem wasn’t too long; the sleeves weren’t too short. She noticed that it seemed to chafe a bit against her breasts. Good; maybe they were growing. She’d long been afraid that they were too small to…
The yukata was wrapping itself tight around Usagi, and kept getting tighter. It locked her knees, and she fell to the floor. Her body felt like it was trapped in a vise, and the vise kept getting tighter. The pain was almost unbearable. She tried to summon the moon’s power.
The end of the sash flew up and into Usagi’s mouth. Don’t worry, she seemed to hear a voice say, I won’t strangle you. I want you to feel the pain as I crush the life out of you…
The pain just kept getting worse and worse. Usagi grew faint…
“Usagi!!” She heard another voice, felt something tug the sash out of her mouth. Then she saw Mikazuki biting and tearing and scratching at the yukata. Even though the scratches hurt, it was less pain than she was in before, and gradually Usagi helped fight her way out of the dress. Finally, it lay in scraps all over the floor. Usagi also lay on the floor: naked, shivering, covered with scratches, curled into a ball, her terrified eyes fixed on some other world. The scraps started dissolving like melting snow until there wasn’t a trace of the yukata in the room.
Mika knew she had to do something, but couldn’t think what. She started licking Usagi’s cheek, stopping every few seconds to whisper: “Usagi. It’s me. Mikazuki. It’s over. The dress is gone. It’s destroyed. You’re going to be all right. Please say something. Speak to me, Usagi-chan!”
Gradually, Usagi’s breathing slowed; her eyes shut, then suddenly flew open. “Mikazuki!”
“Are you all right now?”
“I … I heard her. It was Beryl, wasn’t it? She sent me the yukata.”
“It would seem so. I think that you…”
Mika never finished the sentence, as Usagi picked her up and hugged her. “You saved my life,” she said, barely above a whisper. “I don’t deserve it, and you saved my life.”
She just sat there, hugging Mikazuki, for a minute or two, her tears falling onto the cat’s fur, until they heard steps along the corridor. Usagi put her robe back on to cover the cat scratches and Mika slipped out the window.
Usagi’s mother opened the sliding door without knocking. Usagi had her back to the door, and didn’t turn around. “Are you still sulking about the festival?”
“No, mother, I’m not.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” She crossed to the other side of the room. “Usagi! Have you been crying? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. I just … got bath water in my eyes.”
“Fine, if that’s all it is. I’ve been thinking about the festival tomorrow. I wasn’t able to make new clothes for everyone this year, but it would be a shame if I just stopped wearing this.” She produced a yukata from her sleeve. Usagi couldn’t believe it! Of all her mother’s clothes, it had always been her favorite. It was a colorful riot of stylized chrysanthemums and carp on a pink background. “I’m much too old for anything this colorful,” she went on, “but I don’t want to just get rid of it…”
If she expected Usagi to simply bow and accept the yukata, it didn’t happen. “Mother!” Usagi cried out for joy, holding tightly onto the surprised woman. “Thank you, thank you.” She kept holding onto her mother. “I know I haven’t acted quite right lately. Just … give me a little more time. And have faith in me, please?”
“Er, of course.” She had expected Usagi to act a little strangely
when she became a teenager, but not quite like this. She gently removed
herself from her daughter’s grasp. “I’ll go see about dinner now.”
She left the room with Usagi still staring at the yukata, still unable
to believe her mother had really given it to her.
She had arranged to meet her friends at the foot of the bridge just opposite where the main festivities were to be held. Actually, celebrations of one kind or another had been held all day. Merchants had either decorated their shops or closed up altogether. Food peddlers were all over the streets. There were games for the children, concerts and dances for the grown-ups, and it would all culminate that evening in the launching of the lantern-boats.
None of the five girls was a stranger to Urabon festivals, but it was a first for all of them together. For Usagi, it was the first time she wore her mother’s yukata, and she couldn’t have been prouder if it was made of spun gold. For Ami, who had borrowed a yukata from Makoto’s mother, it was her first time out in public as a girl. This was Rei’s first time in the crowd; usually she stayed at the temple making money by telling fortunes; this year, however, she got permission from her grandfather to spend a few hours enjoying the festival. As for Minako and Makoto, they had come from far-flung country towns at opposite ends of Japan to live in Edo, which was shaping up to be the new capital of the nation. They hadn’t known that the city could be so huge, or so exciting.
Only one thing kept the festival from being perfect for Usagi: there was no sign at first of Mamo-chan. While the others enjoyed the festival, Usagi stayed by the bridge, waiting to see if the Chiba family would arrive together.
After a while, she saw Chiba coming from the direction of his house, holding onto a little child with each hand while a third child ran around him, laughing and chattering.
His children? No; they were his grandchildren. She remembered Mamo-chan saying that, when Chiba adopted him, he already had two older daughters. Sure enough, the daughters and their husbands were only a few paces behind Chiba. But Mamo-chan was nowhere to be seen.
Did he stay at home? He wouldn’t dare. This was the festival where people received visits from O-Shorai-sama, their dead ancestors. Even if Mamo-chan didn’t like Chiba, surely he’d want to pay his respects to his real parents. He wouldn’t dishonor them by not showing up.
Leaving the bridge, she followed a trail upstream on the west bank. It wandered in and out of trees. Usagi was so busy thinking about Mamo-chan that she almost walked right into him. She saw him just a few feet ahead, crouching by the river with his back to her. She ducked behind a tree, but he hadn’t heard her.
When she looked again, she saw that he held a lantern-boat. Soon, at twilight, the river would be crowded with them, for the ancestors returned at twilight. People would paint the names of their ancestors onto the lantern-boats, light a candle and send the boat down the river. She could see that Mamo-chan had a brush, but he was dipping it into the river. He painted words onto his lantern-boat with clear water. When he was done, he lit the candle from a lantern he carried and set the boat adrift. Usagi watched from her hiding-place. Whatever he had written on it seemed to have vanished completely. The paper was perfectly plain as it sailed past her.
She checked to see that Mamo-chan’s back was turned, then she started walking back up the path toward the bridge. Her mind was a blur of guesses and doubts. Why would Mamo-chan go to such trouble? What words had he written on his boat? Why would he want no one else to read them? She realized with a sick feeling in her stomach that there was much about Mamo-chan she still did not know. Could she ever trust him again?
At that moment, she saw the other four girls coming toward her. They had been having fun earlier in the day, but now they were serious.
Ami was the first to speak. “Usagi-chan, Mika told us about what happened with the yukata yesterday.”
“And I told them about Morobiki,” Minako added. “I’m sorry.”
“We can’t let this go on any longer,” Makoto interrupted. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired of waitin’ for a fight.”
Rei put a hand on Usagi’s shoulder. “Come to the shrine first thing in the morning. Even though it’s still Urabon, it’s time for me to contact Beryl.”
Usagi, still numb from the night’s surprise, could only nod her head
The flames burned steadily on the altar as Rei started chanting. The other four girls behind her could see the changes almost immediately. For one thing, she started sweating, which even the hottest fire had never made her do. Then Rei’s muscles began to tense up, pulling her from one side to another like a dog on a leash. Suddenly she spun herself around the room in a mad dance; the true sign of a powerful miko. Three times she circled her friends and the fire, chanting all the while. Finally, Rei’s voice cracked, and she stopped dead, then slumped to the floor, silent.
Ami leaned toward her to help. “Leave her alone!” Mika warned. “Just wait.”
They waited. The fire burned down by itself. Then a voice came from Rei, though it was not her own. “I should congratulate you, children,” the voice said, cutting the last word short out of contempt. “You have thwarted every one of my attacks on this pitiful little island. Of course, you could not have done it without the help of magic.”
“The point is, that it was done,” Mika said. “Now, you did not have to answer just because Rei called to you. You want to say something.”
“Correct, as you always were. By the way, what do you call yourself these days? Surely not Luna.”
Minako interrupted. “You are of the spirit world. What does the restoration of Nobunaga matter to you?”
The ghostly voice laughed. “You really are a child, and yet you are correct. This is not about Nobunaga. Nobunaga had one good idea: attack the mainland. But he never took it far enough. His allies, though, could change everything. United under Nobunaga’s banner, they could take war and destruction to China and beyond, cutting a mad and murderous path through Asia and on into Europe.”
“So you kill for killing’s sake?” Ami asked.
“I kill so that my great ancestor Queen Metallia may revive. This planet stands at a center point in the universe, just as Japan stands at a center point. If Japan does not fall to me, Europe cannot fall. If Europe does not fall to me, this planet cannot fall. If this planet, and its life-force of millions of people, does not fall to me, the Dark Universe of Queen Metallia can never come into being.”
The girls began to realize the scale of the battle they had been fighting.
“But, as I said, you have blocked me in this most crucial step,” the voice went on. “I will waste no more of my minions on this world.”
“Then you’ll leave us in peace?” Usagi interrupted.
“I propose something a little different. One final battle. No massed armies of ninja, no magic on either side. Just you and me, Princess.”
“Err, just who?”
“Your friends can come, as they wish. No others. You must sail up the coast from Edo, past Kamakura to the island called Enoshima. I will be waiting for you.”
“What if I don’t want to meet you?”
“Sometimes the seas can be rough. Sometimes a storm at sea can even come close to land. You will come to me, because if you don’t, I will create a tsunami like none has ever been, a tidal wave large enough to cover your entire island and drown every living thing.”
“Animal!” Makoto cursed under her breath. “You want to kill all these people?”
“Of course not! I need them. But I can’t use them as long as you stand in my way. So the choice is yours: I can fight one, or drown tens of thousands.”
Ami looked over at Usagi, whose head was hanging down. They couldn’t see her face. She seemed to be crying. Then they heard her voice: “I never wanted much out of life. I just wanted to be able to smell the tea brewing in the afternoon, to watch the ships unloading in the harbor, to eat miso soup and noodles and sweet potatoes and lotus root. Even to play with my little brother. And someday Mamo-chan and I would get married and I’d give birth to a little girl who would want what I want now, and it would start all over again. That’s how life goes on in this world. I never wanted to be special.”
Usagi’s voice caught in her throat. The others watched as she slowly raised her head. She may have been crying a minute before, but now her eyes blazed fury. “But then you attacked my father. You crippled a samurai for life. You owe a debt to my family. And if I have to go to Enoshima to fight you, or to Hokkaido, or to Hell, I will fight you and I will beat you, you monster!”
The voice seemed to leave Rei’s body, and was spoken by empty air, disappearing up through the roof. “I’ll be waiting,” it chuckled coldly before it faded into nothingness.
Usagi and Rei both blinked; they both seemed to be coming out of trances.
The other three girls had tears in their eyes. Ami could only manage
to say “Usagi-chan” before she threw her arms around her friend, sobbing
like a child. The others did the same. Rei, still weak from
her trance and lying on the floor, could only get up on one elbow and smile
weakly at Usagi. “I guess you aren’t a rat after all.”