Willow and Amy had spent the past few hours since leaving school at the mall, stopping in every store to try on all the different kinds of clothing and jewelry the shopkeepers had to offer. Or to be more correct, Amy had done all of that. Willow, meanwhile, had spent a great deal of her time alternating between watching Amy and feeling sorry for herself, wondering how she had managed to get to this point in her life.
Ever since she was younger, she had always felt as if there was something holding her back from reaching her true potential. Even though she had always tried to give her best effort in everything that she ever did, since the age of ten, it had always gotten increasingly difficult for her to do so.
The end result of all of this left her faltering in certain situations and in certain circumstances where she found herself unprepared or overanxious, which often left her blind to the fact that she was doing so until it was too late for her to do anything about it.
Like this math test, for example. Taking a look at the paper once again, she couldn't believe that she had failed on it. She had studied throughout the night, trying to make sure she understood all of the formulas and concepts. By the time she had, it was near two in the morning, by which time she was too tired for her to continue any further. And since she had gotten too little sleep that night, she had slept in, had been late to school again, and had very little time to relearn everything before the test had been handed out.
Closing her eyes, she tried to will herself to make the grade appear different than it was. But no matter how hard she tried, it remained the same, the bright bold red of the number burning its way into her heart and infesting her with a cold feeling of self-disgust. Frustrated beyond belief, she crumpled the paper and threw it over her head, not particularly caring where it landed.
"Hey! Watch where you're throwing things!"
Turning at the sound of that voice, Willow found herself staring into the face of a young woman in what looked to be her late teens, with long blonde hair that reached down to the small of her back. Clad in a T-shirt, skirt and open toed sandals, she was the last person Willow wanted to meet in her current state of mind.
"Oh! Sorry, Tara! I didn't mean..." she began, only to stop as Tara reached down and picked up the paper ball. Willow swallowed as Tara smoothed the paper out and looked at what was written on it.
"Willow, what's this all about?"
Feeling her face flush, Willow looked down at the ground. "I'm sorry, Tara. I mean, I thought had studied enough, so I was able to convince myself that I knew enough about the subject matter that I didn't need to study any further. Of course, it was also near two in the morning by then, so I really couldn't stay awake any longer. But when I woke up, it...I dunno. It all just...left my memory. And I tried to go over it as best I could before Ms. Calendar handed out the test, but it just wouldn't stick..."
Willow felt guilty about baring her soul towards Tara like this, since there was very little about the blonde's own life that she had chosen to reveal to her that made Willow think she had been granted the right to do that. Having spent the majority of the past year bumping into each other randomly in the street, the two of them had decided that if they were going to be meeting in the most random of places, they should try to meet in more controlled circumstances. And even though they had gone out on a few dates and had been generally friendly towards one another in the six months since deciding to do this, there was little about Tara's life that Willow had come to learn about, particularly when it concerned her past. Tara didn't seem to want to talk about it, and Willow wasn't pushy enough to ask her to do so, knowing that when the time came, Tara would decide to do so on her own accord.
Moving to sit down beside Willow, Tara handed the paper back to her. "Willow, I know you don't like to hear this, but I can feel that you have a special destiny. And if you don't apply yourself, you're going to let it pass you by. You have to work hard, Willow. It's not like that destiny is going to walk out in front of you."
"I know," Willow sighed as Amy came over, holding a shopping bag in one hand and an ice cream in the other. Accepting the frozen treat, she looked up at her best friend. "How's your mother?"
"The same as she always is," Amy replied, tilting her head towards the food court, where a older woman was busing entertaining the crowd with a variety of magic tricks, each of which drew applause from the audience mostly consisting of kids age five to eight, the parents of said kids looking as if they would like to be anywhere other than where they were.
"Mom wants me to stay and help," Amy continued, looking at Tara with a curious glance, almost as if she were afraid to leave Willow alone with her. "Are you going to be OK, Willow?"
"Yeah," Willow sighed, getting to her feet. "Can you take me home, Tara?"
"Of course," Tara replied.
"See you tomorrow, Amy," Willow said as she and Tara walked out of the mall and towards Tara's car. She sat in the back in silence as Tara took her home and made sure that the redhead got inside without any problems. Willow was happy that her mother was not home. It was a more common occurrence than she would have liked to admit, but one that proved to be rather thankful in these circumstances. And to her credit, Tara did ask if Willow wanted her to stay until her mother did come home, and perhaps for some time afterward in order to make sure that Willow felt comfortable after her mother chewed her out over the test.
"No, it's OK," Willow had answered. "I'll be fine, Tara. Really, I will."
Smiling, Tara left the house, leaving Willow pretty much all alone and to her own devices. Burying her face in her pillow, she let out a muffled cry, hoping that it dissolved much of the self pity she felt like an ocean wave cresting a sandbar, and hoping that there was something she could do in order to make herself feel better.
Suddenly Willow couldn't help but feel like she was being watched. Turning, she looked around the room, finding nothing out of the ordinary. Convincing herself that it was just her imagination running away with her, she turned over on her bed, lying flat on her back and stretching out to her full length, letting out a deep sigh, the heavy weight of the pressure that had been built up during the day leaving with that breath.
"I was wondering when you would be getting home."
Willow started at hearing the voice, one she had never heard before. Looking around the room, she quickly found the only thing that could have been the source of that voice: the black cat she had encountered earlier in the day, which was sitting on the windowsill, Tara having opened it before she had left.
"Hey! You're that cat I met earlier today. But wait a minute. You...you can talk?"
"Yes, I can, Willow. And I've been looking for you for quite some time. I'm glad that I've been able to find you."
Leaping onto the bed, the cat made its way over to her. "Now listen, Willow. We don't have much time, and there's much I need to tell you."
Anya had walked home from school after the final bell, a rather concerned look on her face. She had only been in town a few days, today being the first attending her new school and she thought that being there would have made things clearer to her. It didn't make any sense. She had been told that she had to be here for a reason, but to all appearances, there didn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary.
Stepping inside her house, she found the person who had sent her here waiting for her on the stairs. She knew that he would be here, of course. He would have been waiting anxiously for any news she had to report. That made it all the more sad for her to know that he wasn't likely to be terribly happy about what she had to say.
"Did you see anything while you were at school?" the white cat sitting on the steps asked.
Anya, clearly taking things in stride and appearing for all the world as if the sight of a cat talking to her was commonplace, responded, "Not really, Artemis. Are you sure that this is the place?"
"I'm positive," Artemis replied. "There's definitely something going on in this town, and since we haven't been able to locate your companions, I guess that means that we're going to handle this on our own."
"As usual," Anya groaned. At Artemis' indignant look, she added, "I'm not ungrateful that you reawakened my memories, Artemis. I'm really not. But when you had told me that we would have to look for my fellow Soldiers as we did this, I was under the impression that I wouldn't be doing it by myself for the rest of my life. "
"And you won't," Artemis reassured her. "I do sense evil in this town, but I can also sense four distinct forces of good nearby. Are you sure that there was nothing out of the ordinary while you were at school?"
Anya shook her head as she made her way upstairs, Artemis falling into step behind her. "I'm sure." She paused. "Although...there was this girl..."
"I'm not too sure," Anya clarified. "But when I was in class, I could feel as if I had known two of the kids before, even though I've only been in town a week. Now, I suppose that I could have seen them some time during the week and never realized it, but I'm not too sure."
"I think that it would be a good idea to find out whose these two people are," Artemis said. "At least until we've found the others, we have to treat any suspicious people as if they were the enemy."
"So..." Willow began, the newly acquired information she had just been handed settling inside her brain. "Let me see if I understand this. I'm a superhero, and I was placed on this Earth in order to protect a Princess from some great evil that's broken free of its imprisonment and is about to rain destruction down upon us all."
"That's right," the cat, who had stated her name as Luna, replied.
"And there are others out there just like me, only they don't know it because, like me, they have no memory of it."
Willow flopped down on her bed, the information she had just been handed clearly too much for her to take. "I must have had a more stressful day than I thought. Now I'm imagining talking cats, evil kingdoms and myself as a superhero."
"I'm afraid it's no joke, Willow," Luna said. "The forces of the Dark Kingdom have arrived on Earth, and you're one of the few that are capable of defeating them."
Sitting up and getting into a cross legged position, pausing for a moment to wonder why the question had even coalesced in her mind, Willow asked, "Suppose for a moment you're right. How exactly do you expect me to fight them?"
"With this," Luna answered, the crescent moon on her forehead shining brightly and firing a beam of light in front of Willow. Within moments, a small heart-shaped brooch attached to a chain appeared in front of Willow. Willow reached out to pick it up and, despite the questionable situation being played out in front of her, looked at it with genuine curiosity.
"This brooch will allow you to transform into the Guardian of the Moon, the Soldier of Love and Justice, Sailor Moon. And as Sailor Moon, it is your sworn duty to defend the people of the Earth against the evil forces of the Dark Kingdom."
As much as she admired the brooch, Luna's words immediately snapped Willow out of her curious state. She couldn't allow herself to believe for one moment that this could turn her into some sort of superhero. Unable to control herself any longer, she let out a laugh. "I must be crazy. I have to be crazy. There is no way that this can be true."
"I had a feeling you might say this, Willow," Luna admitted with a sigh. "I would like to convince you that this is true, but I know that I can't force this upon you. The choice to walk down this path will have to be one you make on your own." Leaping onto the windowsill, she turned to look at Willow once more. "I will be waiting when you are ready to believe me."
Willow, who had long since given up any hope that what was going on was a figment of her imagination, simply buried her head in her pillow once more, determined not to let the cat's words get any further under her skin than they already had. After several moments, she picked up the brooch and moved to throw it out the window, only to pause as she saw something lying on the windowsill.
It was a cell phone.
Putting the brooch down, Willow picked up the phone and looked at it just as she had done with the brooch. It looked like any number of novelty cell phones she had seen before, but there was something about this one that felt...different. Almost as if...it belonged to her.
Sighing, she put the phone down beside the brooch, hesitated a moment, then moved to close the window itself before crawling into bed. Despite everything that told her how ridiculous the past few minutes had been, she simply could not let herself do something as equally ridiculous as throwing away those two objects.
Willow didn't know how she knew this, but she knew that they would be useful in a short amount of time.
And maybe if she had a quick nap and allowed herself to calm down, things would start to make sense.
Amy was having fun being her mother's magical assistant, but she soon came to be bored with the whole affair. It wasn't as if she didn't like being around kids or helping her mother, but it was almost as if she had been at this for hours without rest.
A glance at her watch during a quick break revealed to her why that was so: she had been at it for several hours. In fact, it was an hour after the mall was supposed to be closed. And yet, to all appearances, it was exactly like it had been when she and Willow had first arrived. The crowd remained as they had always been, as if they had been put into a trance and were unaware of the fact that time was passing them by.
As she joined her mother behind the makeshift puppet stage, she decided to ask her why things appeared to be acting so strangely. "Mother, what's going on, here? Why does my watch say that it's past 7:00, but it still looks like mid-afternoon? Why do all of those people look like they've been hypnotized?"
Her mother let out a laugh, something that greatly unsettled Amy. Her uneasiness began to grow as she saw her mother change right before her eyes. Her features began to shift, her body morphing into a strange, alien form and her blue eyes becoming a deep crimson red. Within moments, a strange creature that bore no resemblance to her mother at all stood before her, one clawed hand reaching out at her.
Amy did the only thing she could think of.
The monster watched in pleasure as the young girl collapsed, the energy drained from her body. It went around the stage, seeing that the entire crowd had fallen suit, some slumped against the chairs, others lying atop themselves in piles on the floor.
Queen Faith would be most pleased by the amount of energy that they had been able to gather this day.
From her left appeared two individuals. It recognized them instantly.
"Lord Xander. Lord Spike."
The two Generals made their way towards the crowd, staring down at the helpless bodies. "Excellent, Magda," Spike said. "Our Queen will be most pleased at the amount of energy we have been able to gather."
"We should be able to gather enough soon to release Metallia very soon," Xander added.
"It pleases me that you admire my work, my lords."
"Indeed," Spike said. "At the rate we are gathering energy, there will be no one that can stand against us before too long."
"Wrong, evildoers! There is one!"
The three looked up, finding a young woman standing precariously on the second floor guard rail. She was dressed in an orange skirt and white leotard, a blue bow with an orange jewel in its center on her chest and an orange bow on the small of her back. Her long blonde hair, held back by a red bow, partially obscured it from sight. She wore a tiara with a bright orange jewel on her forehead, a chain around her waist and orange shoes on her feet. The newcomer's face was obscured not only by a red mask over her eyes, but by the fact that her right hand, gloved to the elbow like her left, was currently placed before it, two fingers extended and framing her right eye.
Spike and Xander were incredulous. "Who are you?"
The female leapt to the ground and erected a dramatic pose. "I am the Soldier of Love and Beauty, Sailor Venus! And in the name of Venus, I will punish you!"