Willow and Anya sat across from one another at a fast food table outside the mall, neither of them willing to comprehend the fact that the other was a superhero. Anya had trouble believing that Willow, who had appeared for all the world to be the least interesting person she had ever seen, had been one of the forces of good that Artemis had felt. And, in Willow's case, that there were still three others like them in this town, that they would have to find them and that the five of them together would have to combine forces in order to defeat an enemy that most of the rest of the world remained largely ignorant about.
Willow would have very much preferred to remain part of that ignorant world, but she no longer had the option of making that choice. For better or for worse, she knew about them, just as much as she was sure that they were now aware about her. The only thing to do would be to stop them without having anyone else come under harm.
"It's still a lot to take in," she said, rubbing her temple.
"You'll get used to it," Anya reassured her, though from her tone of voice, Willow could tell that she wasn't entirely convinced of what she was saying. Willow didn't really blame Anya for thinking that. She had been at this for far longer, and it was clearly obvious that, used to working on her own, she wasn't exactly liking the prospect of having to work with others, especially if they were to be like Willow had been. The redhead realized that she had inadvertently raised the bar for her unknown companions, and that made her feel uneasy. It was just like her to cause trouble for other people, and given the situation in which they would find themselves, that wouldn't be good at all.
Before Willow could say anything, Anya added, "But the question is, what do we do now?"
Sitting nearby, Luna and Artemis looked at one another before the dark furred cat replied, "We have to find your comrades." She looked at Willow. "Artemis tells me that there might be at least one of them at your school. I'll accompany you tomorrow and help you find her."
"And Anya and I will look around town," Artemis added. "We'll try to find the other two."
"And when we've found them all, we'll all meet together at the park at three o'clock," Luna finished. "We'll explain everything we know to all of you then."
"Wait a minute," Willow said, silently admonishing herself for interrupting Luna. "Anya can't go into town. She has to come to school with me."
Artemis shook his head. "There's nothing that we can do about that. We'd work a lot faster at this if we were to split up."
"And besides," Anya said. "I can make up some sort of excuse for not being there. I'll just say that I have cramps or something. That seems to make people more accepting towards me being late. And I guess since we have a lot of work to do tomorrow, we should both go home and get some rest."
Anya got up and moved off, Artemis falling into step beside her. Willow got up slowly shortly afterward and moved off as well, Luna falling into step beside her. As they walked home, Willow silently apologized to herself for bringing to Anya's attention the fact that she had to be at school with her.
The blonde's response had confirmed one important fact: getting along with Anya was not going to be easy.
"I'm sorry you don't like being in there, Luna," Willow whispered to her backpack, which was placed on her desk. Normally choosing to sit near the front of the room, she had instead opted to sit at the back this day so as to be able to talk to the cat that formed the bag's only contents without having the whole class look at her strangely.
Luna's head emerged from the open bag, looking somewhat distressed - or at least, as distressed as a cat could look. "I know, Willow. But if this was the best way to get me in here, then I guess I'll just have to suffer quietly."
Willow faintly smiled as she reached to zip up the backpack (leaving an air hole for Luna), and to put it down beside her desk as gently as she was able as the remainder of the class began to file in, followed by Ms. Calendar.
"All right, class," Ms. Calendar said. "Before we get started, there is one thing I wanted to address. Miss Burkle?"
Willow watched as Winifred got to her feet and made her way to the head of the class, looking rather embarrassed as she did so. Willow must have guessed that she had done something wrong. Rather selfishly, she thought, "Guess Little Miss Smarty Pants have some flaws after all."
Ms. Calendar walked over beside Winifred, smiling as she wrapped one arm around the young girl's shoulders. "Due to her impressive results on yesterday's test, Winifred Burkle has been chosen as one of the district's top math students, and will be receiving a special award from the superintendent this weekend. Let's give her a round of applause, everybody,"
The class, including Willow, began to clap, though Willow was soon distracted by the fact that her bag was beginning to rock. Thankful that the class, showing their appreciation of Winifred's accomplishment, hadn't noticed, she raised her hand.
"Yes, Willow?" Ms. Calendar asked.
"May I be excused for a minute, please?"
"Um..." Willow broke out in a panic, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse to get her out of the room. "Um...I left something in my locker."
Ms. Calendar sighed. "Very well, Willow. But please hurry back."
Grabbing her backpack, Willow made her way out of the room and into the washroom. After taking a moment to make sure that she was alone, she put her backpack on the sink and unzipped it fully. "What is it, Luna?"
"Who was that person that your teacher was talking about?" the feline asked.
"Winifred Burkle," Willow answered. "Most of the student's call her "Fred" for short. She's the resident school genius and is great at just about everything, especially Mathematics." Her brow creased in thought. "Why, Luna? Is everything all right?" A sudden thought entered her mind. "Wait! Is she a monster, Luna? Is she one of those creatures from the Dark Kingdom like Amy's mother was? Should I try to find Anya so we can take care of..."
Hearing Luna say her name in that tone of voice made Willow's babbling come to a complete halt. "Sorry. But you were obviously distressed when Ms. Calendar was talking about her, so I naturally assumed that..." She paused, realizing the true reason why Luna must have been acting out. "Luna, you don't think..."
Luna nodded. "I think we've found our first Sailor Soldier."
Winifred sat alone in the cafeteria, as she always did. Very rarely did anyone ever take the time to talk to her, and while she would never admit it, she preferred it that way. It wasn't as if she didn't mind company, but given the choice between spending time with others and spending time by herself, she would always choose spending her time alone.
So she was immediately on edge when she saw someone moving to sit down beside her out of the corner of her eye. Turning her head, she was surprised to see that it was Willow Rosenberg.
Winifred nodded, accepting the other girls' use of her more common nickname. "Yeah," she answered, her natural Texan accent making it sound rather rude. "Is something wrong, Willow?"
"Oh, no," Willow said, shaking her head. "I just wanted to talk. Are you doing anything after school?"
Fred shook her head no, wondering what Willow was going on about.
"Can you come meet me in the park?"
"Sure," Fred nodded, adding, "What's going on here, Willow?"
"Nothing bad, Fred," Willow said in reassurance before breaking out into a smile. "In fact, I daresay that it's the most exciting thing that you've ever experienced in your life."
Anya walked into the fitness center, holding Artemis in her arms. He had told her that one of the two potential Sailor Soldiers was inside this building. When she had asked him how he was able to determine that so easily, Artemis replied that he had felt her aura even across this vast distance, which indicated that whoever this person might be was at this very moment undergoing some sort of extreme physical stress.
Looking at the room's only occupant, Anya wasn't surprised to see why her aura had been high. Wearing a judogi, her blonde hair tied back in a ponytail and a sweat bandanna on her forehead, she was currently beating the proverbial stuffing out of a nearby punching bag. One look at the girl was enough to tell Anya that this person was the one Artemis had sent her to find.
Looking up, the blonde watched Anya as she made her way over. "Yeah, what do you want?"
"What's your name?" Anya asked.
"Well, my name's Elizabeth," the blonde answered. "Though most people I know call me Buffy."
"Hmm," Anya mused. "Are you busy at the moment?"
Giving the bag a final kick, Buffy shrugged. "Not really." Giving Anya a look, she asked, "What is it that you want?"
Looking up, Artemis replied, "To talk to you about your true destiny."
Cordelia sat in the middle of the dusty room in a cross legged position, her hands clasped and index fingers pointing towards the ceiling. She had been trying to gain some control of her visions over the course of the past few months, but it seemed that in the past few days, they had begun to get worse. What had once been fleeting shadows of events she had never seen before were becoming longer, more explicit, and worse, much more painful than they normally were, and she wasn't sure what was causing them. Were they a dangerous side effect of some inoperable brain condition? Were they a gift from some higher power that had seen fit to bestow them upon her? Or were they simply a result of her overeager imagination running amok on her and causing her to see things that couldn't be real?
Cordelia didn't know for sure, but she wanted to try to find some way to control them herself before she sought out other alternatives. It was bad enough that people thought of her as strange. She didn't want to give anyone the opportunity to have their opinions validated by finding help from outside sources.
Of course, there was one person that would never think of her in that way, and for that she was eternally grateful. She had, of course, heard the rumors about her and her supposed visions, but simply chose to think of it as meaningless gossip, and forged a friendship with Cordelia regardless.
But just because Willow was such an understanding individual, that didn't mean Cordelia was about to tell her that all the stories she had heard were true, and how much they had affected her emotional, and now perhaps her physical, well being.
She knew, however, that there was going to be a time when she wouldn't be able to hide that from Willow. And when that day came, would she be able to look at her in the way that she had always been able? And more importantly, would she still call her a friend?
A dull throbbing began to build at the base of her skull. Thinking for a moment that it was another vision trying to assert itself, Cordelia soon became aware of the fact that it was her cell phone ringing. Letting out a sigh, she got up out of her cross legged position, walked over to the table where she had left it and picked it up.
"Willow?" Initially irritated at having her meditations interrupted, her anger dissolved once she became aware of what had caused it. "Hi. What's wrong?"
"Can you meet me at the park in ten minutes?"
"Sure," Cordelia answered. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. It's just..."
Willow's hesitation made Cordelia pause. "What?"
"Well, you know how you're always telling me that I have to work harder in order to achieve my true potential?"
"You have no idea how right you were."
"...and that's why we had to find you," Artemis said, Luna at his side and Willow and the others sitting in a circle around them. "Long ago, you were the protectors and Guardians of the Moon Princess. You all fell during an attack on the Moon Kingdom by the people of Earth, having been manipulated into doing so by a young woman named Faith, herself under the influence of an evil entity known as Metallia. Queen Serenity managed to seal them away, and with the last of her strength, also managed to teleport you all to the future where you would be reincarnated and able to live out your lives in peace."
"But the Queen knew that there would be the possibility that either Metallia or Faith would eventually be able to break free of their prison and try to take over the Earth," Luna added. "For that reason, we were sent to the future with you, to reawaken the memories of your past lives should they start to attack the people of this time."
"And I'm afraid that time has come," Artemis said. "The five of you will need to work together in order to defeat them if this planet has any hope of a beautiful future. And while we do this, we must also try to find the Moon Princess. Her safety is paramount, as well. As the Guardian of the Mystical Silver Crystal, the enemy will no doubt be looking for her, too.
The five young women had all sat in silence, listening to the cats speak of them of a past they no longer remembered, a present very much in danger, and a duty they must perform in order to ensure a perfect future for both them and the world. Willow and Anya, having already heard the basics of this tale from the pair, were able to take it in stride.
The others, as they had initially, naturally had a much harder time wrapping their minds around the absurdness of the story.
"Y'all gotta be kidding," Fred said. "I'm just a teenage math prodigy. Sure, it's makes me someone special, but I never thought that I would be anything but that. I'm not some kind of superhero."
"That's what I said," Willow said with a slight chuckle. "Trust me, you'll get used to it. Eventually."
"So is that why I've been having these visions?" Cordelia asked. "Are these the memories of my former life trying to reassert themselves?"
"Quite possibly," Luna admitted. "The magic Queen Serenity used to transport you all here should have left you with no memories of your time in the Moon Kingdom. But like all magic, and given the circumstances, it is not at all surprising that things didn't turn out as well as she had intended. It was certainly possible that one or more of you would remember..."
"So I have you to blame for this?" Cordeila snapped, getting to her feet. "You're to blame for all the rumors and childish name calling I've had to endure?"
"No, Cordelia," Luna said, her tone indicating clearly that she not only knew of the anger Cordelia felt, but greatly sympathized with it. "We could not have foreseen that. Please do not blame her for all you have suffered. The Queen simply wanted to make sure that all of you were happy in your new lives."
Sitting back down on the tree log, Cordelia rested her head in her hands. "Well, someone should go back and tell her that, in at least one case, she crapped out big time."
Willow brought the conversation back to the present. "Look, guys. I know it's a lot to take in, but think about it. The five of us are all that stand between this planet and utter ruin. You may think that this means we're all getting the short end of the stick, but think about what will happen to everyone else if we don't try. I can't really remember a lot about the Moon Kingdom or our previous lives, but from what Luna and Artemis said, it was really bad. And I for one don't really want what happened there to happen here, too."
Getting to her feet, she made it a point to look at each of them, even Anya. Willow knew that she still had doubts about her effectiveness not only as a Sailor Soldier, but also, having been told that she was to be their de facto leader, relinquishing some of the control she would have over the group, and figured that this would be the best time to make sure Anya knew full well how committed she was. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not going to let the bad guys walk all over this planet like I do to the doormat each day when I get home. I'll defend this planet with everything that I got...even if I have to do it all by myself."
"Well said, Willow," Luna said, clearly proud of how the past twenty four hours had dramatically changed this young woman. She would be the one that the others would revolve around, so it was important that she made the effort to make the others see how important this situation was and the one who would show how much they were needed to stave off the oncoming storm.
She had apparently succeeded in her task, as Anya, whom Luna had noted last night seemed to be vehemently opposed to having her be a part of the team, got to her feet. "I still have my doubts, but if you can act like this more often, I'll be willing to side with you."
Fred followed suit. "I'm still not terribly sure what was going on, but if the world's in danger, I don't want to be left out in the cold while the rest of y'all try to defend it."
"I've had to deal with a lot of bad guys in my time," Buffy said, speaking for the first time as she got up and moved to join the others. "But none of them really wanted to go out of their way to try to blow up the world. These guys sound like all the bad boyfriends I've ever had. No way am I letting them walk all over me. And besides, I've always wanted to do everything I could to help the innocent. Count me in."
The four of them, along with the cats, looked at Cordelia, who appeared to be completely unmoved by Willow's words. Noticing that everyone was staring at her, she got to her feet. "Look, I'm not about to throw my life away to fight some enemy I don't even know in order to protect people I've never even met." Seeing the rather dejected and disappointed looks this brought from the others, she smiled. "Because I'm not about to let them think for one second that they can come over to our world and tread all over them, but us as well. And if they got a problem with that, they can just deal with it, because anyone who messes with the friends of Cordelia Chase has to answer to me." Her smile widened. "And I know people who can tell you stories about how bad an idea that is."
The group let out a big laugh at that.
"Now that we've settled that, we should give the three of you your tools," Luna said, the crescent moon marking on her forehead shining for a moment before firing three beams of light towards Buffy's, Fred's and Cordelia's wrists. After a few moments, a bracelet appeared on each of them, looking quite similar to the one that they had seen Anya have on her wrist. But whereas hers had an orange jewel inset into it, Fred's had a blue jewel, Cordelia's a red jewel and Buffy's a green jewel.
"What are these?" Fred asked, bringing her arm up to look at the bracelet.
"Those are your transformation devices," Luna explained. "Like Willow's brooch and Anya's bracelet, these will allow you to be able to transform into the Sailor Soldiers of your guardian planets."
"How?" Buffy asked.
"Say the name of your guardian planet and add 'Make Up'," Luna clarified, looking up at Fred. "You, Winifred Burkle, are the reincarnation of Princess Mercury, the Sailor Soldier of Wisdom, Guardian of Water and Knowledge."
Fred blushed at bit at hearing that, explaining to the others, "I've always loved the water, and I've been good at math since I was six. I guess now I know why."
Luna turned her attention to Cordelia. "You, Cordelia Chase, are the reincarnation of Princess Mars, the Sailor Soldier of War, Guardian of Flame and Passion."
Cordelia nodded. "I guess that makes sense. I've always had a little hotheaded streak within me, always sticking to what I've believed to be true." Looking at Willow, she added, "And being true to my friends."
Luna smiled and turned her attention to Buffy. "And you, Elizabeth Summers..."
"Buffy," the blonde interrupted.
"That's my name," Buffy insisted. "Well, the name that I let my friends call me by." She looked at Luna, then at the others and smiled. "I guess you guys have the right to call me that."
"Very well, then," Luna said. "You, Buffy Summers, are the reincarnation of Princess Jupiter, the Sailor Soldier of Protection, Guardian of Thunder and Courage."
Turning to look at Willow and Anya, still addressing the others, Luna continued, "These two you will come to learn as well. Anya was once Princess Venus, the Sailor Soldier of Love and Beauty, Guardian of Love and Friendship. And Willow..."
Luna paused, almost unsure as how she should continue. Although she had told the group that it was their duty to protect the Moon Princess, there was one very important thing that she had left unsaid: the fact that Willow was the Moon Princess they were sworn to protect. She knew that it was a fact that would eventually need to be told, but the five of them had been forced to absorb so much information in a short amount of time, and she could tell that they were all still trying to get used to it.
Although she felt this way towards them all, Luna especially felt concerned for Willow. She had been through this as the others had, and had seemed on the surface to accept it. But what would she do if she were to discover that, in addition to being the Sailor Soldier of the Moon, she was also the Princess of the long destroyed Moon Kingdom, heir to a legacy that she did not remember and keeper of the one thing that could make all the difference in this upcoming fight?
Making up her mind at last, and deciding that these were issues best left for another day, Luna continued, "Willow was, as I said before, your de facto leader. She led the four of you in protecting Princess Serenity from harm. And the five of you must do so once again if this planet is to have any hope of defending itself from Queen Faith and the forces of the Dark Kingdom."
"Now transform, Sailor Soldiers," Artemis said. "And reveal to one another your true forms."
The five girls nodded in apparent understand and moved to transform, each of them affecting a battle stance.
"Venus Power Make Up!"
"Mercury Power Make Up!"
"Mars Power Make Up!"
"Jupiter Power Make Up!"
"Moon Prism Power Make Up!"
The five young women shouted their transformation phrases and felt themselves change into dramatically different people. For Willow and Anya, it wasn't as dramatic, having experienced it at least once already, though Willow had to admit to herself that it would take her some time to get used to it. For the others, they were as surprised as Willow herself had been the first time she had transformed herself.
Moments later, the five stood in their uniforms, Willow taking a moment to look at them in their new forms. The first thing that caught her attention was the fact that their hairstyles had dramatically changed. Fred's wavy black hair had become a cropped blue coif, Cordelia's dark hair had gotten longer, flowing down her back and taking on a purplish tint, and Buffy's blonde hair had become reddish brown and done up in an elaborate pattern, ending in a ponytail. All three of them were dressed in the same leotard and skirt ensemble that Anya and Willow were dressed in, with Fred's skirt and bows a light blue, Cordelia's skirt a dark red with purple bows, and Buffy's skirt a dark green with pink bows. Gems of the same color as their skirts could be found inset on the tiara's that all three of them wore on their foreheads and the bows on their chest. Their footwear was colored the same as well, with Fred wearing knee length blue boots, Cordelia wearing red high heels and Buffy wearing laced green boots.
"Wow," Fred said, looking first at herself, then at the others. "I feel...different. And yet...I feel as if this is...me. I mean...who I always was."
"Me, too," Buffy said, giving her clothing and the clothing of the others a glance with a slight smirk on her face. "I kind of like it."
"Me, too," Cordelia said, hands moving to the tiara on her forehead. "It feels as if all of this were...a part of me."
"We'll have to start training you in your powers," Luna said, approaching them and resting on a tree stump. "But we should give you all the opportunity to get adjusted to this information. We'll meet again on the weekend and start then."
The five women nodded in confirmation, their clothing and hairstyles reverting back to their civilian forms.
"I've got to wonder something," Fred said.
"Yes?" Luna asked.
"Well, this enemy obviously knows about us now, right?"
"Well...what do you think this enemy is going to do now that they know that there's somebody out there who's going to try and stop them?"
Faith was greatly displeased. And when she was as displeased as she was now, she had a well known habit of making sure those who had displeased her knew it.
That was a lesson that Xander and Spike were learning at this very moment, arcs of blue energy cascading from her hands and playing across their bodies, subjecting them to the most terrible pain they could imagine. Like true warriors, they did not beg for mercy. Which was a good thing as far as she was concerned, for her immense unhappiness at how they had bungled such a simple assignment ensured that she would not be in a giving vein this day.
After several more moments, she ceased her punishment, her enjoyment at inflicting such cruel pain on them running its course. Allowing them the time to compose themselves, she said, "Perhaps the two of you would care to explain to me how you were able to foul up such a perfectly routine assignment."
"It...it could not be helped, My Queen," Xander stated. "We were...foiled..."
"Really, my dear Xander?" Faith asked with a look of unmitigated disgust on her face. "I would have thought that there was nothing in the universe that could defeat a warrior of your caliber." Turning to Spike, she added, "And of yours, Spike. I can see that all the time you have spent training with Angelus has been for naught."
Faith had chosen her words on purpose, knowing that she would get a rise out of both Xander and Spike for saying as such. This was a ploy that she knew would work well, for playing to their egos in this fashion would only serve to stoke the fires of injustice that burned deeply within their souls.
And, as often was the case, she had succeeded brilliantly.
"It was not our fault, my Queen," Xander growled. "We had accomplished our task perfectly. But we were set upon by two young women."
"My comrade speaks the truth, my Queen," Spike spoke up then, the disgust at admitting this making the raw wounds on his arm where the chain had struck him sting all the more. He would bear a scar there for quite some time, but he would not allow himself the dishonor of having to subject himself to treating a wound he sustained in battle, even a wound given by a warrior of the caliber of his opponent, clearly inferior though she was. It would make him stronger, and strength was everything. Angelus had taught him that. "We were set upon by two warriors who claimed to be Sailor Soldiers. We fought them to the best of our ability..."
"What?!" Faith said, her voice rising to the point that her normally calm and seductive words came out in a furious shriek that made the normally stoic warriors before her quite frightened. "Did you say 'Sailor Soldiers'?"
"Yes, my Queen," Xander replied, daring not to lie in the presence of Faith, knowing full well the consequences that act would bring upon him.
Faith's face contorted into one of abject disgust as she settled herself on her throne. "So, even in this time Queen Serenity seeks to thwart my dreams." As Faith continued to muse on this, Angelus and Oz appeared from out of nowhere. Noticing them approaching, she turned her attention to them. "I trust you have better news to offer me?"
"Yes, my Queen," Angelus said, kneeling before Faith, Oz choosing to remain standing. Faith noted this, but made no comment of it. If the news that Angelus had to offer was truly good, she was willing to overlook this breach of protocol. If not, however...
"We have managed to locate the Mystical Silver Crystal."
Faith's disillusioned attitude vanished so quickly that it was hard for her to believe that it had ever been present. "Really? Where?"
"Somewhere within the town above us, My Queen. We have, unfortunately, been unable to locate precisely where."
Faith waited to hear more from her most capable warrior and returned to her foul mood when she realized that no other news was forthcoming. "That's it? You know that it is somewhere above us, but not exactly where it is?"
"I'm afraid so, my Queen."
Faith could see from the look on Xander and Spike's faces that they were pleased by this bit of news. Having assumed that Angelus had failed in his task, they were expecting that he and Oz would be punished much like they had been. And indeed, nothing in this world would please her more than to see them suffer for failing her.
But perhaps, in this case, the best way to make them suffer...would be to praise them.
"Very good, Angelus. At least now we have a general idea where it is. Before now, all we had to work with was the fact that it was somewhere on this Earth. Now we can focus all of our attention on one place."
This praise drew a faint smirk from Angelus and Oz, and irritated glances from Xander and Spike. Faith looked at her four warriors and smiled inwardly. This declaration would polarize Xander and Spike, who clearly wished to atone for their recent failure by doing all within their power to be the first to find the Mystical Silver Crystal. In addition, it made Angelus and Oz aware of the fact that they had been the ones to narrow their search, and gain her approval for doing so.
Of course, now that they had a general idea about where the Crystal was, the four of them would trip over themselves in order to outdo each other in attempting to locate it, whether on their own initiative or working together.
One thing was for sure: thanks to this incident, none of them would be able fully trust the others while doing so.
Faith did not particularly care about the squabbling and petty bickering the four of them were likely to do. As long as one of them managed to bring to her the Crystal, whoever did so and however they accomplished it was none of her concern. For in the end, they would be as they had always been: a means to an end.
More correctly, they were the means to locating that which would bring about the end of the Earth. And the end to the lives of Serenity's chosen defenders.