One Month Later
Willow walked up the steps to the front doors of Sunnydale High School, her movements hesitant, almost as if, despite her early arrival and little fear of getting detention for being late, she didn't want to go inside. Her mind was going over the events of the past two months, and how the dangers of the Dark Kingdom and the pain of her life as a Sailor Soldier had made school, the one place in this entire town where she thought that those two parts of her life could never reach her, had instead become the place where they had come together rather violently, the constant need for her to keep that part of her life separate from her, for lack of a better term, otherwise "normal" life making her existence a living nightmare.
It certainly didn't help matters much that three of the four people that had become integrated into both of those lives were also attending this school, and though two of them were at least willing to consider her a friend as far as normal life was concerned, the fact that the entire group had widely varied opinions insofar as how to deal with the enemy they were supposed to be united against made it nearly impossible for them to be anything other than politely civil towards one another.
Although true of all three of them, it was especially true of Anya, who very pointedly made a conscious effort to avoid Willow whenever she possibly could, regardless of whatever negative repercussions the teachers and the principal decided to enact on her. The fact that the two of them shared several classes made this especially difficult, and it led, on more than one occasion, to Willow doing the bulk of their project work while Anya sat back, giving no real indication that she had any willing desire to be in Willow's presence. It was bad enough that she refused to deal with her in the way that their roles as de facto and de jure leaders of the Sailor Soldiers required of them, but Willow had at least thought that they could get along outside of Soldier life. It quickly became apparent how wrong that assumption was.
It was only marginally better among the rest of the Soldiers, who two months ago had no idea that they were the reincarnations of the Princesses of four of the Solar System's planets during the period known as the Silver Millennium, nor that they, along with Willow and Anya, were tasked with the mission of protecting the Princess of the Moon, heir to the Moon Kingdom, from the evils of the universe. Since then, the four of them, who had, at the very least, shared a basic camaraderie and the slightest hints of a budding friendship when they first met, had their commitment to that mission wane to varying degrees.
Cordelia Chase, the only one of the five who did not attend Sunnydale High, was, by a wide margin, the one whose commitment to their mission had dropped the most, not only in significance, but in tolerance. Having been plagued by visions ever since she was a child, she was not at all pleased to discover that these visions, which had made her a target of suspicion and fear throughout her entire adolescence, were the faintest remnants of the memories she had of her time as Princess Mars, one of the Guardians of Princess Serenity. Although willing to be a part of the group at their first meeting, realizing what inaction on her part could bring to the others and the whole of humanity, the various problems the group had once they had come together as a unit, combined with the growing intensity of her visions and her dislike of them, led to Cordelia eventually deciding to exclude herself from the others in all things. Even to Willow, whom she had long considered to be the only person in town she could call "friend".
Winifred Burkle, who preferred to be known as "Fred", and Elizabeth Summers, who preferred to be known as "Buffy" and had transferred to Sunnydale High from Hemry High in Los Angeles, were somewhat more willing to accept their destinies as protectors of Princess Serenity, and considered Willow to be not only their leader, but also a dear friend. But despite all of that, the two of them couldn't come to an agreement as to how to deal with the Dark Kingdom and the threat that they posed to Earth. Fred had adopted what Willow called the "wait and see" approach, thinking that they should do their best to stop the Dark Kingdom from gathering energy while they searched for the Moon Princess in secret, never letting the enemy know what they were doing. In contrast, Buffy had adopted what Willow decided to call the "think first, ask questions when and if you ever decided to" approach, coming up with a plan that Willow figured most hard nosed military would put together when put in a similar situation: that the best way to develop a good defense was to go on a strong offense, and that the Dark Kingdom and those who served it should be wiped off the face of the planet before they could even think about finding the Princess, so as to minimize the threat to her life.
Willow's inability to come to a decision about which course of action to take had made the others seriously wonder whether or not she could act effectively as their leader. And Anya, as Willow expected, was quick to state that she should take over command of the group, citing that Willow couldn't even make such a basic decision as that. Luna disagreed, saying that the only way for Willow to gain the experience she needed to truly be their leader was to try the best she could to make the decisions she thought were best for the group.
For the past two months, however, Willow had found herself unable to do anything even approximating that, which led to the five of them, who had seemed so united in their common cause on a day that the redhead imagined now must have been long in the past, drifting away. And Willow knew that, no matter how hard she tried, there was nothing she could think of doing that would get them back together again.
As far as her scholastic achievements went, on the other hand, Willow had made incredible progress. Never really all that good of a student before meeting Luna and the others, she quickly found herself managing to become quite better at topics that used to confound her, especially English, Mathematics and Literature. At Luna's insistence, however, she was forced to fail a test every so often. When Willow had asked her why, Luna replied that in order to maintain her secret identity as Sailor Moon, she shouldn't strongly give off the fact that she was any different than anyone else, since the enemy would immediately take any indication of such as a sign that there was something going on out in the real world, and would immediately make her a target. Luna had told them all that Willow's first encounter with them had alerted them to the fact that there was someone on Earth who would stop them in their efforts, and that any abrupt change to the ordinary way of things would be seen by them as the revealing of the identity of those attempting to thwart their plans. Willow could readily agree with that statement, knowing that if the Dark Kingdom were ever to target her, then the lives of her friends and family would be in danger, as well.
And there was one person on this Earth she wanted to protect, and whose memory she fought for every single time she went into battle. The angelic, youthful face of Tara Maclay, whom she had been dating for the past eight months after a courtship of nearly a year and had recently revealed to her the fact that she was looking for the Mystical Silver Crystal, the object that both the forces of the Dark Kingdom and the Sailor Soldiers were looking for. Luna had said that it was somehow connected to the Princess, and that finding it would find the Princess.
When Tara had told Willow of her search for the Crystal, Willow had promised to keep it a secret from everybody else. That meant that she also had to keep it a secret from Luna and the others. Willow didn't want to expose Tara to the dangers of her new life, and she would fight as hard as she could in order to make sure that the Dark Kingdom never got to her. She had once said that she would do so even without the help of the other Soldiers.
Well, it certainly appeared that it would end up that way. The fact that she was fighting to protect Tara didn't make that seem important. If anything, it made her feel more…confident. Willow wasn't sure she'd be able to fight the Dark Kingdom if she was doing it to protect someone she didn't know, but doing it to protect Tara felt…strangely right.
Finishing her long walk up the steps to the door, Willow was happy to be greeted by Amy Madison, her best friend in civilian life outside of the other soldiers, and the one who had the somewhat questionable honor of being involved with the Dark Kingdom's first plot against the people of Earth. Not that she knew that, of course, thinking that the whole thing was just the result of possible heat exhaustion. Nor did she know that Willow was one of the people who had saved her that day. Luna had told her that their identities as Sailor Soldiers could never be revealed to anyone, lest the enemy find out that others knew who their opponents were in their daily lives and use that information to their advantage.
"Hey, Amy," Willow said, waving her hand. "Feeling OK?"
Amy walked up to Willow's side and moved to open the door. "I'm fine, Willow. You don't need to worry about me. I've long passed the point where I get those blackouts and headaches. What I want to know is if you're OK?"
"What do you mean?" Willow coyly asked, though she had an idea about what Amy was talking about.
"I mean the fact that we were supposed to go to the Bronze last week, but you cancelled at the last minute. I mean the fact that we were supposed to meet after school to study for a test on Tuesday, but you wanted to go see Tara instead. I mean the fact that I called you last night, and you never answered your phone," Amy explained as they walked inside the school and went to their homeroom class. "Will, something's going on with you. I can feel it. Is there something bugging you that you want to talk about?"
Willow sighed. "No, Amy. Nothing's bothering me." To herself, she thought, "It's just that I have to deal with an enemy that wants to use me, you and everybody we know as batteries to power their sleeping alien demon queen that wants to kill us all, and I'm one of the only five people on this planet that have any chance of stopping them, only me and those four other people can't seem to agree on how to do that, so I have to do it all by myself."
Amy sighed and looked around. "Well, at least you're on time today, so we don't have to worry about getting caught by Snyder again. Let's get to class."
Faith gazed down as the Shitennou made their way into her presence, their right hands to their chests as they kneeled on one knee in front of her, their heads bowed down out of respect. Normally this showcase of their devotion to her, manufactured though it was, would please her immensely. But these days, when their search for the Mystical Silver Crystal grew more and more frustrating with each passing day, she was not in the most pleasant of moods, and not even the sight of those four showcasing their loyalty to her, manufactured though it may be, could lift Faith's spirits.
"My Queen, we bow before you in obedience and await your commands," one of them intoned. This man was clad in black with a red cape affixed to his body by the epaulettes inset with white jewels that rested on his shoulders. Both the cape and uniform were trimmed in gold, his long dark hair flowing loosely on his shoulders and down his back.
Faith rolled her eyes in disgust. "Obedience, you say, Angelus? And yet the four of you cannot manage to accomplish the simple task I have given to you. I cannot imagine the difficulties the four of you could have in locating the Mystical Silver Crystal."
This was a lie, of course, and both Faith and the others knew it. One of the Shitennou, a youngish looking young man with short cropped dark hair that complimented the dark purple uniform he wore, spoke, "We are deeply sorry for failing you, my Queen. We have tried our best to locate the Crystal, but our efforts have been thwarted time and time again by the guardians of the Princess."
"Yes," Faith stated with an expression on her features akin to that of one who had just been told the one thing that would displease her more than anything else on this world could. "And I would have thought that the four of you would have been capable of dealing with them." She passed her glance to the one clad in white. "Especially you, Spike. I would have thought that you would have readily taken whatever opportunity came your way if it meant that you would have the opportunity to kill them, given how one of them managed to embarrass you so…easily."
"It was not that easy, my Queen," Spike growled, his head still bowed and hiding the expression on his face that indicated how deeply Faith's words had wounded him, almost as much as the attack that girl had dealt him. Even after all this time, he still did not have it treated, preferring to carry it as a symbol of that which would consume him as much as the search for the Crystal would: the death of the one who had dealt him this blow.
"And to think that Angelus trained you," the final member of the Shitennou spoke, his red uniform and hair making him the living representation of the fire that burned deep within his heart. "Perhaps his efforts were for naught. After all, you could barely handle that Sailor Soldier we faced not too long ago."
"You didn't appear to have any better luck dealing with her, either," Spike snapped back.
This exchange brought about another of the arguments that the four of them always seemed to have while they were in her presence and their meetings went from discussing their plans to debating over how to carry them out. It was typical male posturing, and Faith usually found it amusing for quite some time before she grew annoyed.
This time, however, she was far from amused by their antics, and made that apparent to the four of them by slamming her staff down, sending a shockwave through the ground.
Their attention back on her, Faith clearly set out the situation for them. "I grow weary of your constant and pointless prattling. I have allowed it up to this point because it amused me, and kept the four of you on your toes. But now things have changed. Queen Metallia will tolerate no more delays, and neither will I. The four of you will have to work together as one in order to accomplish your goal."
"Work together?" Spike flustered, raising his head. "With them? You cannot be serious, my Queen."
"Have you known me to be anything but, Spike?" Faith asked, an icy tone in her voice that left little indication that the matter was to be discussed in any way.
Acquiescing, Spike lowered his head and apologized. "Forgive me, my Queen."
Fait sat back on her throne and looked at the four one at a time. "Now, can I assume that one of you has a plan that can be carried out that will see the Silver Crystal end up in our possession?"
Angelus raised his head, a faint smile on his face. "As a matter of fact, I do."
"Then perhaps you can tell us this plan," Faith said, her tone of voice making it perfectly clear that it was not a question.
"Certainly, my Queen," Angelus said. "The reason that the Sailor Soldiers have been able to thwart our plans is because our work in draining the people of the Earth of their energy makes them come to us with the advantage of surprise and stealth on their side. If, however, we were to do something that would draw them out in such a way that would give us the advantage, we could get them together and wipe them out in one fell swoop."
Faith's lips curved up in a smile. "I see. And how would you go about this?"
"The four of us will traverse Sunnydale and capture people at random," Angelus explained. "The sudden disappearance of so many people is sure to attract the attention of the Sailor Soldiers, especially if we were to capture one or more of the people to whom they are related, either by blood or by friendship."
"And when you have gathered them together, you will force them to turn over the Princess?" Faith asked, comprehension dawning on her face as she began to understand what Angelus planned.
"Yes, my Queen," Angelus nodded. "The thought of seeing so many people in danger will surely compel them to trade the life of the Princess for the lives of innocents. And then, once we have the Silver Crystal, we will simply slaughter them all."
Faith let out a chuckle. "I like this plan, Angelus. You and the others may proceed with my blessing."
As the four got up and moved to leave, Faith allowed a smile to form on her face, realizing that, when pushed, the Shitennou could truly come up with a plan that appeared on all levels to work without a flaw. Then again, since nothing is completely flawless, there may be some small imperfections to their plan. But even then, the imperfections may prove to be of some worth...in some way or another.
Faith would find a way to make them work to her advantage. After all, even failure brought about the opportunity for success.