With a scream and a leap Sailor Sun launched herself to where Uranus was guarding Saturn and Neptune. Sticking her arms in the air, tried to ignore the way she could feel the bones grate in her left arm. "Sailors, join on me!"

    Despite not knowing what she planned, all the Sailors moved. Teamwork was the key to their success. If Sailor Sun knew something they did not, they did not have time to question her. Sun took one last look around her, making sure her friends were close enough. Closing her eyes, she called on the one other attack she knew she had. "SOLAR FLARE!"

    A sudden concussion knocked most of the Senshi off their feet, and shook the youma, causing them to pause. Even though Moon fell straight onto Sailor Sun, the red haired girl did not move in the slightest. While she channelled massive quantities of power, the ground began to shake, and an ominous thunder rose from all around. The youma had just rejoined the attack when the full force appeared.

    Centred around Sailor Sun was a small area of calm in which the Senshi and two youma hid, too stunned to speak or move while the force of nature raged beside them. A third youma almost joined them, but it had been caught on the invisible dividing line between safety and destruction. With half it's body vaporised in a raging inferno, the youma fell to the ground and began to dissolve. All the Senshi could see was a dome of fire, covering them, surrounding them. A muted roar of flames could be heard, as though far away. Inside the dome, it was calm and cool. After seeing what had happened to the youma caught in the surrounding fires, none felt the desire to try putting a hand outside.

    Outside it was another matter. For almost two hundred meters all around a blazing conflagration raged. Flames powered by the surface of the sun melted the ground, and reduced everything they touched to a seared plasma. A burning, inverted tornado of flame reached almost eight hundred meters into the air. While the top of the solar flare wavered and wobbled, the base stayed perfectly solid, a perfect circle of destruction.

    Her spell lasted for only forty seconds, but to anyone watching it was an eternity. Past the circle of the outer radius, everything was unhurt, and the same was true for the small haven at the heart. But between...

    Between the two regions the destruction was complete. Fire had sterilise the air and the ground, melting through the street and rock underneath, leaving a bubbling seething mess of slowly cooling lava.

    Sailor Sun collapsed unconscious, unable to help as the victorious Senshi dispatched the last of the youma.

* * *

    knocked on the door of Ami's home. No response. She tried again, then was greeted by the face of an older woman. Bowing her head, Akane introduced herself.

    "Hello Akane. I'm sorry, Ami's not here at the moment. She went out a while ago with a friend."

    "Oh, sorry to disturb you Mrs Mizuno. I don't suppose Ranma is here. He mentioned he was going to see Ami this afternoon."

    Ami's mother looked confused for a moment, then explained. "No, Ranma hasn't come here. Ami's friend Ranko came over for a while, then they both went out. They should be back soon for dinner. Would you like to come in and wait? You can stay for dinner if you like... Ami may know where Ranma is."

    Akane beamed. "Thank you Mrs Mizuno! I'm sure Ranko will know where Ranma is."

    The words had hardly left her mouth when Mrs Mizuno screamed. Turning around, Akane saw a horrid sight. A beaten and battered Ami was walking along, with a semi-conscious Ranko draped over one shoulder. Both looked in terrible shape. They were smoke blackened, and coated in scratches and the odd gash or more serious cut. Ranko looked like she had been beaten with a iron bar, and then forced to go without food for a month. Her face was drawn and haggard. What was worse was the delicate and unnatural way that Ranko held her left arm.

    Both women raced out to meet them. Ami smiled with relief when her mother reached her, and Akane lifted Ranko into her arms. She did not like to deceive people, but Ami thought it was best that Akane did not see her or Ranko in their Sailor suits. Let Ranko explain what had happened at another time.

    Inside the house Ami's mother gathered her doctors bag, while Ranko and Ami were placed on beds. Akane was getting ready to do some really serious crying - the sort that would really make her father proud - when a though crossed her mind. Dashing out of the room, she grabbed Ami's mother while she was getting things. "Mrs Mizuno! Ahh, Ranko has a bit of a problem with hot water. It's something that happened when she was younger. When you wash her up, can you make sure the water is only slightly warm. It would really distress her if she felt hot water, and I'm not sure if she could take it at the moment."

    Ami's mother looked at her for a moment then nodded her head. Since Ranko was injured and dirty, the best thing would be to sponge bath her with hot water. However if something horrible had happened to her - say, having a kettle of boiling water poured on her when she was a baby - Ranko might have some sort of severe psychological reaction to hot water. Best to trust her cousin and not risk it.

    While Akane cried over Ranko and apologised for all the things she ever said to Ranko which hurt her, Ami was checked out, then it was Ranko's turn. Aside from the broken arm, Ranko had a number of large cuts, dozens of small burns, and many, many bruises. Akane was shocked. She had known Ranma for almost a year now, and she had never seen him so badly beaten. When he had fought Ryoga, Kuno or any of the innumerable monsters or people which tried to kill him he had been knocked about or even cut a bit. Never like this. Whoever did this must be some sort of animal... or a demon.

    Akane suddenly realise what must have happened. Ranko (why as a girl she did not know) and Ami must have gone out, and Ranko must have fought a youma. She knew Ranma would never risk endangering a friend - especially a girl - so the youma must have attacked them. Oh, Ranma, you gallant fool. Please be all right.

    That night Ami's mother took Ranko and Akane back to Mr Miyagi's place by taxi. Before taking the dazed Ranko in to the dojo, Akane hunted up the thermos of hot water that had been stashed. A quick look and a quick check: no one around, and still hot. Hey presto, instant Ranma.

    Late that night, while Ranma lay in bed, Akane sat by his side and watched over him. When he woke up, Akane was there, checking he was OK. But it was Akane he was worried about. Despite all that had happened to him that afternoon, it was still the events of the morning which weighed heaviest upon him. When Akane told him that she had read his note, and of course she forgave him, he sighed, closed his eyes, and slept soundly.

* * *

    Ranma woke up late the next day. Beside him was a note from Mr Miyagi and some breakfast. Propping himself up with one arm, Ranma began to work his way through the food and read the letter. Apparently Mr Miyagi had been suddenly called away by one of his past students. Daniel-san had managed to get himself involved in some Martial Arts contest over a girl he had seduced and needed the wisdom of his old sensei. Mr Miyagi expected to be home in a few weeks, and he hoped that Akane and Ranma would be all right, especially since Ranma was doing a good job of teaching Akane, and would be unable to study himself while his arm healed.

    A second page of the note was from Akane. They had left him to sleep, and she wanted to ensure that he would stay in bed for the day. Since she knew about his pride, she was just going to tell their friends that he was sick. No point in her telling everyone that the strong Martial Artist had received the beating of his life. She would see him tonight after telling Ami to cancel his lessons.

    There was also a request in there. Stop fighting the demons. It was short. It was simple. It was also impossible. Rei had been right all that time ago; if not him, then who? He needed to do this or Akane and people like her could never be safe. Ranma lay down and sighed. His arm and body was hurting again. He needed time to think, perhaps there was some way that he could tell her he was one of the Senshi, then she would understand.


    Excerpt from "Sailor Ranko", by Fire.