by Moon Momma
* * * * * * * *
The Sailor Senshi were quarreling. One small, carefully-worded taunt by Tuxedo Mask directed at Sailor Mars had set her and Sailor Moon at each other's throats, with the other three arguing over whether to take sides and whose side to take. Queen Beryl was pleased.
Nephrite was pleased, too, but also a little worried. What he had seen of the Senshis' infighting looked almost too real. He just had to hope that they were merely being very good actors.
Beryl sent for Naru. Nephrite had given Naru a full explanation of his plan, in anticipation of this, and coached her beforehand in what she should say to Beryl. Though he hadn't been included in the summons, Nephrite had no intention of letting Naru face Beryl alone. He went with her, and if Beryl didn't like it that was just too bad.
As usual, Kunzite and Endymion were standing on opposite sides of Beryl's throne glaring at each other. Naru and Nephrite stood at the bottom of the steps. Queen Beryl did not invite them to ascend. "Girl," Beryl said to Naru, "there is some disagreement over whether this fighting between the Sailor Senshi is genuine. What do you think?"
"It might be," Naru said. "Sailor Mars has always been a real bitch to Sailor Moon. She's always thought she would be a better leader, and she likes bossing people around. But Sailor Moon likes being the leader because she's never been good enough to be the leader at anything before. She isn't about to let Sailor Mars push her around."
"And the others?"
"Well, I don't know about Sailor Venus, but Sailor Mercury thinks she's smarter than the others, especially Sailor Moon. She's pretty stuck up about it, and I bet she'd like to be leader herself. Sailor Jupiter only wants to do the Sailor Senshi thing for as long as it's fun. When it stops being fun, like with all the arguing, I bet she'll quit." Naru desperately hoped she had kept all the Sailor Senshi names straight. Nephrite had drilled her for hours to get her to use the planet names instead of the girls' real names.
"Hmm," Beryl said. "That does sound encouraging." Mamoru sneered at Kunzite.
"You'd trust her?" Kunzite snarled, pointing at Naru.
"Silence, Kunzite. Can I trust you, girl? Whose side are you really on?"
"Nephrite's side." Naru was glad Nephrite had anticipated this question. She would never have been able to think of a good answer on her own, especially not when she was feeling scared to death like she was right now.
"And what side is that?" Kunzite challenged.
"I am on the side that I believe has the best chance of winning," Nephrite said. "I intend to survive this war."
"So your loyalty is merely a matter of survival?" Kunzite asked.
"Survival can be a powerful motivation," Nephrite replied.
"That will do, gentlemen," Beryl said, silencing them. "I am satisfied that the Senshis' quarrel is genuine, Kunzite. I will not hear any more criticism of this strategy. You have done well, Prince Endymion. Nephrite, tell me, do you think Sailor Moon is vulnerable to our attack yet?"
"Not enough time has gone by, my Queen. There may still be lingering feelings of loyalty, duty, or friendship towards Sailor Moon. We must wait until all ties between her and the other Senshi have been completely severed and Sailor Moon is truly isolated."
"I see," Beryl said. "Endymion, you know these humans better than anyone else. You will be the one to tell me when it is time to make our move."
Endymion bowed and said, "Yes, Queen Beryl-sama," but Nephrite interrupted him. "With all due respect, my Queen, the Prince may not be fully objective in the matter, given both his previous relationship with Sailor Moon and his eagerness to please you. I have nothing to lose or gain, except my survival. You can count on me to judge the situation carefully and give unbiased advice."
"I do not like being questioned, Nephrite!"
Nephrite bowed and saluted. "My apologies, Queen Beryl-sama."
"Still, though," the Queen said thoughtfully, "you do have a point. Endymion, you will work with Nephrite to determine when we should attack Sailor Moon."
"Yes, Queen Beryl-sama," Endymion said, directing a murderous look at Nephrite.
Naru let out the breath she had been holding. This had gone at least partly the way Nephrite wanted it to; he would have some say in the decision when to go against Sailor Moon, and could hopefully delay the Dark Kingdom's attack until it was too late, until the Senshis had launched their own attack.
* * * * * * * *
Back in their room, Nephrite held Naru until her trembling stopped. "You did well, Naru-chan."
"Why do I feel like I betrayed them?" she asked in a small voice.
His embrace tightened. "I thought you understood the plan."
"I do. It's just that, saying all those terrible things about them, I felt awful."
"Like the things I had to say about you when I brought you here, to protect you from Beryl."
"I know, but still..."
Nephrite pulled back a little to look at her. "Tell me," he said, "why does it bother you so much, considering how they treated you?"
"Usagi's my oldest friend, and she's still my best friend, after you. I know she was mean to me, but she was confused. And it didn't help that the Dark Kingdom kept making you look bad in front of her. The others, they're Usagi's friends and she needs them. They were just being loyal to her, like they're supposed to. I can't hate them for that."
Nephrite held her, and thought about how much he still had to learn from her.
* * * * * * * *
Beryl and her three commanders stared at the crystal ball, observing Sailors Moon, Mercury, and Venus in a three-way fistfight. "I think the time has come," Endymion said. "Mercury and Venus are the least aggressive of the Sailor Senshi. I think this shows that the Sailor Senshi have no love left to lose between them."
"Well, Nephrite?" Queen Beryl asked.
Nephrite was growing impatient and worried. If the Senshi waited too long, Beryl would strike first and obtain the crystal. He forced himself to speak coolly. "Where there is fighting such as this, my Queen, there are still emotions involved. Emotions can turn without warning. Fear can turn to courage, sorrow to joy, hate to love, in an instant."
"You've become quite the expert on human emotions," Kunzite said. "Been getting lessons from your human whore?"
Nephrite clenched his fists, resisting the urge to pound Kunzite's cold, handsome, bitter face into pulp. "The girl is very wise in such things."
"What is your point, Nephrite?" the Queen asked. She sounded impatient.
"A single fight does not necessarily mean that the bonds between Sailor Moon and her Senshi are completely broken. I would suggest you observe them for a few more days. If they appear cold towards each other, then I would say that the time has come to strike against Sailor Moon."
"My Queen!" Endymion began to protest.
"Easy, my pet. I understand your impatience. We will wait and observe one more day, Nephrite."
"Yes, my Queen." Nephrite bowed and saluted. Sailor Moon, what are you waiting for?
* * * * * * * *
When he arrived back in their room, Naru took one look at his face. "Will it happen soon?"
"Tomorrow, if not sooner," he said.
The Senshi would come to battle against the Dark Kingdom. Not just her fate, not just that of her friends, but the fate of the Earth would be decided. And Nephrite would be called upon to fight on Beryl's side. Naru took Nephrite by the hand and led him to the bed. Although she could sense the war inside him, his desire for her fighting with what he believed was best for her, he lay unresisting as she made love to him, for only the second time and for what could be the last time.
* * * * * * * *
From the meeting, Kunzite teleported directly to the place where, according to his spies, the Sailor Senshi had come on a few occasions lately. He hid in the treetops, observing silently, and waiting. He knew Nephrite was committing treason, and he was going to get his proof. He had tried searching the ruins of the Starlight Tower, but all he had found were some bricks stained rusty with blood that could have been either Nephrite's or Endymion's. Sooner or later, he vowed, he would get the evidence he needed to destroy Nephrite, and Zoisite would be avenged.
* * * * * * * *
Arriving one at a time, the Senshi came to the safe place Nephrite had set aside for them, on the grounds of his mansion. Nephrite had explained to them how this small pocket of negative space worked, and they could each operate the mechanism to get in and out, but only Ami fully understood the physics behind it. As they entered the hiding place, the four Senshis and two cats gathered around a sobbing Usagi, trying to comfort her. "I can't take this any more," she cried. "Look, Ami-chan, you made my nose bleed!"
Ami, also dirty, bruised, and crying, said, "Usagi-chan, I'm sorry. Luna, Artemis," she pled, "isn't it time? I don't think any of us can go on like this."
"I know I can't," said Minako, who was likewise roughed-up and crying.
The two cats looked at each other, then at the sobbing girls. "It is time," Luna said heavily. "I only wish... But we've committed ourselves to this path, and there's nothing to do but go on with it."
"I just wish we were sure we could really trust Nephrite," Mars said.
"I'm sure," Mercury and Jupiter said simultaneously.
"So am I," Usagi added after a moment. "I wish I had listened to him, before. I wish I had listened to Naru-chan and given him a chance."
"Wishing won't change anything," Luna said. "Now, you've all trained well, and I think you are ready, as far as your fighting abilities go. But there are some things you need to know in order to be truly ready. Sailor Moon, hold up the crescent moon wand. Everyone, hold on to each other, and open your minds to the past..."
They obeyed. Swirling light came out of the Silver Crystal, catching up the girls and cats and whirling them away...
* * * * * * * *
...To the ruins of the Moon Kingdom. They walked among the fallen stones, the lifeless fountains, the dead rock which had once been beautiful gardens, while fragments of memory began to flicker in their minds.
The spirit of Queen Selene appeared, and told them of the last days of the Silver Millennium, the approach of war, the treason of Endymion's four Guardians, the night of the final, fatal battle for the Moon Palace, the deaths of Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion. She spoke of her sacrifice to save as many of the spirits of the Moon Children as she could and to banish Metallia's servants to the Dark Kingdom. The Senshi learned of their identities as Princesses of the various planets in addition to being Princess Serenity's bodyguard, and their own deaths in the battle.
"What about Naru-chan?" Usagi finally asked. "Wasn't she--I thought she was one of us."
"Naru-chan," the Queen said affectionately. "No, Usagi, she wasn't a princess or one of the Senshi. She was only a servant; faithful and beloved, but nonetheless only a servant. Her only power is love; her only strength is in helping those whom she loves. I'll tell you her story. Naru loved one of Endymion's Guardians, and he loved her."
"Nephrite?" Ami asked.
"Yes," the Queen replied. "But the evil one had already begun to seduce him, and nothing could come of their love at that time. Naru was inconsolable when Nephrite deserted to the Dark Kingdom. Yet she remained a faithful servant. In the final battle, she gathered together many of the youngest and oldest in the palace, nobles and servants alike, who were unable to defend themselves, and hid them. Though she had never before in her life held a sword, she took one from the body of a slain soldier and guarded the door of the room where she had hidden those whom she was trying to protect. The one she loved was the first to discover this hiding place."
"Did Nephrite kill her?" Usagi gasped.
"He hesitated. While he hesitated, another of the treasonous Guardians came upon the girl and killed her. She died protecting those who were even weaker than herself. Her sacrifice was entirely in vain--not a single one of the people of the Moon survived that day. Yet I can't help wondering if such small acts of courage and defiance will eventually lead to Beryl's destruction..." Queen Serenity fell silent for a moment. A look of unearthly sadness crossed her elegant features. "I do not understand why it is that the softest and gentlest of souls, such as Naru-chan and you, my dear daughter, must bear the heaviest burdens and endure the greatest sorrows. But, thus it is."
"What do you mean?" Usagi asked.
The Queen was silent a moment. "I will not tell you that. Sometimes, when hard decisions must be made, it is better not to know all the consequences." Then she smiled again. "You must go now, my valiant daughters. I know you can do what I was unable to do, a thousand years ago. May the stars smile upon you."
Brilliant, silvery light spiraled out from the Silver Crystal, catching up the Senshi and returning them to the safe place in Nephrite's woods.
* * * * * * * *
Their mood was subdued, after the tale they had heard. "I wish Naru-chan wasn't mixed up in this," Sailor Moon said.
"No sense wishing," Jupiter said. "Let's just get on with it, and get Naru and Mamoru out of there, and finish off the Dark Kingdom once and for all."
"Right!" the others all agreed. They stepped out of the space-pocket and prepared to teleport to the entry point Nephrite had told them about. Suddenly, a cold wind, unnatural even for the chilly autumn night, swirled around them. "Something's wrong!" Ami cried.
A familiar, terrifying figure appeared before the Sailor Senshi. Kunzite flung his cape behind him and laughed as the Sailor Senshi gasped and took a step back. "I knew Nephrite was betraying us, and here's my proof," he said. "I'll just take that Crystal now, Moon-Brat, and when I tell Queen Beryl that I've seen the five of you standing here together, Nephrite will be dead and so will the human slut who shares his bed!"
"You can't talk like that about--!" Usagi's words were cut off by a burst of silvery fire from Kunzite's hands that flung her, the rest of the Senshi, and the cats backwards into a heap on the ground. Sailor Moon sat up, then ducked aside as a pair of silver energy blades hurtled past her. "You're not gonna get the Crystal, you bleach-head trash!" She threw herself flat on the ground as another pair of energy blades spun towards her. It wouldn't be enough to protect the Silver Crystal from Kunzite; she also had to prevent him from returning to the Dark Kingdom with the news of Nephrite's double-cross.
"The wand," came Luna's pain-filled voice. "Use the wand, Sailor Moon."
Sailor Moon held out the Crescent Moon Wand, clasped tightly in both hands. Her arms trembled from the latent power of the wand. Kunzite flung two more energy blades at the Sailor Senshi.
Before the blades struck, light flared from the Silver Crystal. Kunzite screamed, "No!" then called, in a weaker voice, "Zoisite, I'm coming to you!" As the light cleared, Kunzite dissolved into sparkling dust which spiraled towards the sky.
"He's dead," breathed Mars.
"I--I killed him," Sailor Moon said, stunned. This was different from destroying youma; they couldn't really even be considered alive, hardly, but Kunzite was different. He was almost like a real person, even if he was evil and not human. She stared at her hands, still gripping the Crescent Moon Wand, as though she had never seen them before.
"You did what had to be done," Jupiter said firmly. "Now, are we going after his boss, or what?"
The Senshis all nodded at each other. "Let's go!" Moon said.
"But what about Luna and Artemis?" Venus said, looking at the cats, who still lay crumpled on the ground.
"We'll be ok," Artemis gasped. "Now go, and teach Beryl a lesson for us!"
"Right!" the Senshi said. They clasped hands in a circle, concentrating on Nephrite's instructions for gaining access to the Dark Kingdom, and drew on their powers...
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite awoke at Beryl's summons. It was time; the Sailor Senshi were on their way, a day earlier than Beryl had expected them. It's about time, he thought. Let's get this over with. He clung to Naru for just another moment, trying not to think about the possibility that this could be the last time they were together. He started to slide out of bed without waking her, then stopped. She was his consort, his Lady, and she should play her role in this. She deserved that dignity.
Gently he shook her shoulder. "Naru, wake up." She stirred and looked up at him, her greenish-blue eyes filled with the sleepy look he loved so much.
"What is it?" she asked.
"The Senshi are coming. It's time. Beryl has summoned me to guard her, and I want you to help me get ready."
"Okay," she said. They both dressed, Naru putting on a sweater and pair of embroidered jeans, Nephrite donning a fresh, crisply pressed uniform. He spared a thought of gratitude for Dusty's faithful service, and hoped that she and his other youma servants on the outside would survive the fall of the Dark Kingdom. If indeed Sailor Moon won.
He went to the wall of the chamber and touched a certain spot to reveal a niche in the wall. He hadn't worn his armor since the attack on the Moon Palace. After the banishment to the Dark Kingdom, he had carefully cleaned it and stored it away. It still looked exactly as it had that day a thousand years ago.
First, his hair. It was madness to go into battle with long hair flying loose. He took a long, thin strip of leather that lay coiled up at the bottom of the niche, and used it to tie his hair into a ponytail high on the back of his head. Then he began to braid the ponytail. Naru came up behind him and took over, as was right for his Lady to do. He knelt in front of her, his back to her, while she tugged at his hair, tucking in the shorter ends into the braid to make sure they weren't hanging free. When she was done he handed her a second thong to tie off the end, then he looped the braid up twice and fastened it at the back of his head with a third thin strip of leather.
Next was the quilted silk vest that went between his jacket and the armor. He placed it over his shoulders, then stood, arms held out from his sides, while Naru fastened the ties that held it in place. Then he took the breastplate and backplate from the niche. They were steel, richly engraved, with gold wire inlaid along the lines of the engraving. Half a dozen large sapphires were set along the top of the breastplate. Naru figured out how to buckle the breastplate and backplate into place with only a word or two from him.
Then the shoulder plates, each one actually a set of half a dozen small plates that fit together to make a flexible covering; much more practical than the rigid, protruding plates that Endymion favored. Naru fastened these into place, again with only brief instructions, then helped him on with his leather boots, tall enough and heavy enough to protect his knees and hamstrings. Then there were the thigh plates, also richly engraved and inlaid with gold; these buckled on over the boots. Finally, there were the coverings for his forearms and hands. Then he fastened on his sword belt and slid his sword into the sheath.
Since this was supposedly ceremonial duty, he would need to his cape, which was sapphire-blue, trimmed with gold embroidery. Nephrite favored wearing it over his left shoulder, leaving his right arm free to draw his sword. It fastened with a gold chain set with sapphires across his chest.
Naru fastened his cape and finished arranging it, then stepped back. Fear warred with pride in her face. Though Nephrite hadn't worn this armor in a thousand years, he knew what she was seeing--a warrior, ready for battle. He touched Naru's face gently. "It's still me, Naru-chan."
"I know. You just look so... different."
"We're at war, Naru, and I'm a warrior."
She nodded and made an attempt at a smile. Tears were pooling along her lower eyelashes. A few spilled over, running down one cheek, and he wiped them away with his thumb. "It's time for me to go. Naru-chan, no matter what happens, stay in this room. You'll be safe here. Do not leave this room for any reason. Do you understand?"
His hand moved to bury itself in her thick, soft hair. "Also remember, no matter what happens, I love you, Naru-chan. I have always loved you." He drew her close to him, careful not to bruise her against his armor, and kissed her. He didn't want to end the kiss, but Beryl summoned him again, sounding very insistent. He let Naru cling to him for just another moment, then stepped back, bowed and saluted her. "For you, my love, and for our child." With that vow, he teleported to Beryl's throne room.
* * * * * * * *
Naru stared at the spot where Nephrite had been, then sank to the floor and pulled her knees up to her chest. Like millions of other women throughout time who had been left behind while their men went off to war, she could do nothing now but wait, and she didn't know how she could bear the waiting.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 14
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury