* * * * * * * *
After several days with no further disruptions, Kimiko had finally decided that Miss Iwasaki had found something more interesting to do when the reporter came up to her in the cafe where she had decided to treat herself to dinner. "It's all right, I'm an old friend," Miss Iwasaki said with a sensuous smile to the host, and seated herself at the table. Kimiko started to tell the host that her 'friend' was unwelcome, but he had already bowed and smiled and gone on his way. She didn't want to make a fuss in a public place and draw attention to herself and the reporter. So she continued eating her dinner while pointedly ignoring her uninvited companion.
"It's nice to see you again, Mrs. Osaka," the reporter said. "Imagine running into you here."
"Imagine," Kimiko said. She had no illusions that this encounter was accidental.
Miss Iwasaki took out her notebook, and made a surreptitious motion inside her bag that Kimiko knew was her turning on her voice recorder. "Do you know, Mrs. Osaka, since our last meeting, I've made a terribly interesting discovery. Would you like to know what it is?"
"I can't imagine anything more fascinating," Kimiko said, with every degree of well-practiced frostiness she could muster.
Undeterred, the reporter plowed ahead. "I found out that Osaka Naru has no living aunts on either side of her family. Her mother, Osaka Kimiko, born Tanaka, is an only child whose father had no sisters and whose mother's two sisters are deceased. Her father, Osaka Hideki, was also an only child, and his father's only sister died in childhood. Osaka Naru can't possibly be visiting an aunt, unless she has also managed to travel back in time."
"'Aunt' is a courtesy title. The woman she is visiting has no direct connection to our family. Giving you her name and the location of her home would violate her privacy. Violation of privacy -- Do you understand that concept, Miss Iwasaki? Because I'm convinced that you haven't a clue what it means. Waiter," she signalled a white-jacketed young man, "I'm ready for the check now, please."
"You do not wish to dine with your friend?" the waiter asked. "Dessert, perhaps?"
"I'm sorry, no. I have an important business appointment."
"I see. My apologies." The waiter bowed and smiled, then hurried away to get the check. Miss Iwasaki asked a few more questions about the 'aunt' that Naru was supposedly visiting. Kimiko ignored all of them. When the waiter came back with the check, she took out her purse, handed her payment to him, then stood and left without another word to Miss Iwasaki.
* * * * * * * *
It was impossible to tell if it was night or day when Naru awoke. There weren't any windows or doors in the tent, so she couldn't see what, if anything, was outside. For all she knew, the tent was somewhere out in the middle of space. The light in the tent was exactly the same as it had been before she went to sleep. Naru sat up and stretched, wondering how long she had been asleep.
After she ate another bowl of bland goop, Sifabi, Serare, and Issoril spent a long time questioning her about her abilities and attacks, her training with Nephrite, and what she knew about the distant past in which she had been a princess. "I don't know anything," she insisted over and over again. "I don't remember anything, Sailor Moon never said anything about it, and neither has Nephrite."
After asking her to show them a few weak fireballs as a sample of what she could do -- one of the fireballs singed a wall hanging and Naru was afraid of setting the whole tent on fire -- they gave her another bowl of gruel. Now that Naru thought about it, she hadn't seen any of the Priestesses eat anything yet. If what they had told her was true, they must be thousands of years old. Maybe they had some magical way of staying alive and didn't have to eat. If that was the case, no wonder the stuff they gave her was so awful. They probably didn't even remember what food was supposed to taste like.
After she ate, the priestesses gave her some scrolls and asked if she could read them. The writing on them was pretty, all swirly and curvy, but completely unfamiliar. "I don't know this language. I've never seen it before," she said.
All three priestesses sighed at once. "This would be easier if we just forced her memories," Issoril said.
"Yes, it would," Sifabi said. "But doing so could cause a great deal of damage and render her useless to us."
That seemed to put an end to that discussion. Naru spent what seemed like the next several hours with Serare, who started trying to teach her the language in the scrolls. When the letters began to jumble together so that she couldn't recognize even the few she had learned, and she started snapping at Serare, who seemed to be the kindest of the three women, they gave her another bowl of gruel and sent her to bed. Again exhausted by the day's events, Naru fell asleep as soon as her head touched the hard pillow.
A raised voice brought her to instant alertness.
"Hush! You'll wake her up," someone whispered loudly.
Naru lay as still as she could, trying to keep her breathing deep and even, as if she were still asleep. Anything those three women didn't want her to hear was something she thought she'd better pay attention to.
"I know she's stronger than she was when we first noticed her, but she's still far too weak." That sounded like Issoril.
"You don't believe she's nearly as strong as she was before?" That was Serare.
Issoril snorted. "How can you even compare the abilities of this silly, spoiled Earth child to the strength of our Princess?"
"If Metallia is defeated, the Star Swallower will move again. We need more time. We have no choice, much as it galls me to say so," Sifabi said.
"How low we have sunk, to seek help from one of them!" Issoril said.
"She's nearly strong enough, I think," Serare said. "What Sifabe is suggesting will buy us a little more time. And we won't be asking him to do anything different from what he would have been doing anyway."
"Serare is right, we would only be ensuring that conditions that already exist are prolonged for a little longer, to give the Princess time to grow strong enough," Sifabi said.
There was a long silence. "Very well, then," Issoril said grudgingly. "I don't like it, but I suppose it's necessary."
"We are in agreement then?" Sifabi asked. No one said anything, but the other two must have indicated they agreed with whatever plan Sifabi had suggested. "Good. I will look for an opportunity to approach him as soon as possible."
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite was surprised to find that nothing had been disturbed in his rooms in the Dark Kingdom. He had expected they would have been searched, or else emptied out so they could be put to another use. Perhaps Beryl had been hoping he would return. Or expecting him to return. Of course, by now she would know that the surest way to bring him back to the Dark Kingdom would be to take Naru.
He changed into a Dark Kingdom uniform. He didn't intend to let himself be seen, much less speak to anyone. But if he was seen, it was best if he looked like he belonged there. Then he set out to search for Naru.
First he went to the caverns where prisoners were kept. It had been a very long time since the Dark Kingdom had taken any prisoners, and by now all of them had either died or been turned into youma. The dungeons had been empty for centuries. As he drifted through the shadowy hallways, peering through the bars on the doors into the cells, he saw that they were still empty, which didn't surprise him. A prisoner as valuable as Osaka Naru wouldn't be left to molder down here. It was much more likely that Beryl would have her in her personal custody, to control her and to taunt Nephrite with her.
He didn't dare go near Beryl, though, until he was certain she had Naru. Still keeping to the deepest shadows, Nephrite made his way to the caverns at the lowest level. The higher-ranking youma, the ones who personally served Beryl and the generals, had their own private quarters, but the rank and file youma, the common laborers and cannon fodder of the Dark Kingdom, lived in large groups in these caverns.
He drifted along the edges of the caverns, though he doubted he would be recognized if he was seen, or if any of the creatures would care who he was. Only a few of them would have done more than catch a glimpse of him at some point during their miserable existence, and most of them not even that much. His general's uniform was enough to keep them at a frightened distance.
He listened to the whispered gossip and complaints of the youma as they trudged back and forth from their duties and sat at their unspeakable meals, and caught rumors of a new prisoner -- a prisoner highly prized by Queen Beryl. A prisoner, some of them said in terrified whispers, whom Lord Zoisite himself had been killed for interfering with.
Zoisite was dead. That was unexpected news. Zoisite had been pushing Beryl's patience dangerously far by spending more time and effort attempting to undermine Nephrite's operations than on his own assignment to find the Silver Crystal. But Beryl must have been very angry indeed to execute her most powerful general's lover.
The prisoner must be Naru. Nephrite fought back another surge of panic. He would do whatever he had to, pretend he wanted back into the Dark Kingdom, anything, to get her away from Beryl and take her to safety.
No longer bothering to hide his presence, he made for the large upper cavern that was Beryl's throne room. The youma, courtiers, and lower-ranking officers that constantly crowded the perimeter of the room shifted aside, murmuring, as he strode into the hall. Soon the multitude of conversations in the large hall died down, and Nephrite felt the gaze of hundreds of eyes on him. Summoning every last shred of confidence and arrogance he possessed, he walked into the clear space in the center of the room and stood before the huge dais where Beryl sat on her throne. "Queen Beryl- sama," he started to say, bowing, then he noticed the person standing next to her, the person who shouldn't have been there. "Tuxedo Kamen!" he exclaimed.
The dark-haired young man, dressed in ceremonial armor, stared back at Nephrite. The look on his face was colder than anything Nephrite had ever seen on the top-hatted hero.
"Prince Endymion, to be precise," Beryl said. "Why, Nephrite, were you expecting to find someone else here?"
It suddenly sank in, what a terrible mistake he had made. Tuxedo Kamen was the prisoner, not Naru, and now he had put himself into Beryl's hands while Naru was still missing and very likely in danger. "No, my queen." He bowed slightly. "I --"
"You've saved me a great deal of trouble, Nephrite, by coming here on your own. You've cost me far too many good youma. You can think about your incompetence for eternity from inside this crystal." She thrust out one arm, summoning the crystal that would encase him in Eternal Sleep.
Damn. Nephrite barely had time to think the word before he felt the icy touch of the crystal beginning to encase his ankles. Naru-chan, I tried. I'm sorry. I wish --
The walls of the cavern rippled, in the same way that the sky and trees of the hideout had right before Naru's disappearance, and then Nephrite felt the cold nothingness of teleportation.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 6
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury