* * * * * * * *
The next "day," or whatever it was that passed for units of time in the Sun Priestesses' tent, the first priestess, Sifabi, opened a portal inside the tent to allow Nephrite to travel to his mansion in Tokyo. He had told them that it would be better for him to go there to begin establishing his return to the Dark Kingdom than to be sent straight back to Beryl. Grudgingly, the priestesses agreed. As Sifabi opened the portal, Nephrite paid close attention to what she was doing, making his observation as inconspicuous as possible. The portal was really quite simple; almost ridiculously simple. Like the hideout he had made, the tent was between dimensions of time and place; unlike his hideout, it drifted freely through the dimensions. The portal that was being opened was first anchored on the destination and then drawn back to the tent.
Once the portal was formed, Nephrite nodded politely to Sifabi and stepped through. There was the brief moment, common to all methods of teleporting, of cold dark nothing, then he found himself in his mansion.
He debated with himself for several minutes over whether or not he should continue wearing the gray Dark Kingdom uniform on his present mission, then decided he should. He needed to appear as though he actually was working for the Dark Kingdom again. Hopefully the Senshi would remember that he had saved Naru's life and had sworn to protect her, and would give him a moment to explain what was going on before they attacked. With that thought, he teleported to the shrine that they seemed to be using as their headquarters.
As before, despite the piles of empty take-out containers and manga on the table, the Senshi appeared disspirited. Even more than before, it seemed. As he would expect, since Beryl had taken their champion, Tuxedo Kamen.
"Nephrite!" Sailor Moon cried as soon as she saw him. "Did you find Naru?"
He pressed a finger to his lips to indicate that they should speak softly. He didn't know if the priestesses had any way of knowing what he was doing. Their timely rescue of him from Beryl indicated that they did. "Yes," he said. "She's safe, although I don't trust the people she's with. It's three elderly women who call themselves Priestesses of the Sun. They claim that she's their long-lost Princess." He hesitated, wondering if they had had their memories of the past restored yet.
"Naru's a princess like me?" Sailor Moon asked.
He nodded. "You don't remember her?"
"No, all I remember is --" The corners of her mouth turned down, and her lower lip trembled, "Me and Endymion. Tuxedo Kamen, I mean."
"I was just wondering if you could shed any light on this. They personally don't seem to be a threat to her. But the thing they want her to do could be dangerous, and even if I could get Naru away from them I don't think she could escape the task they've laid on her. Which brings me to what I came here for. They want her to fight an evil being they call the Star Swallower. Supposedly, this Star Swallower creature is afraid of Metallia, the demon behind Beryl's power. If Metallia is destroyed soon, the Star Swallower will reappear before Naru is ready to fight it. The priestesses saved me from being encased in a Crystal of Eternal Sleep by Beryl and told me they want me to fight against you to ensure that Metallia remains undefeated, at least long enough for Naru to finish training. I need you Senshi to fake a few fights against me, and act like I'm giving you a hard time."
"We don't have to act," Sailor Moon said glumly.
"Yeah, we really are having a hard time," Sailor Jupiter added. "But we'll put a little extra drama into it, if you want."
Nephrite explained his plan, and they agreed to meet him at the chosen location in an hour. Before he left, he raised his voice. "Damn you, Senshi, you nearly got me killed! I'll have my revenge on you!" Then he teleported away, hoping that if the priestesses were watching, they had been convinced by that final added touch.
* * * * * * * *
The priestesses had been crowded around a crystal ball for quite a while. "What's he doing? I can't hear what they're saying," Serare said.
"He's probably betraying us," Issoril said.
"No, listen, you can hear him now. He's angry. He's challenging them," Sifabi said.
Naru left the baffling scrolls she was supposed to be studying and joined the priestesses at the crystal ball. There was no image in it, just snow like on a bad TV channel. Sifabi ran her fingers over the ball in patterns. After a long time a clear image finally appeared. Nephrite was facing the Senshi in a park, and they were all shouting at each other. Nephrite aimed a Starlight attack at the Senshi. It landed just to the right of them, close enough to shower them with dirt. Sailor Moon shouted and gestured at him. Nephrite fired another Starlight attack, which landed just to the left of the Senshi, spraying them with more dirt and lightly singeing Sailor Mercury's skirt. Naru kept her smile to herself. If Nephrite was really trying, he wouldn't have missed twice in a row.
Each of the Senshi except Sailor Moon attacked and missed, then Nephrite shot yet another Starlight attack at them. This one hit the ground just in front of them. The Senshi fled, and Nephrite disappeared in his swirl of red and white light.
"Ha, he beat them!" Sifabi said.
"None of them looked like they knew what they were doing," Issoril said. "These are supposed to be the greatest warriors in the solar system?"
"It's been a long, weary fight for the Senshi," Serare said. "Perhaps we don't need Nephrite's help after all."
The last thing Naru wanted was for the priestesses to decide they had no use for Nephrite. "I wouldn't underestimate the Senshi if I were you," she said. "There's too many dead youma who've made that mistake."
"Perhaps you're right," Sifabi said. "We will just have to keep a close watch on him."
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite returned to his mansion, then followed the instructions Sifabi had given him to activate the portal leading back to the tent, making a few subtle adjustments of his own in the process. When he was back in the Sun Priestesses' tent, he made his report. "I challenged the Senshi to a fight and easily defeated them. They ran away, frightened. I'm certain they won't dare show themselves for at least a few days."
"I don't see why you couldn't have destroyed them right away," the short priestess, Issoril, said suspiciously.
Nephrite shrugged. "What would be the fun in that? In the meantime, I'll resume Naru's training."
"I've been reconsidering whether we should allow you to train her," Sifabi said. "You never convinced us why we should allow you to interfere."
"Why should I train her? Other than the fact that if you want my help at all you're going to let me do things my way? Maybe because I've had a lot more experience fighting than you have."
"What could you possibly know of the sacred secrets of the power of the Sun?" Sifabi asked.
"The Sun is a star, and I am a master of star-power attacks. I think I can manage."
"Nephrite-sama is a very good teacher," Naru added.
The expression on Sifabi's face grew even more sour. "Very well, you may instruct her, under our supervision."
* * * * * * * *
Iwasaki Yasu entered the OSA*P jewelry shop wearing a dark green silk sheath dress and looking like a wealthy customer. Kimiko wasn't fooled for a minute. The reporter drifted along the cases, pausing from time to time to admire their contents, until she reached Kimiko at the sales counter. "Good day, Mrs. Osaka," she said.
"If you don't leave right this minute," Kimiko said, "I will call the police and have you arrested for trespassing."
Miss Iwasaki smiled. "You may certainly go right ahead and do that, Mrs. Osaka, if you don't mind a scandalous report about your daughter hitting the newsstands tomorrow. I've been busy since our last meeting." Casually, she set a torn scrap of paper down on the counter. On the paper was scrawled the name 'Sanjouin Masato.'
Kimiko drew in a sharp breath. "I will speak to you in my office, Miss Iwasaki." She stalked away towards the door in the back of the store that led to her office. She had to fight to restrain herself from slamming it after Miss Iwasaki entered the room. Out on the sales floor, Suzume was with a middle-aged couple who were choosing anniversary gifts for each other, and she didn't want to give the wealthy-looking couple any reason to have second thoughts about shopping in her store. Kimiko sat down at her desk. The massive, elegant desk made her feel powerful, a much-needed feeling in the male-dominated fine jewelry business. Not to mention when dealing with thoroughly obnoxious and pushy reporters. "What exactly are you trying to suggest about my daughter, Miss Iwasaki?"
The reporter sat down in the chair in front of the desk. She took her notebook out of her handbag, and put the voice recorder on the desk, not bothering to hide it this time. Kimiko longed to grab something heavy and smash the thing. "Mrs. Osaka," the reporter began, "I've taken the liberty of asking some of Naru's friends and schoolmates a few questions."
Miss Iwasaki smiled like a cat who had just stolen a fish from a frying pan. "I'm afraid I can't tell you their identities, Mrs. Osaka. That would violate confidentiality. You do understand the concept of 'confidentiality,' don't you, Mrs. Osaka?"
"I'm surprised you even know the word," Kimiko muttered.
"Anyway. To the point. A number of these young people reported seeing Osaka Naru in the company of the young millionaire businessman Sanjouin Masato in the few months before her disappearance. Coincidentally, Sanjouin Masato is also nowhere to be found right now. They were seen at the Juuban Tennis Club --"
"He was training her friend Saionji Rui for a tennis match," Kimiko said.
"Of course. They were also seen speaking to each other in a decidedly intimate manner at the Crossroads Galleria, and also danced together at the Diamond Embassy ball. I understand you had been invited to that ball but did not attend."
"I was ill that night, so I sent Naru to represent our jewelry store. She is a well-brought-up young lady, and I felt confident that she could represent my business in a manner which would make me proud."
"Indeed. Did you know that she and Mr. Sanjouin went out onto the balcony for a private moment together? This was shortly before the robbery attempt which disrupted the ball, which I'm sure you heard about, but that's neither here nor there. Did you also know that Naru was found in Princess Dia's rooms after the robbery, with no good explanation of how she got there?"
"Miss Iwasaki, I want you to tell me right now what it is you're getting at, or else I'll call the police."
"Mrs. Osaka, are you aware of the trend of young girls, even as young as Naru's age, going on dates with and otherwise, shall I say, accomodating older men for money and gifts? It's become distressingly pervasive in the schools." The reporter didn't sound at all distressed. "Could it be that your daughter has entered into a relationship of this nature with Sanjouin Masato?"
Kimiko drew in an outraged breath to respond, but the reporter kept talking.
"Is it possible that you, Mrs. Osaka, have encouraged her to offer her company and, ah, favors to Mr. Sanjouin in order to enrich her and perhaps advance her in the world? Being the mistress of such a wealthy man must be an attractive prospect for a young woman of otherwise unremarkable talents."
"Mistress? How dare --!"
"Or maybe it's your own enrichment you're interested in. You're hoping to attract Mr. Sanjouin's money and patronage by offering him the use of your daughter."
"That is the most outrageous thing anyone has ever said to me! How dare you?"
"Or, I had another thought. You don't happen to have a life insurance policy on your daughter, do you?"
"Get. Out." Kimiko was so furious she could barely say the words. She picked up the phone and punched in the emergency number. "Police, please," she said to the dispatcher.
"There's no need for that." Miss Iwasaki smiled and stood, tucking her notebook and recorder back into her bag. "I'll see myself out. But you should know, Mrs. Osaka, that I have the feeling that wherever Sanjouin Masato has disappeared to, your daughter is also there. Good day." She strode confidently from the office.
"Tokyo Police, do you have an emergency?" the police operator asked over the phone.
"Never mind," Kimiko said. "It went away."
"Okay." The operator hung up. Kimiko dropped her head into her hands. What was she going to do? Those horrible things Miss Iwasaki had said... Never mind that similar thoughts had crept into her own mind during the sleepless hours late at night. She always pushed them aside. She had to have faith in her daughter, and Sanjouin -- Nephrite -- had seemed so sincere when he promised to take care of her. She had to have faith in the two of them; there was no alternative but to drive herself crazy worrying. But if any of the things Miss Iwasaki had said appeared in the newspaper, Naru's reputation would be ruined for the rest of her life.
Kimiko took the phone directory from the bottom drawer of her desk and flipped through it. Then she picked up the phone again and dialed the offices of the Daily Investigator and asked to speak to the editor-in-chief. The operator put her right through when she identified herself.
"Hello," a gruff male voice said.
"This is Osaka Kimiko. If one word about my daughter Naru appears in your newspaper, tomorrow or any other day, I'm going to sue you so fast and so hard and for so much you're going to wish you'd never left kindergarten. The same thing if I ever see that reporter Iwasaki Yasu in my store or within fifty meters of me or any of my family and friends again. Do you understand?"
"I've already spoken to my attorney," she bluffed, "and he believes I've got a ninety percent chance of winning as much as I want from you. Not just your newspaper, but you personally. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, of course, Mrs. Osaka. I'll have a word with Miss Iwasaki. She's an excellent reporter, but she's new to our organization and may not be familiar with all of our policies. Good day, Mrs. Osaka."
A typical excuse. Kimiko hung up without a word. She felt slightly better, though not very confident that her threats were enough to keep the zealous reporter at bay. She knew the type -- they would do anything for a sensational, scandalous story that would make their name, maybe even get picked up by other newspapers across Japan or in other countries, or spread on the Internet and make them famous around the world. Deciding that she'd better back up her bluff with some reality, she picked up the phone yet again and called her lawyer.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 8
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury