* * * * * * * *
As Nephrite expected, training in the tent did not go well. There just wasn't enough room for proper battle training. Naru stumbled over rugs and banged her shin on one of the wooden chests, and Nephrite himself knocked over the priestesses' long table, scattering the scrolls on it and breaking two of the magical lanterns, somewhat on accident.
"This won't do," Nephrite said, inspecting the very real scrape on Naru's shin. "She isn't going to be fighting this Sun Swallower or whatever you call it in a nice cozy little room. She needs to learn power, range, and speed."
"We can't possibly let you take her out of here," Sifabi said.
He shrugged. "Then you're setting her up for defeat before she's even started. But it's up to you, of course."
"If we controlled the portal," Serare suggested tentatively, "perhaps it could be allowed."
"We are the Priestesses of the Sun, and she is our Princess," Sifabi said. "Why should we take orders from an outsider?"
"Perhaps because I'm not only an experienced fighter," Nephrite said, "but I've also agreed to do you a tremendous favor, at no small risk to myself. As I said, though, it's your decision. It just depends on whether or not you really want Naru to defeat this Star Eater creature."
"It's the Star Swallower," Sifabi snapped. "And yes, we want her to defeat it. We are the last of the Sun People, and we must fulfill this duty." She huffed out an angry-sounding sigh. "Very well. We will make a portal to an appropriate training area of your choice. However, we will maintain control over the portal at all times, and you will not be able to use it without our assistance."
"That's good enough," Nephrite said.
* * * * * * * *
As soon as they arrived at the hideout, Naru found an excuse to stand close to Nephrite. "They have a crystal ball," she whispered. "They're probably watching us right now. They saw your meeting with the Senshi and watched you fight them. But you can't hear very well through it, so we can talk as long as we keep our voices down and don't act suspicious."
Nephrite nodded. "I thought they might have some way of watching us. I tried to be careful when I met with the Senshi. Thanks for the warning."
Naru changed out of the oversized white robe the priestesses had been making her wear into jeans and a t-shirt. Starving after days of nothing but gruel to eat, she devoured about half of the food in the hideout's kitchen, and then she and Nephrite spent several hours in their most intensive training session yet.
"I find it strange that the priestesses won't tell us anything more specific about the Star Swallower," Nephrite said while they were taking a break. He kept his voice to a whisper, as did Naru. "They haven't told you anything about its origins or powers or what it is?"
"No." Naru was making short work of a chicken sandwich. No ordinary sandwich had never tasted so good. The refrigerator was stocked with a wide variety of sodas, and, unable to make up her mind what kind she wanted after being limited to stale-tasting water for days, Naru took three different kinds. "They never tell me anything, except that I'm their Princess and it's my ancient duty to kill this thing, and we're too special to have anything to do with any other people, blah blah blah. I don't like them. I don't trust them, either."
"Good," Nephrite said. "You shouldn't. They're using you."
"I know. But I know I can trust you, Nephrite-sama. You've saved me so many times, even when there was nothing in it for you. Even when it put you in danger."
He stared down at his plate for a long time, until Naru started to wonder if she had embarrassed him or something. "I haven't been in the habit of doing things for someone else," he finally said. "I think that my motives in helping you were a little selfish, at least."
Naru remembered the night when she had intervened in the fight between Nephrite and Sailor Moon, placing herself between him and the Moon Tiara. She had seen what the Moon Tiara could do, and she had known that she would rather die herself than watch him die. She would rather die than live on without him. "That's okay," she said. "I think my reasons for helping you were a little selfish, too."
He looked at her, and smiled just a little, and she knew that they understood each other.
* * * * * * * *
Every day, or what was measured as days in the world of the tent, Naru and Nephrite returned to the hideout and trained until they were both exhausted. Although she still wasn't near Nephrite's skill level, Naru could tell she was many times better than she had been in the early days of their training. Surely she must be nearly strong enough to beat the Star Swallower. She hoped the Senshi would defeat the Dark Kingdom soon, and then she could fight the Star Swallower. Then she could go home and start living her own life again.
Nephrite went out to "challenge" the Senshi two more times. The priestesses also watched these battles through the crystal ball. The Senshi had run away both times, appearing frightened, confused, and disspirited. Although Naru knew that Nephrite wasn't really fighting against the Senshi, she also knew that the fight against the Dark Kingdom was difficult enough for the Senshi. The members of the Dark Kingdom were willing, able, and eager to kill, and Sailor Moon and the other girls might die, even if they did defeat the Dark Kingdom. She wished there was some way that she could help them, but between being held captive by the Sun Priestesses and the real risk that the Dark Kingdom would capture her and use her against them, there was nothing she could do except have faith in the strength of her friends.
* * * * * * * *
Kimiko's lawyer hadn't been quite as confident of her chances in a lawsuit against the newspaper as she had implied he was, though he still thought they would have a pretty good case. But nothing appeared in the paper, and she hadn't heard anything else from Miss Iwasaki for several days. Kimiko's threat must have persuaded her boss to call her off.
Suzume poked her head in the doorway of the office. "Mrs. Osaka, there's a gentleman here who wants to talk to you. Mr. Katayama. He says he's a detective with the Tokyo Police."
"A police detective?" Just what she needed, a policeman in the store asking for her. She hoped there weren't any customers at the moment. She sighed. "Send him in."
The man who stepped through the doorway was tall and lean. His longish black hair was a distinguished gray at the temples. He had smile lines around his mouth and cheerful crinkles at the corners of his eyes. He wore crumpled khaki pants and a leather bomber jacket over a blue shirt and loosely knotted dark green necktie. "Mrs. Osaka? Osaka Kimiko?"
"Yes, that's me," she said.
"Nice to meet you. I'm Katayama Satoshi."
"I was told you are a police detective, Mr. Katayama."
He grinned at her, showing healthy, white teeth. "Plainclothes." He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket, took out a leather wallet, and flipped it open to display a police ID. "You're welcome to call police headquarters to confirm my identity, if you'd like."
Kimiko looked at him and at the ID, and sighed again. "Not yet, Mr. Katayama. Please, have a seat." She gestured to the chair on the other side of the desk, and he sat, crossing his long legs. "Now, Mr. Katayama, I'd like to know what this is about."
"The police received a report from a couple of concerned citizens regarding the unknown whereabouts of your fourteen-year-old daughter, Osaka Naru. Given your daughter's age and the length of time she has been missing, we have opened an investigation, and I was assigned to it. Just so you know, I specialize in investigating kidnappings and sex crimes against minors."
Kimiko picked up a ballpoint pen and tapped the point of it a few times on her desk blotter. Damn. "These 'concerned citizens' wouldn't happen to be a reporter for the Daily Investigator named Iwasaki Yasu, and an official from Juuban Junior High School, would they?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that, Mrs. Osaka."
"You don't have to; I know it was them."
He smiled noncommitally. "What I know so far is that approximately two months ago, you reported to the administration at Juuban Junior High School that your daughter was going to be absent for a prolonged period of time while she cared for an elderly aunt who was in poor health. Subsequent investigation has revealed that there is no such aunt."
Kimiko knew that this man would not accept her explanation that the 'aunt' whom Naru had supposedly gone to stay with was not an actual relative. She had to admit that the fact that she would allow her daughter to miss such a critical period of school, even for such a compassionate reason, was enough to raise suspicion. It was probably best to tell this man something as close to the truth as she could. She had prepared a story in advance, in case she ever found herself in a situation like this. "That is correct. Naru has not gone to stay with anyone, aunt or not, to take care of them."
"Do you know where your daughter is, Mrs. Osaka?"
"Yes, I do. Well, not exactly where she is. But I know what has happened to her, and why, and who she's with, and I'm convinced that it's in her best interests to be where she is right now."
The detective raised one eyebrow. "This sounds interesting."
"Mr. Katayama, can I trust you?"
"To believe me. To not pry any further than what I am going to tell you. And above all, to not say anything to Iwasaki Yasu or any other newspaper, television, or radio reporters."
"Anything you tell me will be held in confidence as part of a police investigation. If legal proceedings are begun, whatever evidence is necessary will be revealed at that time. As for believing you, I'll judge that when I hear what you have to say. I would hope that you have your daughter's best interests in mind. And as for not prying any further, that too will depend on what you tell me. Is that acceptable?"
"I suppose it will have to be," she said. "All right, then. As you may have already discovered, my daughter developed quite a crush on Sanjouin Masato, the young millionaire businessman, over the last several months. They met a few times, or at least their paths crossed. I don't know if the meetings were intentional or not. I also don't know what Mr. Sanjouin's feelings for my daughter were, though I have reason to believe he developed a fondness for her. Nothing inappropriate -- at least I don't think so, from what I've observed. Anyway, Mr. Sanjouin's and my daughter's interest in each other attracted the attention of some unscrupulous and very dangerous business rivals of Mr. Sanjouin."
"Yakuza?" the detective asked.
"I don't think so. From what I've seen of how these people operate, they make normal gangsters looked like a bunch of playground bullies. They came to my apartment looking for Naru, and nearly destroyed it and almost killed me."
"Did you call the police when that happened?"
"I thought about it. But, to be honest, I didn't think there was much the police could do. These are very dangerous people, Detective. They directly threatened my daughter, in order to try to influence Mr. Sanjouin. He recognized the danger she was in, and decided to take her to a hiding place where she would be safe until the threat could be eliminated. I don't know any details about where he took her or what he plans to do to ensure her future safety. But he spoke to me at the time that he took her into hiding, and I trust him." She flipped the pen back and forth in her fingers while she thought. "I'm not sure why I'm so convinced that she's safe with him. But I am. He seemed nearly as distressed about her being in danger as I was. He took personal responsibility for her situation and swore to protect her and to bring her back to me as soon as the danger was past."
Mr. Katayama looked thoughtful. "I have to admit, this does make sense, Mrs. Osaka," he said.
"It's the truth, or as much of the truth as I am at liberty to tell you. Now, please, Mr. Katayama, I trust you to not endanger my daughter by revealing any of this. Not to anyone."
"As you wish, Mrs. Osaka. I won't tell anyone else, for now. But I do want to do a little more investigating into these enemies of Mr. Sanjouin's. This may be something that our organized crime division needs to know about. But I'll hold off on telling them until your daughter is safe again."
"Thank you, Detective. I'm most grateful."
"I've seen some of the worst things that can happen to young girls, and I'm relieved to learn that Naru hasn't met the same fate. I'll keep you informed if I learn anything that I think you should know. And if you learn or remember anything else that might be useful, please contact me." He took a business card from his ID holder and handed it across the desk to Kimiko.
"Thank you, Detective. I will," Kimiko said as she took the card. She tucked it into the carved wooden letter holder on her desk as he left.
The door closed. When Kimiko looked up again, Iwasaki Yasu was standing there. "How did you --?" Kimiko started to ask.
"What did you tell him?" Miss Iwasaki demanded. She sounded furious. It almost seemed that her eyes were glowing with anger. "Tell me, or I'll make him tell me!"
Cold terror crept up Kimiko's stomach into her throat. She glanced around the office as though there might be someone there to help her. For the first time she noticed, out the window, the thick, oppressive storm clouds gathering outside. "I -- I don't know what you mean." Her voice felt thick and choked. If Miss Iwasaki was the one who had called the police, what was she doing here, desperately demanding to know what Kimiko had told him?
The office door burst open. Suzume said, "A young lady who says she knows you says there's an emergency."
"Damn!" Miss Iwasaki said.
Kimiko pushed past her, ignoring her. All she could think was that something had happened to Naru. Out on the sales floor, Usagi was standing by the sales counter. "Usagi! What's happened?" Kimiko said as she hurried over to the girl.
Usagi glanced at the door to Kimiko's office, then looked at Kimiko. Her eyes were wide, her face pale. "It's all right. I was just worried about you. I have to go now, there's something I have to do. I'll see you later, Mrs. Osaka." She left the store, waving once as she exited through the door. Kimiko stood staring after where she had gone, wondering why the girl had looked so scared. As Sailor Moon, she probably faced frightening and dangerous situations almost every day. She wondered what it was today.
When Kimiko returned to her office, Miss Iwasaki was gone. Which was odd, because there was only the one door out of the office, and she hadn't gone out the front door of the store, and all the other doors were blocked with bars and alarms, for emergency use only...
The reporter's fury, the inhuman look in her eyes, and Usagi's appearance in her store at just that moment clicked together. Kimiko's knees turned to water and she collapsed into a chair.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 9
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury