* * * * * * * *
Even if Sifabi, Serare, and Issoril refused to acknowledge it, Naru knew that the thing that had frightened away the Star Swallower was a far greater threat to the people of the Solar System than the Star Swallower itself. At least for now, the Star Swallower seemed to only be interested in consuming the souls of the people who had created it. This new threat hung over all the people and worlds of the solar system.
The tents of the Sun People were pitched in in an area of woods and meadows and gently rolling hills some distance outside the great city where the Grand Palace of Earth was located. Naru made her way back to the Palace of Earth. She wanted to talk to Nephrite again, to get his advice and offer her help. Maybe they could be together now, since she had finally decided to break away from the priestesses.
The Court of Earth was in an uproar. Nephrite was nowhere to be seen; neither were the other Shitennou. As the Princess of the Sun People she was admitted to the palace, but two palace guards accompanied her to the throne room. She couldn't tell if this was for her safety or because they didn't trust her. Or possibly both. The guards wouldn't answer any of her questions.
In the throne room she curtseyed deeply before the King of Earth. "Your Majesty, I wish to speak with Lord Nephrite, and I also --"
The King jumped to his feet. "How dare you! For centuries your people refused to aid any of us in our struggles, and now you come looking for that traitor!"
Naru took a hasty step backwards. Lord Nephrite, a traitor? The guards grabbed her arms as she tried to slip away, but she worked a quick Sunbeam Float transference and shot free of the palace in an instant. Another transference got her back to the tents. She comandeered one of the smaller ones for her own use, sending its three elderly occupants to seek shelter in the other tents. Then she teleported the tent she was in to the Moon Kingdom.
Again, her position as the Sun Princess won her admission to the palace. This time, she was welcomed almost as though they had been expecting her. She was brought before the Queen and the Princess, who was surrounded by her Inner Senshi. Naru curtseyed. "Queen Selene. Princess Serenity. Senshi. I've come to join you."
Queen Selene gave her a questioning look. "What happened? I was made to understand that your people were unalterably opposed to any sort of alliance with any of the other Kingdoms."
"I finally realized how blind and selfish my people have been, and that I need to start making my own decisions. Your Majesty, we are in terrible danger --"
"From Metallia and Queen Beryl and the Dark Kingdom, yes. But the armies of all the planets massed together should be more than enough to defeat her."
So that was the name of the new threat. And it wasn't just one lone being; it had powerful allies. "Your Majesty, I was just at the court of Earth, and it seems that the Shitennou have joined the Dark Kingdom."
"No!" The Queen's fair skin turned ghostly white and she slumped back in her throne, her eyes closed. "If Earth's four most powerful warriors have turned traitor, that means Earth has as good as fallen to the Dark Kingdom already. And with the Princesses' Presentation Ball tonight --" She looked at the gathered Senshi. "All their parents -- the rulers of the Inner Planets -- are here. They cannot return home and prepare their defenses in time." She was silent for a moment, her lovely face ashen and creased with worry. "The ball must proceed. It is vital for the alliances between our houses. But we will be on the alert, and be ready to defeat the Dark Kingdom here if it comes to that."
"Queen Selene," Naru said, "I want to fight on your side. Maybe it's too late for me to become a Senshi, but you have my help anyway."
"Are you certain? It will be dangerous, and you are under no obligation to us."
"I'm certain. We're all in danger, my people included. Besides, if Lord Nephrite has gone over to the Dark Kingdom..." She trailed off, not sure how to say what she was thinking and feeling too shy to say it.
"I understand," the Princess said. To Naru's surprise, Serenity came over to her and took her hands. "I saw the two of you together at Endymion's birthday ball. If Nephrite has betrayed us, or has been forced against his will to join the Dark Kingdom, you cannot leave that alone. No matter what your priestesses say."
"Serenity, my dear," the Queen said, "please take Princess Solaris to your rooms. Obtain proper clothing for her for the ball tonight, and also battle attire. Then see what she is able to do, and spend some time training together."
"Yes, Mother," Serenity replied. She hooked her hand around Naru's arm. Followed by the other four girls, they went to Serenity's apartment in the palace.
With seemingly miraculous speed, Naru was provided with a Senshi-style battle fuku in white trimmed with gold, and a flowing green silk ball gown. The silk was as soft against her skin as she had imagined, and it felt so daring to have her throat, the back of her neck, and her arms exposed to the air. Her pleasure in the gown was dimmed, though, because Nephrite wouldn't see her in it. If she was ever going to see him again, and discover the truth of the promises in his words and his kiss, she would have to fight as hard as she could to save him.
* * * * * * * *
The battle came that night during the ball. There was a loud commotion from the guards; Prince Endymion of Earth had been discovered in the palace, in disguise, with Princess Serenity. Since the possibility of attack from Earth was so great, the guards were busy trying to arrest the Prince and missed the first signs of the dark, howling wave approaching from Earth. And then the attack hit.
A chaos of noise and movement filled the palace. Naru's ball gown transformed in a flash of light to her battle fuku, and she took up a defensive position with the Senshi in front of the palace. High above the gardens, Prince Endymion was taken from a tower of the palace by the vast howling shadow that was Metallia. Naru watched in horror as Serenity leaped from the high balcony in a hopeless attempt to save him. "No," she whispered, tears running down her face at the death of the girl who could have been, should have been, her friend.
The battle was overwhelming. The enemy seemed to be everywhere, the attacks battered her from all sides without giving her a chance to summon more than the simplest attack. Two of the Senshi died only a few meters away from her, and she was helpless to protect them.
Then, from a distance across the blasted gardens, she glimpsed a familiar face framed by long auburn hair. "Nephrite!" she cried. He turned to look at her --
Something slammed hard against the back of her head, and the world shattered into a million pieces of light... And then there was nothing.
* * * * * * * *
Naru awoke in her soft, luxurious bed in the hideout. She sat up, pushing the satin covers aside, and decided she felt strong enough to get up. She padded on bare feet to the kitchen. Nephrite was eating a breakfast of fruit, eggs, and toast and reading a newspaper. Naru looked at the date on the paper. It had been three months since that night when her powers had been revealed, three months since she and Nephrite had gone into hiding. She wondered if her mom missed her, if she was safe. If Usagi was safe. Hopefully this would be over soon.
"I know what the Star Swallower is," she said. Nephrite looked up from the newspaper, all his attention on her. "When I fought it, before, I found out what it is. The Sun People made it a long time ago. It was supposed to be a spell to make the Sun a place where they could live. They didn't care that it would have killed everyone else if the sun wasn't as bright and hot as it was supposed to be, they just wanted a place to live so that they wouldn't feel like everyone else was looking down on them all the time. But the spell couldn't work because it was against the laws of the Universe. So it backfired and started attacking the Sun People. It was full of the souls of all the people it had eaten. They were still alive -- they knew where they were and what was happening, and they wanted me to free them. They didn't want me to destroy them. So I decided to find a way to free them before I destroyed the Star Swallower. But I didn't get the chance."
"Do you remember what happened?" Nephrite asked.
"In the last battle, I was fighting against the Dark Kingdom, and I saw you and called to you -- I was hoping I could save you -- and you looked at me. And... that's all. That's when I died."
"I remember that I saw you, but it didn't mean anything. I don't think you could have saved me then."
She looked down. "I wanted to know if the things you said to me at the Prince's ball really meant anything."
"They did. I'm sorry I forgot for so long."
They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes. Naru knew he was still getting used to these feelings. She could be patient with him. "Well, anyway," she said, "now I know what I need to do about the Star Swallower."
"What's your plan?" he asked.
"I know the attack I have to use to destroy it. I don't think I can use it yet, but I know what it is and how to prepare it. I'll need to practice that. I also need to find a way to free the souls that are trapped in the Star Swallower before I destroy it. But I don't think there's anything in all the spells and attacks I've learned that will do that. Do you know anything that would help?"
Nephrite shook his head. "Nothing I've ever learned or done would be useful for that. But the Silver Crystal... I remember, back then, hearing rumors that it had the power to cleanse and preserve souls. I wonder... Do you think Sailor Moon would be willing to help us?"
Suddenly the air split open and the kitchen seemed to briefly disintegrate and then re-form itself. Sifabi, Serare, and Issoril stood in the middle of the room. Naru and Nephrite jumped to their feet.
"You have no more time for this nonsense," Sifabi said. "The Star Swallower could come at any time. You are to come with us and do as we tell you."
"I know the truth now," Naru said. "I know that the Star Swallower is really a spell cast by the Sun People to make the sun into a place where they could live. Even if it meant that everyone on the planets and moons would die. If I have to clean up after the horrible, evil mistake that those people made a long time ago, I will, but I'm not going to destroy the souls of innocent people while I'm doing it. I won't let you make me into a monster."
"You'll do as you are told!" Sifabi shouted.
Naru stood her ground, her arms crossed firmly across her chest. Behind her she could feel Nephrite's solid presence. "I'll do this my way, or not at all. Why should I help you, considering the way you've treated me and lied to me?"
"It will devour you too!" Serare said, desperation in her voice and eyes.
That was true, and the idea was frightening, but Naru stood her ground.
There was a long silence. "Very well," Sifabi finally said, spitting out the words. "Do you have a plan?"
"We have some ideas," Nephrite said.
"Good," Sifabi said. "When you've got it figured out, then you can come back and finish her training." Before Naru could say or do anything, Issoril and Serare grabbed her arms. The three priestesses took her back through the dark nothingness of the portal to the tent. The only thing Naru could do was hope that Nephrite would be able to convince Sailor Moon to use the Silver Crystal to help them.
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return to Index / go to Chapter 13
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury