Book 1 Chapter 6
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Three weeks later, Nephrite was on another interminable flight between Tokyo and east Africa. He hated flying, hated being cooped up in an airplane for hours and hours, but travel was an important part of Sanjouin Masato's work so he had forced himself to get used to it.
He had allowed himself three precious weeks with Naru, using the excuse that he had to spend some time tending personally to his business. There was truth to this; while his office-youma were highly competent, there were still some decisions that only he could make. He reviewed a stack of new contracts and referred the questionable ones to his attorneys, made civilized but dire threats to a couple of manufacturers who had been allowing the quality of their goods to slip, and fired his accounting firm. A too-heavy workload was no excuse for the series of mistakes they had made. He had also made a large purchase of Mrs. Osaka's discontinued and surplus gold jewelry, at near-wholesale prices. He had the jewelry with him now, in a pocket of negative space in order to avoid any inconvenience at Customs.
Every afternoon, he had left the office early and picked up Naru from school. Sitting in first class on the plane, nursing along a drink, Nephrite savored the memory of the time he had spent with her. Of course she was sweet and pretty and warmed his heart in a way he had never thought possible, but during this time he had also discovered that he could talk to her. He didn't have much to talk about besides his work and his years in the Dark Kingdom, but Naru listened eagerly, made intelligent and insightful comments, and asked questions. Lots of questions, questions he never would have expected a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl to ask.
She wanted to know all the practical logistics of life in the Dark Kingdom, what they ate, how they bathed, how they told time. She asked about all the ins and outs of the relationships between the four Lords, and had a particular interest in why he and Zoisite had been enemies. Nephrite couldn't really answer that; things had just always been that way, with no cause that he could think of. Something had always seemed to be eating at Zoisite, but Nephrite had never figured out what it was. The closest he ever came was that perhaps Zoisite wanted his lover Kunzite to be first among the four Lords and thought that Nephrite was standing in Kunzite's path to supremacy.
Naru also asked a million questions about his business. She wanted to know how he decided what goods he wanted to import, how he could tell if they were any good or not, how he managed to communicate with manufacturers who were often actually craftsmen living in remote villages in foreign countries, and on and on. A couple of times, Nephrite had taken her to his warehouse at the docks and taught her to recognize the quality in the goods there, the crates of lead crystal and batik cloth, silver jewelry from India and hand-woven rugs from Central America.
She would make an excellent partner for him in his business. He had never thought about taking on a partner before. Nephrite finished his drink, closed his eyes, and imagined a future free of Metallia, when he and Naru could work together, live together, be together all day and all night.... Thinking pleasant thoughts, he dozed off, to awake when the pilot announced that they were making the final approach to the airport.
* * * * * * * *
He had contacted the Samaritan Project to let them know he was returning to Africa, and they had arranged for one of their workers to meet him at the airport and drive him back to the relief operation headquarters.
"So why did you come back, Mr. Sanjouin?" the volunteer, Andy, asked. "Home not comfortable enough? Starting to feel too clean?"
Nephrite looked sideways at the driver, a rather scrawny young man with sunbleached hair and leathery tanned skin, and smiled a little, wryly. "Unfinished business."
"Your donations have made a huge difference, if that's what you're coming to see about."
"That's part of it." Nephrite shifted on the hard seat, trying to find a comfortable position. He was exhausted from the flight, and was getting a bad headache. He had a long truck ride in front of him, and just wanted to sleep through it.
Andy seemed to empathize. "Sorry, man. Those long flights really suck, and then you have to bounce your butt over these so-called roads in this so-called truck for five hours. I picked up some Cokes in town - they're not cold, but they're wet, and the caffeine should kill your headache."
Gratefully, Nephrite fished a can out of the wooden case filled with cans of soda behind the seat of the truck. "How'd you know I have a headache?"
"Everyone always has a headache when they land here. And if they don't, making the drive gives them one.
Nephrite chuckled a little as he opened the can. After downing its contents, he shifted into the least uncomfortable position he could find and thought of Naru. He was doing this for Naru, he reminded himself, so that he could have a future with her.
You'll destroy that which you love. Metallia's prediction came unwanted into his mind, chilling him again. No I won't, you demon, he thought in reply. I'll hunt you down and destroy you if it's the last thing I do.
He slept, then awoke as they arrived at the relief headquarters just after sunset. Monique cried out his name as she embraced him, and kept her arms around him a few seconds longer than he felt comfortable with. Nephrite wondered if he was going to have to put a stronger spell on her, or perhaps do a small, selective memory wipe. The other members of Gary's Group greeted him warmly, then introduced him to the members of The Samaritan Project. The other relief agencies had their camps neear the other places where refugees were gathering; Nephrite would meet with their workers over the next week.
Supper was Spam stew and saltine crackers. While he ate, Nephrite thought longingly of Sakura House, the elegant restaurant he had taken Naru and her mother to his last night in Tokyo. After the meal, the briefing began. The agencies that had come in at Sanjouin Masato's urging had enough of an official weight about them that the warring factions were treating them with some respect. There were few problems with road blockades, and the supply lines to the ever-shifting refugee camps were running about as smoothly as could be expected. The main problem now was in getting sufficient donations of food and medical and housing supplies. And the quality was unpredictable - moldy rice, sleeping bags with holes worn through them, and expired antibiotics were a growing problem. Nephrite promised to work with some of his contacts in the import business towards obtaining donations or inexpensive supplies, and to provide some additional funding.
"That's very commendable of you, coming all the way back here to check on those things personally," Michael, the leader of the Samaritan Project workers, said.
"That isn't the only reason I came back," Nephrite said. "I want to find out what's behind this fighting."
A debate erupted, over whether the war had begun when a General who was a member of the country's majority ethnic group was assassinated, or whether it was before that when the General's troops had massacred three villages of one of the minority ethnic groups, or whether it was before that, when the minority groups had banded together to try to overthrow the ruling party, or...
"That isn't what I mean," Nephrite said. The debate stopped and everyone looked at him. "I want to talk to the warlords themselves. I want to ask them why they are leading people to kill other people with whom they used to live peacefully." That was what he had done, he thought. Led one-fourth of Beryl's brainwashed armies to slaughter half the residents of Earth and all the residents of the Moon. Why? He wondered if he would find his answer in the warlords' answers. "If we can figure that out, maybe we can bring an end to this."
Erik, Monique's lover and the newly-anointed leader of Gary's Group, asked, "Does anyone know what you're planning to do?"
"Just my fiancée." Nephrite glanced at Monique; she looked away from him, then down at the floor. "And you guys."
"But not the Japanese government? Or the United Nations or anyone like that?"
"I'm not doing this for them. I'm doing it for the people caught in this war. And for reasons of personal interest to Naru and myself." It was actually the other way around, he thought. This was for Naru. Everything was for Naru.
"You're running a good chance of getting yourself killed," Michael said. "I'm afraid that the Samaritan Project can't take responsibility for -"
"I'm not asking you to."
They tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't accept any of their arguments. Finally, so tired his head was spinning, he excused himself and went outside. He leaned against a truck, looking up at the stars which were so different from the ones he could see in Tokyo. One day, he promised himself, when there was peace, he would bring Naru here so she could see what the stars looked like from another part of the world. On this night, at this latitude, Lyra was below the northern horizon, but Naru should be able to see it and its bright star Vega easily. He centered himself, felt the power of the stars in his mind. Watch over her, he prayed.
Comfort surrounded him and flowed through him. She would be watched over and protected. Nephrite let out a long breath, feeling easier in his mind.
"Hey, stranger." It was Monique, walking towards him in the starlit dark.
"We can talk for a few minutes, can't we?"
She leaned against the truck beside him. "I missed you."
Nephrite was silent.
"You didn't miss me, did you," Monique stated.
He shrugged. "It's nice to see you again."
"That isn't quite the same thing." After a few moments she asked, "How does your fiancée feel about you coming back here?"
"She understands why it's necessary."
"Why is it necessary? What personal interest could a little girl like her possibly have in a war half a world away?"
She was jealous again. Bitterly jealous - Nephrite heard it in her voice. "Monique, I'm sorry I can't be to you what you want me to be. I love Naru. I always have, I always will. Nothing can ever change that. The stars told me that she and I are destined for each other."
"So do you love her because you love her, or do you love her because she's your 'destiny'?"
Nephrite thought about it for a moment. "She's my destiny because I love her."
Now it was Monique's turn to be silent again. Finally she sighed and said, "All right. Now, I'll ask you again, why is it necessary for you to be here and talk to the warlords? What is your fiancée's interest in all this?"
Nephrite took a deep breath and looked up at the stars. "Once, long ago - so long ago it wouldn't make sense to you, so long ago you'd think I was crazy if I told you how long - I sold my soul. I want it back."
Monique gave a short, disbelieving laugh. "You sold your soul to the devil?"
"I'm not sure if she - the being to whom I made my oaths - can be classified as a devil, as such. I'm not sure exactly what she is. Whatever she is, she owns me. I thought I had broken away, but I haven't. Sooner or later, I'll become her servant again, unless I fight her."
"Of course you sold your soul to a female devil. You're quite the ladies' man, Masato."
Nephrite gave her a small smile, just out of politeness. She didn't realize how serious this was. "I have to go to wherever there's evil in the world, to wherever it seems her influence might be. I have to hunt her down and destroy her. Or else she will force me to destroy what I love."
"Does Naru know about all this?"
"She does, and she understands why I have to go away from her. So that I can be free someday and we can have a life together."
"So what you're doing," Monique said, "is for her, and not for the people here."
"That isn't entirely true. I saw too much suffering when I was here before to not care about it. Besides, does it matter what my motivation is, if the good is accomplished?"
"That same old question..." Monique yawned and stretched. "Well, off to bed, I suppose."
"Yes, with Erik, still."
Nephrite set a hand on her shoulder. "He's a good man, Monique. You aren't second-best with him."
Monique looked at him a moment, then gave him a sad little smile. "I suppose you're right."
Nephrite returned his gaze to the stars while Monique walked quietly away.
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"Naru," Mrs. Osaka said after dinner two nights after Nephrite left for Africa, "I want to talk to you about Sanjouin Masato."
Naru had been about to stand up to clear her place, but she stopped. "Yes, Mama?"
"There are some things I've been wanting to ask you, and talk to you about, concerning him. But you were so wrapped up in him while he was here, I was afraid we couldn't have a calm, rational discussion."
"It's all right, Mama. You can talk to me."
"Well. All right." Mrs. Osaka fiddled with her napkin, then pushed it and her plate aside and rested her folded hands on the table. "This is a very unexpected relationship. I don't think you ever told me how you met Sanjouin-san."
Naru had realized before this that her mother's memory must have been altered after the war against the Dark Kingdom ended. After all, she had never said anything about the night Naru went out to meet Sanjouin-san with a jewel she had stolen from the safe. "I thought I told you. It was at one of Rui-chan's tennis tournaments. Sanjouin-san sometimes volunteers as a coach, and of course he watches all the tournaments. And then after that we would see each other around, at the mall, places like that. We also danced and spent some time together at the Diamond Embassy ball."
"The Diamond Embassy ball? I don't remember anything about that."
Naru smiled. "You were sick that night, and sent me in your place. That's probably why you don't remember."
"I suppose so...." Mrs. Osaka looked confused. "It's strange that I don't remember you talking about him or anything -"
"I was too shy. I thought you'd tease me for having a crush on someone like him."
"Yes, I probably would have.... Now, what did I want to ask you... Oh, yes. Naru, he's much older than you are, and much more experienced in the ways of the world. He hasn't... tried to take advantage of you in any way, has he?"
Only when he was trying to get the Silver Crystal, Naru thought. But that wasn't what her mother meant. "No, Mama. He's always a perfect gentleman."
"Well, that's good then." Mrs. Osaka looked confused again, as though she had meant to say something else, but couldn't remember what. "That's good," she repeated.
"Is there anything else, Mama?"
"No... no, dear. You may clear your plate, and then go finish your homework."
Naru stood, picked up her plate, and smiled. "I already did, Mama."
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In the hours before dawn the next morning, Usagi was sleeping restlessly. It had all started again, the monsters, attacking and draining energy.... Earlier that night Usagi had had to rescue two young women from a monster that would have drained their energy till they died. She had had to have her memory restored all at once, so she could recover her skills as Sailor Moon. It had been a shock, realizing who she was and what she had to do, remembering the other monsters, the fights, the losses, the terrors, the enemies -
Suddenly, Usagi sat up in bed, her wail echoing all through the house.
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Usagi was actually waiting at the corner when Naru left for school the next morning. "Usagi-chan, you're on time for school. What's the emergency?" Naru teased. Then she noticed the upset look on Usagi's face. "What's wrong?"
"Naru-chan, that guy you're dating, that Sanjouin Masato - he's - he's -"
Now she understood why Usagi looked so upset. "He's Nephrite, and he used to be an evil Lord of the Dark Kingdom. You've finally got your memories back." Her mother must not have remembered, Naru thought. Otherwise, surely she would have said something about the stolen jewel incident that morning. Naru couldn't imagine her mother letting something like that go by. She decided she hoped her mother never remembered that. It would be too hard to explain, and she didn't want to lose her mother's approval of her relationship with Nephrite.
"He's a - yeah, I did. Last night... Hey, wait a minute, how come you remembered when everyone else forgot?"
"Nephrite put a guard spell on me before he went away, that keeps any other magic from affecting me. He isn't evil and dangerous any more, Usagi. He's a good man and he loves me a lot."
"But, Naru -"
"Usagi, it's all right. You don't need to worry about him any more."
"Oh, I hope not . I was really starting to like him, before I remembered who he is."
"So how much do you remember now? Everything?"
"Everything," Usagi whined. "I remember all the monsters, and the Lords, and Queen Beryl, and how scary it was, and how hard it is to be Sailor Moon, and that I really do love Chiba Mamoru!" Usagi burst into tears.
Naru smiled, feeling somewhat relieved. Usagi crying was bad enough, but at least she wasn't mad.
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It took two weeks, but Nephrite finally located the headquarters of Philippe, the majority-faction leader who had ordered most of the attacks against villages in this area. Andy wanted to go with Nephrite, as driver and bodyguard, to confront Philippe, but Nephrite refused. One man walking in alone would draw a lot less attention than two men in a truck, he said. Privately, he was amused at the thought of Andy, who stood five inches shorter and probably weighed fifty pounds less and who had no magical skills at all, protecting him. It would probably end up being the other way around.
Nephrite left just after sunset on a moonless night, and told the others he would probably be gone all night. They would expect it to take him several hours to walk the twenty miles to Philippe's encampment. Teleportation, of course, rendered time and distance meaningless, but he wasn't prepared to explain that to the others. So he walked the first several miles, then found a place to sit under one of the few trees in the area, and savored the feeling of being alone under the wide star-filled sky.
Near midnight, he teleported the rest of the way to the warlord's camp. Keeping himself invisible, Nephrite surveyed the camp, seeing how well it was guarded. There were maybe half a dozen Uzi-armed guards walking along the chickenwire fence that surrounded the compound. Most of them were occupied in smoking cigarettes and bragging to each other; only one or two were actually looking out into the darkness, keeping watch.
Nephrite teleported up behind the nearest of these and grabbed the man in a choke-hold from behind. Before the guard could cry out a warning, Nephrite drained enough of his energy to render the man unconscious. Then he mentally dug into the man's mind and extracted as much as he could of the language and what he knew of Philippe.
Stuffing his head with a language always made Nephrite feel slightly disoriented and irritable. He took some deep breaths, waiting for the sensation to fade away as his new knowledge was assimilated into his mind. Then he teleported into Philippe's tent, keeping himself invisible.
The commander was sitting naked at a table, studying a map in the dim light of an oil lantern and scooping up some sort of stew with a piece of flatbread. He was a short, heavy-set man; Nephrite guessed that beneath the fat he was probably quite muscular. His head was shaved and he wore a bushy goatee.
Nephrite let himself shimmer into view. A soft, high gasp came from a pile of blankets in one corner, and Philippe looked up. "Who --?" he shouted, knocking over his chair as he stood.
"Good evening, Philippe," Nephrite said in the local language, using his best Sanjouin-Masato-smooth voice. He glanced over to the pile of bedding. A girl lay there, staring at him out of huge, dark, terrified eyes. It was hard to tell, but he guessed she couldn't be more than Naru's age. He wondered if she were in Philippe's bed voluntarily.
"Who are you?" The warlord had finally found his voice.
"I'm someone who is interested in talking to you," Nephrite replied. "I can make it worth your while."
"What kind of money?"
"Not money. Gold. But only if you'll talk to me."
The man appeared completely oblivious to the fact that he was naked. He scowled at Nephrite for a moment, then directed his scowl at the girl. She made a frightened-sounding whimper and pressed herself back against the wall, clutching a blanket to her chest. "Get out, girl," Philippe growled. "I'll send for you when I'm ready for you again." Without a word, the girl gathered the blanket around her skinny body and ran out the door.
"I could have my men come in here and kill you and take the gold," Philippe said. "Tell me why I shouldn't."
"Because they won't find any."
"You lied, then. You haven't got any gold."
Nephrite let a heavy gold necklace fall out of the pocket of negative space he had made for it into his hand. Then he let it disappear again. "I've got plenty of gold. But I'm the only one who can get at it."
"Damn," Philippe said. "What sort of trickster are you?"
Nephrite held his hands spread out in front of him and let blue flashes of star power dance about between them. "I'm a trickster who wants to know why you're doing this."
Philippe had stepped back a few paces at Nephrite's show of power. "Why I'm doing what?"
"Why you're ordering people to kill other people, people who used to be their friends and neighbors."
"Those others don't belong here. My people were here long before they were. They came in, forced my people out of the best places to settle, took all the best grazing lands for themselves."
"When? A few years ago? In your lifetime?"
"Your grandfather's lifetime? Your grandfather's grandfather's time?"
"Before then. But this war had to come sooner or later. There have been too many wrongs to let them go unavenged any longer."
"Who is telling you to do this?" Nephrite whispered. Philippe stood, silent and enthralled, as Nephrite's magical crest began to burn red on his forehead. Nephrite slowly touched two fingers to the center of the commander's forehead. He drew out some energy, testing it, searching through the conflicting thoughts and energies - hatred, prejudices drummed in since childhood but held in uneasy check for the sake of a precarious survival, greed for power, other appetites...
But no trace of Metallia. Nephrite nudged Philippe into unconsciousness, then left a handful of chunky gold chains and rings on the table, next to the map. He studied the map, memorizing the markings Philippe had made on it. The next man he interviewed might be more interested in information about his enemy's movements than in gold. Then again, he might not be, but Nephrite believed in having as many weapons in his arsenal as possible.
He stepped outside. The girl was hunched down, huddled against the wall of the tent. He squatted next to her. "Do you want to stay here?" he said softly.
"Where else would I go?" she said.
"I can take you to one of the refugee camps." Why was he doing this? he wondered. He should just get out before he was caught....
"I can't go there. They will hate me for being with... him."
"But you were with him against your will."
"That won't matter to them."
Nephrite thought a moment. "I've got friends. Relief workers. They can take care of you. Will you come?"
"Why would you help me?"
He looked at her young face, her big frightened eyes, and tried to imagine Naru driven from her home, orphaned, starving, forced into the bed of someone like Philippe. He wasn't prepared for the pain and fury the thought caused him. Easy, he told himself. That won't happen. Naru is safe. I've given her the best protection I can, and the stars are watching her. Not to mention her mother. "Because you remind me of a girl at home. If she were in your situation I would want someone to help her. All right?"
After a pause, the girl nodded. Nephrite stood and lifted her into his arms; she was light, even lighter than Naru. He teleported back to the relief agency headquarters in one jump.
Monique, Erik, Michael, and Andy were waiting up for him, but hadn't expected him back so soon. Nephrite handed the girl over to Monique, explaining the situation he had found her in. Monique put an arm around the girl's trembling shoulders and led her away to get some food and clothing.
"I understand you feeling sorry for her," Michael said, "but Philippe will just find someone to replace her, and there are a lot of other girls in the same situation. You can't help all of them, and you took a huge risk helping her."
"Why is your group called the Samaritan Project?" Nephrite asked. He knew; he had begun a study of Earth's various religious and ethical systems, in his search to learn about good and evil.
Michael shrugged, a slightly sheepish look on his face. "I shouldn't think of things in those terms, of course."
"I know I can't help all those girls," Nephrite said. "But I was in a position to help this one. How could I just walk away?" His exhaustion finally catching up with him, Nephrite left the tent, leaving Michael sitting thoughtful and silent at the table behind him.
Nice try, Nephrite, the hated voice whispered in his mind.
Get out of my head, you demon.
Oh, but I can't. I'm part of you, and you are part of me. You can go around doing all the good you want, you can fight me as hard as you can, but sooner or later you'll be too tired and weak to fight me any more and then you will serve me again.
I'll die first.
And then your soul will be mine. You will still be my slave. I want you alive; you can do things that I am unable to do for myself because you have a body and I don't. But even after you die, you will still belong to me. The only way you will ever be free of me is if your very soul is destroyed, as Beryl's was.
I'll find a way, and you'll be the one who is destroyed. Despite his vow, a cold underlayer of fear kept Nephrite awake the rest of the night.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 1 Chapter 7
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury