Book 1 Chapter 7
* * * * * * * *
It was the same with the other warlords. Over the next several weeks, Nephrite located them, teleported to their headquarters, questioned them, drained their energy, and left payment in the form of gold or information about their enemies. Each time it was the same story, tensions going back generations, even centuries, which had finally come to a head under the pressures of their country's modernization.
But there was no trace of Metallia's energy. As Nephrite continued his investigations, he became less surprised by his failure to find her here. This war had begun while the Dark Kingdom was attacking Earth. Metallia had had Beryl, the four Lords, and all the armies of the Dark Kingdom to do her will. It was only after the Dark Kingdom's defeat that she would have needed to find new recruits. He realized he would have to concentrate his efforts on conflicts that had started since the Dark Kingdom was destroyed. Though it had only been about three months since then, a handful of disturbances had already sprung up just on this continent alone. The humans had their limitations, Nephrite reflected, but they were highly proficient at making war.
The members of Gary's Group and the Samaritan Project workers thought he was crazy when he told them he was going to talk to the leaders in a war that had just started in western Africa. "Look, Sanjouin," Michael said at supper the night before Nephrite left, "You've got a cute fiancée waiting for you, and I don't know what good you think you're going to do getting into the middle of that mess anyway. You should just go home."
Nephrite finished chewing his bite of ground-Spam-and-rice burger, and yearned for a meal in a four-star restaurant. Before he could say anything, Monique spoke. "No. This is something he feels he needs to do." She refused to meet Nephrite's eyes. "Let him go," she said, more to herself than to the others.
Erik squeezed her hand. Now she glanced up at Nephrite. He caught her warm brown gaze with his own sapphire eyes. "Thank you," he whispered.
Monique left the mess tent early with Erik that evening. Neither of them were up when Nephrite left the next morning, Andy driving him to the airport in the same beat-up truck as before.
* * * * * * * *
The area he went to was in complete chaos. The capitol city was a maze of war zones, each in the control of a different faction. Nearly every country that had a diplomatic presence there had called its people home. No relief agency had been able to get anywhere near where the troubled areas.
Nephrite took a hotel room in one of the few parts of the city that, for the moment, were still uncontested, and made that his home base. Within a week he had determined that this war was being put on by five generals who had each dissented from the government and taken a sizable portion of the army with him. So there were six factions, one led by the government and the other five led by the generals, who seemed to be fighting more bitterly against each other than against the government. Nephrite was already certain he could detect Metallia's hand in the situation. Something about it reminded him of the antagonism, even hatred, that had existed among the Lords of the Dark Kingdom.
Nephrite's guess held true. As he located and questioned each general, he heard stories of a voice that made extravagant promises of power and knowledge beyond imagining. Was power and knowledge what he had sold his own soul for? he wondered. Why had the price not seemed too high? He drained energy from each general, enough to leave them unconscious, and detected that taint he knew so well, metallic, sulphuric, corrupted, if mental impressions could have such qualities. Metallia had been there, not so very long ago.
In the Dark Kingdom, her lair had been a cave beneath the rest of the warren of caverns that made up the physical Kingdom. As far as Nephrite could determine, there were no caverns in this area. But not too far to the south and east was the beginning of a vast stretch of rain forest, large portions of which remained little-known. She could be hiding herself there, somewhere in the depths of the forest, where humans never went. Nephrite asked around until he found someone desperate and foolhardy enough to take him in a boat upriver into the forest.
Metallia's voice came into his mind the night before he was to go into the forest to hunt her. You're a fool, Nephrite. I don't need an Earthly hiding place. Now that my power is no longer trapped in the Dark Kingdom, I can send it wherever I wish while I remain in a place where you will never find me. Besides, I'm done here. I've found something else to amuse myself with.
Nephrite abruptly sat up in bed, sweaty and chilled. He fought to get his breathing under control and organize his thoughts. The words might almost have been a dream, except his fear was the real, bone-deep fear that Metallia's presence always left behind. She had been here, and now she was gone.
He didn't sleep the rest of the night. At dawn he was ready to leave the hotel, to meet the boatman as planned, and pay him off and explain that he had changed his mind about going upriver into the forest. After checking out, Nephrite stepped out the front door of the hotel with his one carry-on bag. Suddenly, an unseen force pushed him to the floor inside the doorway just as the sound of automatic rifle fire exploded from across the street. Bullets tore through the wall just above Nephrite where he lay on the floor. A second gun answered fire, then the street outside fell silent again.
That was aimed at you, Nephrite, Metallia said. I saved your life. The general who sent that assassin after you will be severely punished. I want you alive, Nephrite. You belong to me whether you're alive or dead, but right now you're more useful to me alive. You could lead the others I've chosen, and conquer the Earth for me. The whole Earth could be yours, Nephrite, if you will serve me.
Nephrite lay on the floor, trembling. Damn you, get out of my head. I will not serve you! He wondered what the hell he was doing in a place like this. If he was killed, he wouldn't have a chance. His soul would belong to Metallia. Alive, he could keep fighting her.... But to fight her, he had to follow her evil influence into these dangerous places. It was the only way he would ever find her. There was no other choice.
After a moment he realized that the hotel manager was squatting next to him, shaking his shoulder and saying, "Sir? Are you all right, sir?" over and over again.
Nephrite got to his hands and knees, then sat up. Nothing hurt, there was no sign of blood anywhere. "I'm fine. Damn, that was close."
"I'm so sorry, sir. The entire city has become a war zone."
"I know. And I'm asking myself what kind of a crazy bastard I am for coming here when I knew how dangerous it was." He stood, brushed off the dust, picked up his bag, and took a deep breath. "Now. Let's try this again." No need to be afraid, he told himself bitterly as he stepped outside the door again. Metallia was protecting him.
He found and paid off the very relieved boatman, then teleported to the airport, which was still functioning on occasion. This morning was one of those occasions. Nephrite was able to find a flight to Casablanca, Morocco that would be leaving in less than an hour. When the flight landed several hours later, Nephrite bought a newspaper and read it while he ate a perfectly foul lunch.
Trouble was brewing in a tiny country in southeastern Europe that Nephrite had never heard of. He doubted whether anyone who didn't live there had ever heard of it until the last few days. A minister of the military government had been assassinated a couple of days before, and since then, government forces had been bombing the town where the assassination had occurred, in retaliation.
After a great deal of inquiry, Nephrite was able to snag a booking on a flight to Rome late that evening. From Rome he would figure out how to get to this country he had never heard of until now. He knew, he was absolutely certain in the depths of his soul, that Metallia was behind this new conflict.
This airport, unlike the one he had just come from, had functioning public telephones. After calculating the time difference, he put a call through to Naru. Hopefully she would still be awake.
She was. "Hello?" her sweet voice said over the phone.
"Naru-chan, it's me."
"Nephrite-sama!" He couldn't tell, over the poor connection, whether she was laughing or crying. "Where are you? Are you coming home?"
"No, darling, I'm sorry. I can't come home yet. I'm in Morocco, and I'm headed for Rome tonight, on the way to somewhere else. I haven't been anywhere where they have postal service or international phone service, so I haven't been able to call or write to you until now. But I'll send you a postcard from Rome."
"You're still hunting... her?"
"Yes. But I think I'm getting closer."
"Oh, I hope so, Nephrite. I miss you so much."
"I miss you too, Naru-chan." And he did. Up until now, he had managed to not think too much about how much he missed her, but now the loneliness, the yearning for her flooded over him in a painful wave. He had to close his eyes and take some deep, slow breaths, to get hold of himself before speaking again. "I would come home now if I could, my love, but I think I'm very close to catching up with Metallia."
"I understand. I hope you're all right, and that you're being careful."
"I'm fine. I can look after myself, so try not to worry too much. How are you?"
"Besides being so lonely for you, I'm all right." She giggled. "Usagi remembered who you are. I keep trying to convince her you aren't evil anymore, but she's having a hard time believing it."
"I'll convince her when I come back. How about that?"
"I hope you can. I don't know, though.... Oh, and the high school entrance exams were the last few weeks. It was awful. I really hope I get into Bridge Street, but I don't know, you have to have like perfect scores to get in."
"I'm sure you did fine. And I'm proud of you for trying so hard."
Again that sound from her. Nephrite decided it was crying. "Thank you, Nephrite-sama. Please come home soon."
"As soon as I can, beloved. I promise. I need to hang up now and let you go to bed; I know it's late there. I'll send you a postcard from Rome."
"I'd like that," she said, sniffling.
"I love you."
"I love you too. Please be careful."
"I will. Goodbye."
After Nephrite hung up, he stood leaning against the phone booth, trying to quell the loneliness, the longing that overwhelmed him. He needed to be with Naru, to hold her close to him, and kiss her, and more.... A memory came to him, unbidden, of her body as he had seen it that night, when he had searched it in the light of the Black Crystal. The sight of her smooth skin and soft curves hadn't moved him at the time, but now the memory was enough to leave him paralyzed with desire.
She was fifteen years old, Nephrite reminded himself. Far too young for him to be having these kinds of thoughts about her. He'd been celibate for at least a thousand years; a few more years wouldn't kill him. Probably wouldn't kill him. He had business to attend to first, and he had to do what was best for Naru.
More in control of himself now, he put another call through, to his secretary Yuriko's apartment. The youma answered, and proceeded, in her usual brisk, businesslike manner, to update him on his company and his financial affairs.
* * * * * * * *
In Rome, Nephrite asked at all the airline counters until he found a flight that would get him close enough to the latest trouble spot that he could easily teleport in. The flight was scheduled twice a week; he could either take the one leaving in two hours, or wait another three days. Nephrite hesitated, thinking longingly of a decent hotel room, a proper bath, real food, sleep.... But if he waited three days, Metallia might have finished with her mischief-making at his new destination and moved on. If he was going to catch up with her, he couldn't waste time. He booked on the flight that was leaving in two hours.
He bought lunch at an airport restaurant and sat down to write the promised postcard to Naru. "My darling Naru," he started out, "I'm in one of the great cities of world, eating damn airport food once again because my flight leaves in two hours...." He had too much to say to fit on one postcard; he ended up writing five, numbering them so she would know what order to read them in. Then, meal consumed and postcards mailed, he picked up his bag and headed off in pursuit of Metallia.
* * * * * * * *
It took a week, and almost all the gold he had left, but Nephrite finally located Poljanica, the man who had masterminded the government minister's assassination. During this time the army turned its revenge upon a second town, where the assassin was believed to have been living. The death count mounted, and unrest continued to grow.
Near midnight one night, Nephrite teleported into the heavily-guarded farmhouse that served as Poljanica's headquarters. The rebellion leader was sitting in a wooden chair in front of the fireplace, sipping at a brandy. He was short and stocky, with buzz-cut black hair and several days' growth of beard, so that the hair on his head and face were nearly the same length.
"Why did you do it?" Nephrite asked softly.
The glass of brandy shattered on the floor as Poljanica jumped out of his chair and spun around.
"It won't do you any good to call your guards," Nephrite said. "They won't hear you."
"Who are you?"
"I'm someone who wants to know why you've started a war."
"I know, you're that rich guy from Japan who thinks he's some great humanitarian peacemaker. Saving the world." The man was slightly drunk; he slurred his words a little bit, but not so much that Nephrite, who had stuffed the language into his mind, couldn't understand him.
"My motives for what I do are purely selfish." Nephrite held his hands in front of his chest. Star power began to glow in his cupped palms. Poljanica stared at the bluish light. "Now," Nephrite, said softly, "I'll ask once more, why did you do it?"
"I... It had to be done."
"Don't you care that two towns full of innocent people have been destroyed?"
"It had to be done," Poljanica insisted in a monotone. "The army has to be overthrown. Their destroying those towns gives us the perfect excuse to declare war."
"So you meant for this to happen." Nephrite's voice was merely a low whisper now. He let the starlight dance from hand to hand as Poljanica stared, going deeper into his trance. "You meant for all those people to die. Who suggested that plan, Poljanica? It wasn't your idea, was it?"
"It was her. She said... it was the best way. She promised it would work, and that I could be the new leader, and do things the way I thought right. She..."
Nephrite put the first two fingers of his right hand on the shorter man's forehead, capturing his gaze. Without breaking the eye contact, Nephrite said, "It isn't worth it. Whatever she promised you, it isn't worth what she will take from you in exchange. Believe me, I know." Still holding Poljanica's dark gaze, he drained enough of the man's energy to leave him unconscious. Metallia's taint was strong. I know you're around here somewhere, he thought.
For three weeks, Nephrite searched the surrounding mountainous country, using what little he knew of Metallia's nature to try to figure out where she might be hiding. He spoke to people in the area's many farming and mining villages, and investigated every superstition and ghost story concerning the local forests and mountains. He found nothing. Absolutely damn nothing, no trace of Metallia at all.
I told you, she finally said to him after three weeks, you won't find me in any Earthly place.
Why should I believe you? Nephrite replied.
Actually, I hope you don't. I'm enjoying our little game of hide-and-seek, especially since it's you doing all the work. All I have to do is sit here comfortably and watch you make a fool of yourself.
I don't care what you say. Someday, somehow, I'm going to find you and destroy you.
Meanwhile, Poljanica had surrendered, confessed to arranging the assassination, and been executed. But the army attacks against towns and villages hadn't stopped; the excuse was that more rebellions could be stirring. Nephrite spent another two weeks searching for and questioning the military leaders responsible for the attacks. He found nothing but the simple human ability to slaughter huge numbers of people for the sake of ideology.
Discouraged, Nephrite decided it was time to go home for a while. Metallia was doubtless up to no good in some other part of the world, but Nephrite felt like he had been away from Naru for far too long. He needed to see her, to remind himself of why he was doing this.
Though he probably could have found a flight back to Tokyo from an airport closer to where he was, he made his way back to Rome. He was tired of dealing with unfamiliar airports. When he got to Rome, fortune smiled on him; he was able to book a first-class seat on the next flight to Tokyo. That done, he called Naru.
"I'm coming home, babe." He smiled as Naru squealed happily into the phone. "I'm flying from Rome. I'll be arriving -" he stared at the ticket. His addled, weary mind couldn't remember if the arrival time was Tokyo time or Roman time. He tried calculating time differences and the length of the flight, and soon gave up. "Tomorrow night, I think. Anyway, I'll come see you as soon as I can after I get back. Okay?"
"Okay! Oh, Nephrite-sama, I'm so glad you're coming home. I love you. I can't wait to see you again!"
He laughed gently. "I love you too. I've missed you so much. See you soon."
In the men's room, he shaved; though the task would need to be done again before he saw Naru, at least he wouldn't look quite so out of place in first class. Then he tried to work a comb through his hair, and finally gave up, instead tying the whole mess back in a ponytail. Looking slightly less uncivilized, he headed for the gate to snag a seat in the waiting area and hopefully get a nap before his flight left.
* * * * * * * *
Even at ten o'clock at night, the Tokyo airport was bustling and brightly lit. As Nephrite stepped into the gate area, he was aware, in a way he never had been before, of the sharp differences between the two different groups of disembarking passengers. Some of them, mostly men alone but a few couples, were heading down the corridor alone, intent on getting their baggage and finding a taxi and reaching their destination. The others were being happily greeted by friends and family members. They exchanged hugs and handshakes, talking excitedly, moving away in happy groups. Normally, at the end of a flight, Nephrite was just glad to get away from people, after being confined with a couple hundred of them in a tin can high above the earth for hours. But tonight, for the first time, he felt lonely getting off an airplane. He walked down the corridor, concentrating on his agenda: taxi, home, shower and shave, teleport to Naru's.
"Masato-sama!" A sweet, familiar voice broke into his thoughts. Nephrite abruptly stopped, letting the crowd bump into him then part and flow around him.
"Sanjouin Masato-san!" Nephrite looked in the direction the voice had come from. From his height advantage he could still barely see the red hair and blue bow bobbing about in the midst of the crowd, a slender hand waving at him.
"Naru-chan!" he said out loud, and started pushing his way sideways through the mass of people. Soon there were only a few people between him and her, then she was in his arms, he lifted her up, both of them laughing with tears in their eyes, he hugged her as hard as he could, then set her down and pressed his mouth to hers in a long, deep, thirsty kiss, and it was worth every uncertain, dangerous, lonely moment to come home to her again....
His perceptions shifted slightly, a brief moment of déjà vu... Long ago he had felt this joy on being reunited with someone. He didn't want to think about it, didn't want to remember, now. He didn't want to have ever felt this way with anyone but Naru.
He finally broke the kiss and pulled back a bit to look at her. She had changed slightly; the last time he saw her, she had still had a bit of childish roundness about her face. That was gone now, and he could see clearly the beautiful woman she was going to be. "Oh, Naru, you look wonderful," he said, his voice more gravelly than usual.
She touched his face. "So do you. I'm so glad you're back, Nephrite-sama."
He laughed a bit. "I'm not very clean again, I'm afraid."
"I don't mind. As long as you're here."
Nephrite kissed her again, then became aware of her mother standing nearby. He straightened up, holding Naru close against his side with an arm around her shoulders. "Mrs. Osaka," he greeted her. "Thank you for bringing Naru to meet me."
Mrs. Osaka smiled. "Naru has earned a reward, and this was what she wanted."
"Oh?" Nephrite looked down at Naru. "What have you done to earn a reward?"
She was smiling brightly, nearly bouncing in her eagerness to tell him. "I got into the Bridge Street Academy!"
A warm feeling welled up in him. Pride. But he hadn't done anything - he was proud of her. For the first time he could remember, Nephrite took unreserved joy in someone else's accomplishment. He hugged Naru again. "Excellent work, Naru. I knew you could do it - I'm proud of you."
"Come along, you two," Mrs. Osaka said. "Let's go before I have to pay for another hour of parking."
They started walking towards the entrance to the terminal, Naru and Nephrite each with an arm tightly around the other. "Usagi-chan didn't make Bridge Street, though," Naru went on. "I'll be going to school without my best friend."
"That shouldn't be such a shock, dear," Mrs. Osaka said.
"I know, but she tried so hard .... She's going to go to the Vocational/Home Ec high school."
"This is the Usagi who failed cooking class four terms in a row?" Nephrite asked, amused.
"Actually, they have a three-year course in interior decorating," Naru said. "Usagi's going to take that. She's really pretty excited...."
As Naru chattered on, the three of them reached Mrs. Osaka's car. Nephrite, sitting in the back seat with Naru snuggled happily against his side, insisted on paying the parking fee, then they headed into the city.
"I imagine you're quite tired, Mr. Sanjouin," Mrs. Osaka said, "and anxious to get home."
"Actually, now that I've seen Naru, what I would like most is to eat something that bears a passing resemblance to food. I believe Sakura House is open this late."
"I don't think you'd meet their dress code," Naru said, eyeing his rumpled khaki pants and leather bomber jacket.
"I doubt it'll be a problem. There are advantages to having obscene amounts of money."
And, in fact, the maitre-d' practically groveled, so glad to see Sanjouin-san after his long absence, and with his two lovely lady friends, his usual table just happened to be available....
Naru and her mother ate lightly of pasta and chicken while Nephrite put away an impressive quantity of sushi, filet mignon, and exotic vegetables. While they waited for dessert to arrive, Mrs. Osaka said, "I believe I'll go powder my nose. Excuse me a moment, please."
Nephrite stood while Mrs. Osaka left the table. Naru moved to follow her mother, but Mrs. Osaka smiled back at her. "You wait here, dear. I'll only be a moment."
Nephrite and Naru sat down again and looked at each other. He took her hands and held them across the table. "You wouldn't believe some of the stuff I had to eat while I was away. Have you ever tried Spam burgers?"
"Do yourself a favor. Don't."
Naru giggled a little, and looked down, shyly.
"It's worth it, Naru. Everything I have to do, it's worth it, to be able to have a life with you."
Naru looked up at him again, a more serious look in her eyes. "Did you find... her?"
"No. I came close, though, and I'm learning what to look for." Nephrite hoped that the discouragement he felt didn't come through in his voice. It was hard enough for her, not being able to do anything but wait.
"So you'll have to go away again." Her voice sounded very small.
"Not right away, I promise. I'll stay as long as I can."
Naru nodded, biting her lip.
Nephrite looked down at her hands. She still wore the ring he had given her on her right hand. It didn't look quite right. He took the ring off her finger and slid it onto her left ring finger. The engagement ring finger. That looked better.
Naru had watched him silently. Now she looked up at him, a questioning look in her eyes. Nephrite smiled at her. "No point in pretending it isn't already settled, don't you think?" He wasn't sure why he felt nervous saying this; it wasn't as though there were any doubt that her feelings for him extended that far.
Naru smiled tentatively in return, and shook her head. "I guess not."
"I'll get you a proper engagement ring when you're old enough."
She nodded, then finally let the smile bloom on her face. "Oh, Nephrite, I can't wait until we can be together all the time."
"Neither can I, love."
Mrs. Osaka returned from her tactful absence, the chocolate-hazelnut tortes arrived, the evening proceeded as though nothing had changed, but Nephrite felt that his whole world had changed. Though the engagement wasn't quite official, Naru really was his fiancée now. He still had a long way to go, but he was a step closer to having everything he wanted.
* * * * * * * *
A few days later, Nephrite and Naru met Usagi and the Inner Senshi for Sunday lunch at a café. The meeting had been suggested by Nephrite. The two girls whom he hadn't encountered while he was serving the Dark Kingdom, Makoto, who was Jupiter, and Minako, who was Venus, were polite, though they could barely suppress their curious stares. The other three, Usagi, Ami, and Rei, weren't trying to be so polite. Their stares were suspicious, if not openly hostile.
"I'm not going to ask you to let bygones be bygones," Nephrite said without prelude. "I've committed too many wrongs to expect you to just forget about them. But I want all of you to know that I love Naru with all my heart - and yes, Mars, I do have a heart. I would not wish any harm to come to her or her friends. For Naru's sake, I hope that we can stop being enemies."
There was silence at the table. Makoto and Minako glanced at each other, then Minako nodded. Makoto leaned forward and took Naru's hands in one of hers and Nephrite's hands in the other hand. "You were gone before Minako and I arrived on the scene, so as far as we're concerned, we were never enemies. We're very happy for you and Naru."
After another brief silence, Ami spoke. "I can't deny that you make Naru very happy. Very well, I'll concede that you aren't evil any more." She glanced sideways at Rei and nudged the long-haired girl in the arm with her elbow. "Oh, all right," Rei grumbled. "I promise I won't try to kill you."
"I appreciate that," Nephrite said dryly.
Now everyone was looking at Usagi. "Well?" Jupiter said.
"I can't believe you actually stood there and talked about 'meeting me a few times!'" Usagi finally said.
Naru twined her fingers through Nephrite's. "He was only playing my little game. Remember how I used to tease you, when you didn't remember any of what happened? About being in love with Mamoru?"
Usagi blushed furiously.
"You would have done the same thing, Usagi-chan, if you were in my place, you know you would have," Naru coaxed.
"All right," Usagi said. "But one wrong move, and you're history, Nephrite. Got that?"
He smiled, chuckled a little. "I will keep that threat firmly in my mind, Sailor Moon. And now that we're all friends..." Naru looked at him. His expression had become very serious. "I'm going to have to be away a lot. Metallia was not destroyed along with the rest of the Dark Kingdom."
The Sailor Senshi all gasped and went pale.
"She still owns me," Nephrite continued. "She's trying to force me to serve her again. I'm fighting back as hard as I can. I'm hoping that I can find her and destroy her. My hunt is going to be taking me away from Naru a lot. I want you all to promise that you'll look after Naru for me when I'm away, and... if anything should happen to me."
"Nephrite, don't -" Naru said, then stopped herself.
He squeezed her hand. She was trying so hard to be brave. Nephrite wished he could protect her from the reality that he might be hurt or killed in the course of his search for Metallia. "Promise me. As friends, or worthy opponents, or whatever you want."
Usagi leaned forward and rested her hand on Nephrite and Naru's clasped hands. "I promise, on behalf of all the Senshi. As friends. We'll look after Naru for you. You don't need to worry about her. Right?" The other girls each nodded and said, "Right."
"Thank you," Nephrite said softly. He signaled the waiter, indicating that they were ready to order now. That was two loose ends tied up, two things he wouldn't have to worry about any more. He had made peace with his enemies, and ensured that Naru would have their protection and comfort until the day came, if it ever did, that he could always be the one to protect and comfort her.
* * * * * * * *
Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 1 Chapter 8
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury