Book 3 Chapter 1
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For a long time, Nephrite sat huddled on the floor next to his throne, shivering in the dank chill of the Dark Kingdom, clutching the chain with its rings and locks of hair close against his heart. Gradually, reality reasserted itself in the form of a sharp ache in his recently-broken hip. He shifted involuntarily, trying to ease the pain, and realized where he was - in the ruins of the Dark Kingdom, a thousand years after the events he had been remembering.
"Naru," he whispered. Of course. It had always been Naru. He had lost her once, but now he had her back again. Not even death could keep them apart.
Death couldn't separate them forever, but Metallia could. Nephrite reflected on what he had learned about his bargain with Metallia. Now that he knew what he had sold himself for, he reasoned, he could renounce the agreement he had made.
It was hard; an angry, wounded voice inside him insisted that Naru's death should not have been allowed to go unavenged, and that everything he had done was justified. It was hard to let go of the desire for revenge. Forgiveness was another matter; he didn't think he could ever forgive any of those who had been involved in Naru's murder. But at least he could admit that the stars were right. He had been wrong to seek revenge.
Stiffly, Nephrite stood, brushing dust and cobwebs from his jeans. He still held the chain, rings, and hair. "Metallia!" he called. "I know you aren't here, but you can hear me anyway, can't you? Don't pretend you can't!"
There was no response, but Nephrite knew in his soul that Metallia was listening. He even had a feeling that she had been dreading the day he would learn the truth about his past. "Listen to me, Metallia. I joined you because I wanted revenge. I renounce that desire. I renounce the terms of our agreement. You have nothing to offer me."
Still no response. But Nephrite was certain she had heard. He wasn't going to fool himself into thinking that this was the end of the matter. Just because he had renounced his oaths didn't mean he was released from them. But perhaps his rejection of his contract with Metallia would weaken Metallia and her hold on him enough for him to take some time to learn more about her. His memories of his first encounter with the demon were dark and blurred; perhaps now he had bought himself enough time to explore them more thoroughly.
And maybe now he would have more time to spend with Naru.... Grief flooded over him, making him feel weak and sick. She had died, he had lost her.... No, he reminded himself. She was alive and waiting for him in Tokyo, his beloved, the little red-haired girl who had touched his hardened, lonely heart and given him a new life. Nephrite didn't love her more, now that he remembered their past, but it seemed so natural, so right, that she had been his only love all through time. When he remembered feeling joy upon being reunited with someone, it was his reunions with Naru he was remembering. When his body ached with desire, is was Naru he was longing for.
It would be foolish, he now realized, to waste another moment of the precious gift he had been given, this second chance with Naru. To hell with Metallia, he thought. To hell with his oaths to her, his fears of her. He was going to live his life the way he wanted. No longer would he let Metallia rule him. His hunt for her still wasn't over, sooner or later he would still have to find and destroy her. But he would no longer give her strength by letting her control his life and decisions.
Without even stopping to think about it, Nephrite slipped the chain with its ancient pendants over his head and tucked it inside his shirt. Then, painfully but as quickly as he could, he made his way through the rubble and ruins back to the gate and teleported out of the Dark Kingdom. Three jumps took him to Anchorage, where he went to the hotel where he had taken a room and left his bag. He shaved, showered the cobwebs and dust of the Dark Kingdom from his hair and body, put on clean clothes, then phoned the various airlines' ticket counters at the airport. He was in luck; there was one first class seat left on a flight for Tokyo early that evening. He would have taken coach if he had had to, cramped legs be damned.
There were phones on the plane which could be used in-flight, a recent development of which Nephrite highly approved. Once the drinks had been served, he picked up the phone, read the instructions, ran one of his credit cards through the slot, and dialed Naru's number.
"Hello?" she said.
It had only been a few days since he had heard her voice, but between then and now Nephrite had remembered their past love and her terrible death. For a moment he couldn't speak, as love and joy and relief and longing shocked through him.
"Hello?" Naru said again.
"Naru," Nephrite finally managed to say. He hoped she wouldn't be able to hear that he was near tears. His seatmate, a middle-aged Japanese businessman, kept his eyes firmly fastened on the newspaper he was reading.
"Nephrite! Are you coming home soon?"
"I'm on the plane right now, darling. It has phones that you can use during the flight."
"You mean you're on the way right now?" She sounded almost breathless with joy.
"As we speak. I should be getting in around..." He looked at his watch, calculated the flight time, tried to remember the time difference between Anchorage and Tokyo... "Late this evening, I think." He told her the airline and flight number.
"I'll be there. Oh, Nephrite, I can't wait to see you! Did you find what you were looking for?"
Had he? He had certainly found a lot, not necessarily what he had set out to find.... "I learned a lot. I'm not sure what to make of it all. I've got a lot to think about, but I think I'm ahead of where I was before."
"You didn't find her?" Naru sounded crestfallen.
"No, but I know a lot more than I did before. And I've come to some important decisions. I'll tell you more when I get there, okay?"
"Don't worry, Naru. I'm a lot closer than I was before. And I'm looking at some things differently now."
"Oh, Nephrite, I'll wait as long as it takes. I love you."
"I love you too, Naru-chan. I can't wait to see you."
"I love you," she said again.
"I love you."
"I love you." Nephrite laughed; this was a game they played sometimes, to see who was the last one to say "I love you" before they both dissolved into laughter.
"You laughed first," Naru said.
Nephrite was still chuckling. "The gentleman sitting next to me must be doubting my sanity by now. I love you, Naru, and I'll see you when I get in."
"I'll be there. I love you."
"Don't start that again."
She giggled, a sweet, silvery sound. "Sorry, Nephrite-sama. I'll see you tonight."
Nephrite replaced the phone, then glanced at his neighbor. Why did he feel like he wanted to tell the whole world about his love? Ridiculous. "I beg your pardon," he said to the man. "I hope my phone conversation didn't disturb you. It was my fiancée."
The man glanced at him, nodded politely, said, "Ah," and turned back to his paper. Nephrite stared out the window into the night sky over the Pacific ocean, fully aware that he was smiling like a fool and not caring if anyone saw it.
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The plane landed fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Naru wasn't in the waiting area yet. Nephrite was just sitting down to wait for her when he noticed a flower shop on the concourse nearby. It was still open. Nephrite went in and purchased three dozen red roses.
When he stepped back out, arms laden with carry-on bag, overcoat, and roses, he heard a dearly familiar voice call out, "Masato-san!" He looked; Naru was making her way along the crowded concourse, waving her hand at him over the heads of the people who were walking the other direction. "Naru!" he shouted, and ran towards her, pushing his way through the crowds. He reached her, caught her up in the arm that wasn't full of roses, spun her around, then set her down and bent over to kiss her. Her mouth was as sweet and soft as it had always been. She was Naru, she hadn't changed, she was the only one he had ever loved, and she was alive and safe and happy and in his arms. Nephrite felt tears leaking from his closed eyes, but he didn't care.
They held each other for a long time, letting the crowds work their way around them, until Naru pulled away. "What's this?" she asked, smiling and fingering the green tissue paper around the roses. "You brought me roses from Alaska?" There was a playful look in her eyes. "Or are they from the Dark Kingdom?"
"Silly." Nephrite kissed her again. "They're airport roses, from that shop right over there."
He handed her the bouquet, and she buried her face among the rich red blooms, inhaling their perfume. "Oh, Nephrite, they're beautiful."
Someone jostled the pair, and Nephrite said, "We'd better move before we get a parking ticket." Their arms around each other, they began to move towards the exit.
"So, tell me what you found out," Naru said. "You said you've made some decisions?"
"It's a very long story, so I'd rather wait till later to tell you about it." Nephrite hadn't decided yet exactly how much to tell her. "And, yes, I've made up my mind about one thing, at least. But first, I have to ask you something."
"Can you plan the wedding of your dreams in six months or less?"
"Nephrite!" Naru stopped walking, and looked up at him, her face glowing. "We can get married? Even though you aren't finished with her yet?"
"I've realized it's foolish to waste time, and to let her make my decisions for me."
"Oh, Nephrite!" Naru stood on tiptoe and threw her free arm around his neck. He bent over so they could kiss again.
They started walking again. "You plan our wedding any way you want, Naru. I'll pay for anything you want. I'll even -" He hesitated, fighting back certain embarrassing memories associated with men's formalwear. "I'll even wear a tuxedo, if you want me to."
Naru laughed and looked up at him. "Nephrite-sama, you're too good to me."
Nephrite hugged her closer to him. I'm going to find out what and where you are, Metallia, he thought defiantly, and I'm going to hunt you down and destroy you, but I'm not going to let you run my life and make my decisions. You can't control me any more.
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Naru ate dinner with him at his house the next evening. They feasted on pizza and chocolate ice cream while watching a movie on the big screen TV, one of the few items in the house that predated Naru and Usagi's redecorating. Nephrite leaned back in the corner of the huge sofa Naru had bought, with Naru settled comfortably between his knees, resting back against his chest. He remembered that night nearly four years ago, when he first realized that he loved Naru, and how he had longed to be close to her. It was such a luxury to just have her with him like this after all the time he had spent away from her on his travels, and especially in comparison to his memories of their few stolen, secret nights together so long ago.
The video ended. Nephrite turned off the TV and stretched out more comfortably on the couch, Naru lying alongside him, her arms and legs draped across him. With his hand entangled in her thick hair, he brought her face down to his and kissed her. The kiss went on for a long time, then Nephrite shifted again, reversing their positions. He looked down at her and pushed his hair away from her face. "Naru-chan," he said.
"Hmm?" She smiled up at him.
"I'm ready to tell you now, about what I found in the Dark Kingdom."
Sighing at the stiffness of his joints and muscles, he sat up on the couch and helped Naru sit up to face him. He pulled the chain out from under his shirt and lifted it over his head.
"I'd noticed you were wearing that," Naru said, "but I figured you'd tell me what it was when you were ready, so I didn't ask."
"I found this in a hidden compartment in my chambers there," Nephrite said. "I'd hidden it away long ago, but I didn't remember that part until the end." He took her hand and gently placed the chain with its pendant and rings into her palm.
She fingered the rings, and the locks of hair knotted around them, a puzzled look on her face. "Whose rings are these? And this looks like some of your hair -- and mine?"
Nephrite had thought carefully about what to tell her, and how, and in what order, so he didn't answer her question directly. "You know, don't you, the story of how Usagi and Mamoru and the Senshi lived a long time ago?"
"Yes," Naru said. "They were killed in the war against the Dark Kingdom, right? When the Moon Kingdom was destroyed? And then they were reborn here."
"That's right." Nephrite folded his hand around her hand and the rings. "The four Lords of the Dark Kingdom, Zoisite, Kunzite, Jadeite, and myself, were Mamoru's - Endymion's - Guardians, until we joined the Dark Kingdom. You were there too, Naru. You were a maidservant to Usagi and her mother, the Moon Queen. And I loved you."
Naru's eyes wide with surprise. Then her expression grew thoughtful, and finally she smiled. "I knew that. I've just always known, somehow, deep inside, that I've always loved you. I was born loving you."
She leaned forward and kissed him, which disrupted the story for quite some time. Finally Nephrite pulled away. He didn't want to; on the whole, he would rather kiss than talk. But the story had to be told. "These were our rings. We couldn't legally marry - I had to have permission from the King of Earth to marry, and he refused to give it. So we did the best we could. We exchanged rings, and spoke vows to each other with the stars as our witnesses."
"So we were married, a long time ago?"
"Not legally, but -"
She glanced up at him through her bangs. There was a mischievous light in her eyes. "Did we --?" She blushed. "You know."
Memories flooded over him, of long nights, deep kisses, her warm, soft body so close to his.... His arms, his loins ached for her. "Every chance we got," he replied.
"I can't wait, you know. I'm not even nervous about it."
"Well." He cleared his throat. "You're going to have to wait. This time I'm going to make sure we're properly married first. It won't be much longer, Naru."
"I know." She looked down at the couch, scratching her fingernail along some of the threads in the weave. "What happened to us?" she asked after a moment.
This was the part he had been dreading. How much to tell her, how to bear reliving the memories, had troubled him, until he decided it was best to get it over with quickly. "You were killed." He couldn't look at her; he kept seeing her terrified face as it had looked the night she died.
"In the battle of the Moon Kingdom, like the others?"
"No. Before then."
He met her curious, puzzled look. He couldn't bring himself to speak of the details of her terrible death, and wasn't sure it would be good for her to know them. "It's hard - I can't talk about it. It happened right in front of me, and I was powerless to save you."
She squeezed his hand. "Oh, Nephrite," she whispered. "How awful for you."
He closed his eyes briefly, trying to steady himself. "Naru - after remembering what had happened to you, when I heard your voice on the phone on the airplane, and remembered that you were alive and safe and waiting for me here, it was like..." He trailed off, not knowing how to explain.
"It was like that night you came to me and said you loved me, and stayed to protect me from Zoisite," Naru said gently. "Remember? I had a dream that you died, then I awoke and you were with me and everything was okay? Only with you, it wasn't just a dream. You were remembering something that really happened."
He nodded, grateful that he hadn't had to try to explain how he felt. She had known; she always knew. "Naru, the reason I joined Metallia was to get revenge on those who were responsible for your death."
Now she stared at him again. "That's why," she whispered.
"I sold my soul to a demon for the sake of revenge. I betrayed the other three Guardians to her. I killed countless people, trying to avenge your death and ease my pain. And, Naru, none of it brought me what I wanted. It didn't bring you back. It was the stars that preserved your soul, so that you could be reborn and we could have another chance."
"Oh, Nephrite." She leaned forward and hugged him.
He just held her, grateful for the feel of her in his arms. After a long time, he spoke again. "I've renounced my contract with Metallia. It isn't over yet with her, but I think that by rejecting our bargain, I've weakened her enough that I can take some time to learn what she is."
Naru shifted to speak to him more comfortably. "Didn't you remember anything about her?"
"The memories of my encounter with her were unclear. It might be that my mind was in no state to deal with them by that time. But I saw her, I spoke to her.... If I can just dig deeply enough into my memory, I know I'll find the answer."
Naru folded her fingers around the rings and locks of hair. " You must have loved me very much.... Maybe too much," she said thoughtfully.
"You were - you are - the world to me, Naru. More than the world. Without you, there is nothing for me. I'll never forgive those who killed you, but I know now that it was wrong of me to do what I did. Maybe, even if I do destroy Metallia, I still will never be forgiven. I don't deserve to be forgiven for what I did. But at least I want to be able to live the rest of my life with you, and to try to make up, at least a little, for what I did. If I can have that much, then I won't have any regrets or ask for anything else."
They sat in silence for a long time. Then Naru said quietly, "Nephrite, I'd like these to be our wedding rings. If that's all right with you. If it's too painful -"
He smiled slightly. "I was going to ask you if it was okay, but I thought you might want something newer. What I would like to do, though, is have your ring reworked and set with some diamonds. My wife should have a fistful of diamonds on her finger."
"Well, if you really want to give me more diamonds, I suppose I can live with that."
He laughed a little as she put the rings and chain back in his hand. Then she smiled wickedly, though her eyes remained gentle. "So, Nephrite, when we used to, you know, was I any good at it?"
Nephrite looked into her eyes and knew that she wasn't treating the things he had told her lightly; rather, she was trying to bring him back to the present, to remind him that everything was all right now. He was grateful for that. "You were amazing." He kissed her again, and briefly debated his decision to wait until they were married. No, he was going to do things properly for her.
"I wish I could remember," Naru sighed.
Nephrite held her more tightly, and hoped that some things, at least, she would never remember.
* * * * * * * *
After Naru left, Nephrite waited until she called to tell him she was home safely, then he turned off all the lights and went upstairs. He lay down on his big bed and stared up through the skylight he'd had installed in the ceiling. He'd always hated the dark, windowless confines of the Dark Kingdom, even though he couldn't remember ever living any other way. He looked up through the glass into the vast depths of space, and centered himself, calling upon his memories....
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In the garden, near the end of that dreadful night. Beryl, I'm ready now.
The voice did not take long to reply. I am not Beryl. I am the one whom Beryl serves. You will serve me, through Beryl.
Not Beryl? No matter. Tell me what I must do.
A black oval opened up in front of him. Come, the voice said.
Nephrite stepped through.
He found himself in a vast cavern of black rock. In a large niche in the cavern wall was a rock formation resembling a twisted stalactite and stalagmite that had grown together. The traitoress Beryl knelt before the formation. A pulsing orange-purple light that emanated from within the twisted rock.
"Welcome, Nephrite." The hissing, metallic, but unmistakably female voice came from the glowing rock.
Beryl stood, bowed to the formation, then backed away to the side, allowing Nephrite to take the place where she had been. "So, Nephrite, one of the great Guardians of our sweet little Prince has finally turned traitor," she said. "I knew it was only a matter of time. Strange, though, I didn't think you'd be the first." Her once-seductive voice had taken on a harsh quality very much like the voice from the rock.
Nephrite only gave her a disdainful look, then turned his attention to the rock. "I want to make a bargain with you."
Laughter. "You want to bargain with me. Very well. What do you want?"
"I want to avenge my wife's murder."
"Is that all? Then you shall have your vengeance. For a price."
"I'll pay any price. What do you want?"
"I want you to place your hands on this stone. I want you to take my power into yourself, and give all of yourself to me. I want your loyalty, your service, your soul, in life and in death, for eternity."
This being wanted his soul. A voice deep inside Nephrite frantically reminded him that if he gave himself to her, he would be damned forever. He silenced the voice. Naru had been his soul, his heart, his life. She was dead and there was nothing left but to punish those who had torn her from him and who had caused her to cry and scream with terror and who had murdered her. Countless innocent people would die along with Naru's murderers, but Nephrite had no pity to spare for them. His Naru had been innocent. "Agreed. I will do what you ask."
He approached the glowing rock and reached forth his hands. He hesitated briefly as, inside him, the stars' faint, chiming voices clamored at him, Don't do it, it won't bring her back, be patient and all things will come right, in time.
Nothing could ever be right again. Nephrite pushed aside the stars' warnings and placed his hands on the rock.
Searing pain shot up along his arms into his chest and head, ripping from his body a scream that felt like it would turn him inside out. His defenses down, the floodgates broke and all the cries of anguish and sorrow of that horrible night came tearing out of him, deafening him, overwhelming the pain in his spirit and body.
Gradually, the pain subsided, though a pressure remained in his head and chest, and his arms still tingled from the vast amount of power that had flowed through them. He was on his knees before the formation that housed the demon's power, his hands bleeding from clutching at the rough stone. He pulled them away, leaving behind scarlet stains, and stood.
"Excellent. You are mine, now. But to seal our bargain,, you must prove yourself. I want the other three Guardians. I cannot do my own work on Earth. I cannot take on a physical form. I can only channel my power. I need servants to whom I can give my power, who are strong and intelligent and gifted in the arts of war and of magic."
"I will deliver them to you." Kunzite, he thought, and Zoisite. He knew Naru's death had been their doing. Somehow, they had found out about him and Naru, and betrayed them to Arrendel. They had wanted Naru dead; she stood in the way of their own plans. He would have to betray Jadeite, too, but he didn't know that Jadeite wasn't involved in the whole plot to get rid of Naru. And Jadeite had done nothing to stop the execution. They were all guilty.
"Good. Beryl will give you your exact instructions. Remember, Nephrite, you are mine now. You have stood before me of your own free will and given me your service and your soul in exchange for vengeance. You cannot go back, or end our contract."
"I understand." Nephrite knelt again, then bowed forward. Naru, he thought, they will pay for what they did to you. I swear it.
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite lay in his bed, beneath the skylight. Tears trickled down his face, dampening the pillowcase, and he felt utterly drained from reliving the memories of his first encounter with Metallia. Naru's murderers had paid, but so had Nephrite, and he was still paying even though Naru was back. He should have had faith in what the stars were telling him, should have believed in their wider vision and in their promises that everything would eventually be all right....
It was too late for regrets and recriminations, he told himself firmly, and set his mind to reviewing what his memories had revealed about Metallia. She could channel her power through physical medium, but she was unable to take on a physical form of her own. But she must exist in some form. She was more than a mere consciousness or power; her voice, her language, her reactions, were far too individual and specific to come from something so amorphous. Was she a spirit or soul who, for some reason, was unable to ever be born as a physical being? Something about that tugged at Nephrite's mind. It sounded promising. At least it was a place to start.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 3 Chapter 2
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury