A Gift by Starlight
by Mina Martin
Chapter 3: Magical Girls Come Thundering In
Quick Author's Note: the centered formatting in the next scene is intentional, and doesn't last the whole chapter.
* * * * * * * *
Naru was having a dream like nothing she’d ever dreamt before.
She was standing in sand. Hot and gritty under her feet, the ancient sand of the Kalahari Desert. A girl circled around Naru, always just out of the corner of her eye, with very dark skin and wrought in white: white shreds of cloth and white clay paint. Onēsan, a thousand times more so than Rui Saionji was. But this big sister was also a thousand times more dangerous.
“Don’t be mean,” another girl chastised onēsan. She wore the elaborate and distinctive many-layered, many-colored kimono of the Heian period. The outfit was from one thousand years ago, and so was she. “Every superhero needs an origin story.” Her face turned to Naru, and when she spoke again there was sadness underneath her kindness. “Hello my descendant self! Hug Aikiko for me when you wake, and hold on to her this time; she was my only true friend. And always check the feet.”
Naru looked down at her bare feet in the sand, and as she stood there the sand turned cold and grey, fading into dust in the sudden darkness. She looked up to the stars for light and the closest heavenly body was Earth itself. A viridescent shooting star passed through the black sky, bright and fast in the distance, before it was gone.
She was standing in ruins. Broken limestone columns and rubble everywhere; plenty of chalk dust remained but no Olympic champions were left. In the distance, the head of an odd battle ax stood embedded in an engraved plinth. It all looked like the ruins of ancient Greece.
A woman – no, a queen – no, a goddess – was alone in the middle of the battlefield. She had hair so white it appeared to glow.
The goddess performed her greatest triumph; better destinies for her subjects, her girls. Then she fell over, dead, and said, “That was nifty!”
A giant, luminous diamond fell from her hand, but no matter how much the katamari rolled no dust or debris would stick to it. It stopped at Naru’s feet, incandescent.
Princess D, guest of honor at the masquerade Naru had gone to just a few weeks ago, cleared her throat and pushed her large, thick glasses up at the bridge of her nose. “The diamond industry is plagued by corruption and tragedy!” She began a rallying speech, about African blood diamonds and the gem trade industry.
From nowhere, the princess whipped out a picket sign in one hand and a jumbo-sized bottle of strawberry syrup in the other. She held the bottle directly over her head. “People will do all kinds of evil things just for some shiny crystals they think are valuable. I won’t stand for it anymore! DIE CAPITALIST PIGS!”
She doused herself like an ice cream sundae, torrents of sweet fake blood in her hair and down her suffragette-style gown, and she marched back and forth shouting, “Down with DeBeers! Down with the Patriarchy!”
While Princess D chanted, Naru knelt down to pick up and examine the gemstone. When her fingers closed around it, she didn’t feel the cool, thermal-conductive surface of a diamond. It felt like a warm heartbeat in the palm of her hand.
Out of nowhere a hideous face appeared inches away from Naru’s own. It hissed in Naru’s ear: “Is that the legendary silver crystal?” Its face wasn’t one at all, but a warped noh mask with a bumpy, pronounced brow ridge and fangs pointing out of its smile.
In a smooth, deliberate motion, Naru lifted her arm up, turned her palm down, and opened her hand.
Nephrite’s hexagonal prism, reflecting a black rainbow, dropped down and struck the ground.
The noh-face attacked. Naru reacted then, screaming as the monster tried to grab and hit her. Its painted fangs turned real, opening outwards like a Venus flytrap.
“Help!” Naru screamed. She blindly blocked kicks and punches, her arms and legs quickly becoming bruised and bloody. “Somebody please save me!”
Princess D chanted on, uncaring. Onēsan stood off to the side, her head tilted. “Save yourself,” she finally spoke. Her voice growled with immense strength, but it was dry and long dead.
The noh-face knocked Naru to the ground, puffs of moon dust rising at her thump. It pinned her there, it’s fangs growing longer and it’s jaw opening wider, its mouth a cold wound near Naru’s neck. She could smell its rotting breath. No matter how hard she tried to shake back and forth, she couldn’t break free. It would take a bite of her any second!
There was a distinct crack in the old air of the moon, and something rolled near Naru’s hand. The wooden post of Princess D’s picket sign had broken off, leaving one end a jagged and deadly point.
Stretching out her fingers Naru grabbed at the stake, once, twice, but her attempts only pushed it away further. The fangs brushed at the skin of her neck like two fresh papercuts and she screamed at the shocking sting of it.
Both Naru and the monster turned to look. Princess D was no longer Princess D. It was Usagi, wearing an astonishingly lovely white gown. And she was elegant and regal, somehow, underneath all the gory splatter.
She looked like she’d been in an explosion, with bursts of bright strawberry red all over her torso and limbs. Something was wrong with her ribcage and it bowed in at places where it shouldn’t. One of her odango-style ponytails was much shorter than the other because it had burned off.
Hot blood beaded at Usagi’s hairline, trickling down her forehead and catching at the inside corner of her eye, before falling again like a tear. It left a bloody line down her face but she didn’t move to wipe it away, and the blood continued to drip, drip, drip off. She was crying without blinking. It smelled so strongly of overripe strawberries Naru could taste them.
The monster charged at the immobile girl instead. “No!” cried Naru, and she grabbed at the monster’s leg. “Don’t you hurt her!”
It kicked Naru in the head and the impact roiled through her skull. She moaned at the pain but kept a hold on the thing’s leg, close enough now to deliver a series of one-handed hits and punches. Anything to distract it from harming her friend.
It turned all of its attention back on Naru, kicking her off for good and crouching in some kind of half-standing position, the better to attack from. Naru scrambled back and picked up the wooden stake, holding it up like a policewoman might with a flashlight. The rectangular form of the poster stake morphed into a more rounded and comfortable fit in her hand as she held it aloft, with the point of it aimed right at the fanged creature. As it charged at her again, Naru charged right back and slammed the stake into the monster’s chest. It burst into millions of tiny grains of sparkling dust.
She did it! Naru nimbly tossed the stake from one hand to the other.
Then the world fell down.
The ground rumbled, swirling lunar dust and sand, and a growing sinkhole started pulling everything down into it. The ruins, the dead woman’s body, a nameless princess. No matter how fast Naru ran it seemed like the edge to an endless chasm was always right behind her.
She jumped up, impossibly high, and clutched the lotus top of a column. But it too sloped forward, the desiccated dirt beneath it crumbling down and disappearing. Naru clung to the top as it tipped further and further into the void.
Onēsan circled around her again, padding on nothing but thin air. “You were never meant to walk this world,” she said. Her mouth barely moved. Naru heard Princess D’s voice dubbing over for the dark woman. “I give no more. If you want to fix this...” The woman trailed off, and then seemed in disbelief at what she finally advised:
At last the column tipped all the way over, and Naru fell into the black abyss. The last thing she saw while falling wasn’t onēsan’s face, but that dark crystal. It hung suspended in place over the epicenter of the sinkhole, rotating, and winking the colors of the rainbow.
With a thunderclap, the whole setting then snapped back into place as if nothing had happened. Silent ruins in the dim light of the Earth and the stars. Princess D and Naru were gone; the only people left were the dead.
Moments later, an out-of-breath bushveld rain frog hopped to a boulder of fragmented marble. One of the dark spots on top of his head looked like an upside-down crescent moon. “NO! Princess D, I need my kiss! I swear I’m a real Prince, my name is Diamond too! Come back! Noooooooo!” But nobody heard, nobody cared, and he hopped away to dream of a different princess.
* * * * * * * *
Naru jolted awake at the harsh ringing of her alarm. It was time to get up, get ready, go to school, and work hard to be a good student. It was a normal day.
But would her life ever be normal again?
She jumped out of bed and raced to the phone in the hallway. Along with knocking over her dresser and generally making a mess of her room, those three youma had also broken the phone in Naru's room. There'd be no more late-night gossiping with Usagi, not for a while. Dialing the hospital phone number she’d memorized, Naru tried to reason with herself. If someone had called sometime during the night, she would have heard it. No news was good news in this case. It had to be.
“Moshi moshi! You have reached -”
“Masato Sanjouin! Please, is he still alive?” The words rushed out of Naru all at once. Please, please let him have lived through the night.
“Are you a family member?”
“I’m the one that brought him in last night! Please, I just want to know how he is.”
The night before – just hours ago, really - Dr. Mizuno had eventually come out of the operating suite to tell them Mr. Sanjouin was stable, and then she called a taxi to take the other girls home, even Ami. But Naru was left behind, with doctor’s orders to have her hands treated.
Dr. Mizuno had first directed a subordinate to find Naru a clean pair of socks and shoes, maybe from the Lost & Found, or maybe from some nurse depository where they kept scrubs and other clothes. Then she had Naru go to another floor to have her hands cleaned, de-picked of remaining splinters, and slathered in first aid burn ointment. The way the nurse wrapped Naru’s hands in sterile gauze looked to her eyes like she was preparing the girl for a boxing match.
There was some rustling on the other end of the phone, and the woman asked her name. Dr. Mizuno had promised to leave notes allowing one ‘Naru Osaka’ to be given a minimal update. “Please hold, miss, and I’ll have someone check.”
Naru held the phone away from her ear as 1970’s lounge music suddenly came through. It was as loud as her alarm.
Her mother came around the corner. “Naru, what’s going on? You’re awfully busy for this hour of the morning.”
“I’m on hold with the hospital, Mom.”
Mrs. Osaka shook her head and went back to the kitchen. Her exasperated silence was a stark contrast to the maternal fury that had greeted Naru when she finally came home safe.
“Where have you been?!” she had yelled when Naru stepped through the door at almost 3AM in the morning. “I heard you shout, but when I went to your room it was filled with red gas and I passed out! I called the police as soon as I recovered; I thought Masato Sanjouin had gassed the room and kidnapped you!”
“I’m sorry Mom. I was taken at first, by those monsters Sailor Moon fights, but I was rescued and we went to the hospital.”
Mayumi Osaka had been one of the Dark Kingdom’s earliest victims in Japan. Tokyo was supposed to be one of the safest cities in the world, let alone the country, but in the past half year it had become a supernatural hotspot. And apparently, so had her own daughter. She’d lost count of the number of times she had seen Naru in a brainwashed, hypnotized state, or near-unconscious from having something drained from her; whether it was spirit energy or years of her life, Mrs. Osaka had no idea.
To say nothing of the dangers of a much older man – handsome and wealthy – interested in Naru. Such relationships were certainly more common and acceptable in Japan than other first-world countries, but convincing her daughter to leave home in the middle of the night and then sneak into the OSA*P store to steal a jewel worth one million yen was not acceptable behavior. Mrs. Osaka hadn’t been at all placated when Naru had returned with it. The whole thing was probably just a test of loyalty, like how gangs operated.
“So you didn’t see Mr. Sanjouin at all?”
“Well, I did -”
“Then you did sneak out!”
“No! Mom, I really was kidnapped, and Ne- and then he saved me!” Trying to keep everyone’s secrets while explaining to her mother had been so confusing. Naru kept stuttering, and it only made her look like a liar. “And the Sailor Soldiers took us to the hospital.”
“You couldn’t call me from there?”
“I thought he would die!”
Then her mother had finally noticed Naru’s appearance; her ripped clothing, mussed hair, and bandaged hands with faint bruising still around her wrists. “My god, what happened? Naru, did Sanjouin do this?”
“NO! He’s the one who rescued me! He’s a good person, Mom!”
“Then why do you always get in trouble when it comes to him? It’s not safe to be out in the city alone Naru, you know that! It’s even less safe after dark, and you’re just a young girl. But one phone call from him and you’re leaving in the middle of the night and stealing from our own store. You’re turning into a teenage delinquent who’s going to get killed, and it’s his influence!”
They went in circles, Naru becoming more inarticulate and emotional in between her arguments. Finally, her mother had just sent her off to bed.
It had taken forever to fall asleep. And she hadn’t even dreamed of Nephrite.
The music clicked off. “Miss Osaka? I can tell you that Mr. Sanjouin is still in stable condition.”
Air filled Naru’s lungs all at once. Like she had just broke through the surface of the ocean from a long swim underwater. She longed to go back to the hospital and be by Nephrite’s side, or to do something. It was almost a physical ache. Her palms began to itch, and she rubbed her hands together to scratch at the skin underneath the gauze.
In the kitchen after the phone call, mother and daughter were silent. Mrs. Osaka sipped at some tea. Naru gobbled down her breakfast, and then put some dinner leftovers in the toaster oven for more. She drank a full glass of orange juice. Her mother had no comment, and Naru still didn’t know what to say.
Oh, you know that older man I love and that you can’t stand? He’s part of some supernatural evil organization. Remember Usagi, my sweet and clumsy best friend? She’s Sailor Moon. And now I have superpowers too, Mom.
Well, maybe. Naru wasn’t sure what happened last night. How was she suddenly able to pull those branches out, when she couldn’t minutes before? How was she able to throw one and hit that monster dead-on? Was it all adrenaline? But then who or what was that voice she heard? It wasn’t even like hearing a person who was next to you but invisible. Naru had heard it... almost as if the voice was coming from within herself, like an inner voice. Could it be connected to the strange dream she just had? But how would she ever find out?
She scratched at her palms.
“I want you to come straight home from school. No arcade or ice cream with Usagi,” her mother said, and Naru reluctantly agreed. She wanted to be there when Nephrite woke up, but it was a miracle she hadn’t been grounded already.
Her thoughts were so consumed with the older man, that when she opened the door to leave for school it took a few moments to process the person standing there, one hand up and about to knock.
“Oh, er – hi Naru!” Usagi tilted her head to give an extra wide, cheery smile.
* * * * * * * *
“You know, in some countries the weekend is a whole two days long. I think it’s terribly unfair for Japan to make us go to school on a Saturday! When are we supposed to get our beauty sleep?”
Naru looped an arm around her best friend’s elbow. “You seem to manage just fine getting some every 2nd period.”
The moment passed, and both girls walked in silence.
“I’m really sorry I never noticed you were Sailor Moon before.”
Usagi stopped and gaped, and Naru took a half step before realizing her arm wasn’t moving along with her. “Wait, you’re sorry? What for? I’m supposed to keep my identity secret.”
“Yes, but I should have noticed something was up and tried to help. It can’t be easy being a superhero when you also have to be a good student, and a good daughter, and a friend – I have trouble doing it and I’m not a superhero at all, just a constant target of all these stupid monsters. What if one of the times I teased you about being sleepy or not having your homework done was because you bravely faced a monster the night before? I hate the idea that I might have been cruel by accident.”
The notion had only just come to Naru, but it felt right. And it was important, so she took both of Usagi’s hands in her bandaged ones – it made them itch terribly, but Naru ignored that - and looked straight into her eyes. “I may not be able to destroy monsters into dust or karate kick them into the next life, but from now on, promise me that if there's anything I can do to help out, you’ll let me know. I’d never forgive myself if you get hurt because you’re worried about make-up tests when you should be concentrating on fighting. The smallest thing could get you killed, Usagi! Last night proves that. Please, just let me be there for you.”
Usagi’s eyes grew watery. “Oh Naru... you’re the most kindhearted friend a girl could ask for.” The heartfelt sentiment was palpable between both girls – a little brave, a little sad, and kind of grown up.
Then she burst into tears, and the Usagi-Fountain clutched at Naru for dear life. “That’s more what I’m used to,” Naru grinned, and hugged her emotional friend back. Hold on to Akiko. The strange line from her strange dream echoed in her mind.
When Usagi finally calmed down she listened, enraptured, as Naru told her the full story.
How Nephrite had come to her balcony –
“Like Romeo and Juliet!”
– and how she’d been kidnapped –
“Like Princess Peach!”
– when Nephrite arrived to rescue her –
“Like Tuxedo Mask!”
- well, without the tuxedo –
“Not like Tuxedo Mask then, the outfit and the cape are what make it so dashing.”
– and how they sought refuge in the trees of the park.
“Oh, so that’s what you were doing in the park,” said Usagi.
“What did you think we were there for?”
“I don’t know! Luna saw you get carried away by a youma - that’s what those monsters from the Dark Kingdom are called - and Sailor Mercury’s computer tracked you to the forest in the middle of the night. Nephrite could have been seducing you for all we knew!”
Naru’s entire face went almost as red as her hair. Usagi practically cackled in response. “There was nothing of the sort!”
“But he did take his jacket off. Just what were you two doing before those youma showed up?”
“Come on Naru, now that you know I’m Sailor Moon I can tell you everything! You have to share everything with me in return!”
“There’s nothing to share! Even – even if there were something to tell, I’m not about to shout it out on a public street!”
“So what you’re saying is, I need to have a good old fashioned sleepover interrogation. Oh, I’m on it! Tonight, you and me, just like we used to have. I think if I ask super nicely Mom will give me some change for root beer float supplies, and some pizza, and a video rental from Tsutaya...”
Naru sighed. Maybe she’d get lucky and her mother would ground her after all.
“It’s not like we were there for very long. I wrapped a cut on his arm, and we talked a little, but then – then those monsters attacked. And I was so close, Usagi. He shoved me out of the way but I saw all those giant thorns go right through Nephrite. I could feel the force of them going through his body like paper. And it’s my fault he was distracted.”
“Naru, you don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do. They mocked him for being a traitor, for falling in love with a human. They were going to kill him for it.”
Usagi scratched at the back of her neck, and looked sideways at Naru. “Do you think Nephrite has fallen in love with you for real then?”
“I – I don’t know. I mean, is it a given when he was ready to sacrifice himself for me? I know he cares about me, even if he hasn’t told me he loves me.” Nephrite himself had said he was just a liar. It was hard to judge whatever he said – even if his actions said something very definitive. But movies and magazines had taught Naru that even regular men had trouble saying those three little words. She could be patient.
“Well, I’m sure it means something. And I think that’s amazing, Naru, really, that you could get through to someone like that. Maybe now he’ll want to leave the Dark Kingdom and work with us, or at least stop fighting us and draining people’s energy. Just be careful, okay? Even if he loves you, Nephrite has one heck of an evil origin story.”
“I will. I want to help him with that, anyway. I don’t think it’s any safer for him working for an evil organization, this Dark Kingdom, than it is for the innocent people it attacks. Or for you and the Sailor Soldiers who fight their monsters. Youma. Maybe I - hold on a second. Luna saw me get carried away?”
Usagi winced. “Oops. I was supposed to keep that part a secret.”
“Uh-huh. What happened to sharing everything?”
Then it was Usagi’s turn to tell her tale. Of the day when a cat started talking to her, and gave her a magical transformation brooch –
“I wondered where you got that, I thought maybe you had come back and bought it at my mom’s sale that day!”
– of leading a super sentai group in real life –
“In miniskirts instead of battle armor?”
“Hey, I didn’t pick the outfits, I just throw the tiara.”
– and searching for a mysterious princess from a shadowy past –
“Oh, so you’re the Mario in this situation!”
– all while fighting alongside the enigmatic Tuxedo Mask.
“You do know a little of how I feel, then,” said Naru.
“I guess.” Usagi shrugged. “Luna and the others don’t trust him because they don’t know him, but I don’t think that’s enough to call him our enemy. Especially since he’s never attacked ordinary citizens, and he always comes to my rescue.”
“And you don’t know Sailor V at all?” Naru asked. Usagi shook her head.
“Yeah, I think it’s weird too. We have such similar names and uniforms! But Luna doesn’t know her, and I was the first to awaken.”
“There seems to be a lot that Luna doesn’t know...”
A loud bell rang from a dozen blocks away.
“Oh no!” cried Usagi.
“That’s the first bell!” Naru cried after her. They had completely stopped walking to lean on a fence while talking.
Both girls started running.
“Okay, rule one!” Naru huffed. “We can’t stop moving on our way to school no matter the conversation!”
“Wha-a-a-t?” Usagi’s voice was far, far behind her.
Naru turned her head to shout for Usagi to hurry up, and therefore wasn’t paying 100% attention to the path in front of her. That was how she reasoned crashing into a guy three times her size and knocking him down and back a few feet.
“YEOWCH, that hurt!”
Naru blinked. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Are you - OW!” She stumbled and then turned to see Usagi sitting on the pavement behind her, after running into Naru and falling down herself. “What am I today, a car crash dummy in a human pile-up?”
“I oughta pile YOU up, you broke my leg!”
Paying attention now, Naru saw there were not one, but three very large and muscular men in their way, one of them on the ground clutching his shin.
The one wearing sunglasses and still standing frowned at them. When he tried to stride over to Usagi, Naru blocked his way. A new yet strangely familiar feeling bubbled inside of her. It went beyond her normal protective instinct and stubbornness. It felt hot and restless; like it would collect in her hand if she made a fist.
She tamped it down.
“We’re very sorry for running into you. It was an accident; please, we’re just trying to get to school.”
“Tell that to my leg!” said the guy Naru ran into.
“If you’re injured you should call an ambulance. A couple of middle school girls can’t help you with that,” Naru said, lying about her first aid skills. She didn’t care for these punks, and every second she and Usagi stayed the chances of them being late to school went up.
“Naw, I think you definitely owe us some help,” said Sunglasses, leaning into Naru’s space and over Usagi’s trembling frame.
And then a superheroine saved them.
“She said sorry,” a new voice spoke up. “I saw the whole thing, boys. Someone her size running right into you isn’t enough to break bones. That’s pretty low, trying to con a couple of innocent girls.”
Naru and Usagi both peered around the crewcut of the third guy, to see the most confident – and maybe the tallest – teenage girl they’d ever met literally standing up for them. She wore a white and brown colored school uniform, and had a high ponytail of light brown hair.
Of course, then the guys’ anger turned on her. “What’s that?” said Sunglasses, and, “How dare you!” Crewcut exclaimed. He cut in front of his friend and clenched his fists for show. “No one ever talks to us like that!”
Naru watched in dread as the man, sporting the biggest muscles she’d ever seen in real life, reached out to the other girl to deliver some kind of physical beatdown.
But instead the girl caught his wrist and flipped him to the ground, hard, like he weighed nothing at all. The man groaned but didn’t get up.
“Why you -!”
At Sunglasses’s outburst and clear move to charge the girl, Naru decided not to wait, and gave her best dancing high kick straight to his crotch. He squealed at a decibel that normally only Usagi could reach and fell down face first clutching, well, himself.
“Whoa!” said the tall girl. “Nicely done!”
“Thanks! You too!” Naru grabbed Usagi’s arm and pulled her along. The third guy checked both of his buddies, out for the count on the sidewalk, and booked it out of there. So much for his broken leg. “Come on, we have to get to school!”
“You girls take care!” the other girl called after them.
“Bye!” Usagi called back, although too faintly to be heard by her. She had a light blush on her cheeks that wasn’t from their racing, and a distant look in her eyes. “So cool...”
“Should I tell Tuxedo Mask you’ve found someone else to save you from now on?”
“Wha – NARU!”
* * * * * * * *
Despite the excitement of their morning adventure, Naru was distracted all the way through 4th period. None of the gossip about the new girl at school reached her brain. She forgot to poke Usagi awake from her nap before the teacher could call on her to answer a question. Her notes were nothing but random doodle hearts and trying to spell out Nephrite’s name in katakana.
During lunch period she left Usagi to go to the library. Using the librarian’s phone to call the hospital again had the same result – Nephrite was in stable condition, and there was no other update for her.
Sitting at a table in the library, Naru wasn’t allowed to eat but she didn’t feel hungry anyway. She had a mathematics book open in front of her, but didn’t read any of it. She thought of a conversation between a set of curtains and a sliding glass door, a nocturnal shadow and a deep voice the only evidence of a presence. As soon as Naru had opened her curtains, Nephrite wasn’t there anymore. Could she wait for him to get better on his own, contact her on his own? Was it safe? Was he actually healing? With that green blood, maybe ‘stable condition’ wasn’t healthy at all. What if Japanese X-Files agents came for him? Naru wasn’t anybody important, but Masato Sanjouin was.
The last lunch bell rang, and it seemed to Naru to match the sound of her heartbeat, and the sound of her blood pumping. She leisurely collected her bookbag and walked out of the library. She walked down the hall, greeting classmates and waving to them along the way. She kept her head up and moved self-assuredly. A teaching assistant passed her in a hallway on the first floor, and Naru half bowed and half nodded at him while continuing on her way. He didn’t ask her anything.
And then, she was outside of the school and on her way to the nearest bus stop to take her to the hospital. If her mother found out, she’d say she hadn’t been feeling well and went to rest in the nurse’s office. How easy it suddenly was to come up with lies to her family, yet Naru knew it was for the best. This was too important; Nephrite was too important for her to stay away.
She remembered how hard it had been for her to leave in the first place, in the dark hours of that very morning.
* * * * * * * *
“NO!” Naru shrieked, and backed away from the surgeons and security guards. She held her arms ramrod straight at her sides, her bandaged hands making loose fists. They’d humored her, at first, when she refused to leave the building and get into a taxi already paid to take her home. Their humor had dissolved quickly enough at her stubbornness.
“Mr. Sanjouin is stable for now,” Dr. Mizuno said. “You should go home. We can tell him who rescued him after being attacked by some street robbers when he wakes, although you shouldn’t have been out at night. Don’t stay here just because you’re afraid to face your parents coming home so late.”
“I can’t just leave him!”
Two security men edged forward, but stopped at the single raised hand of Dr. Mizuno. “If I promise to contact you if his condition changes, will you let the taxi take you home without any more fuss?”
Naru thought about it. “I want to see him,” she said.
Dr. Mizuno considered the hysterical teenager in front of her. Not for nothing, she had had risen to Chief of Surgery in a metropolitan hospital while under a patriarchal society, and at the same time raised - by herself - the greatest student on record in all of Japan. Something more was going on with her daughter’s school friend and the mysterious Mr. Sanjouin than she was privy to. “I’ll give you five minutes,” she finally declared, and Naru followed her to the separate recovery room.
Nephrite was still deathly pale and his eyes were closed, but despite being hooked up in multiple ways he wasn’t intubated. She could see the slight rise and fall of his chest. She missed the deep blueness of his eyes. Naru leaned in to his ear – close enough to give him a kiss on the cheek if she’d wanted - and whispered that it was safe now. He could come back.
On the way out, Naru slipped away from the medical assistants that were supposed to be chaperoning her. She found her way back to the emergency room where they had operated on Nephrite. A lone janitor was mopping up. He gave her a quick once-over, and then shrugged and went back to work.
It didn’t look like a bloodbath. Naru wondered whether that was because Dr. Mizuno and her team were that good, or whether green colored blood just didn’t show up on blue and green tiles the way bright red did. A round metal dish had a mountain of used gauze, soaked deep in green all the way through. Some tools were in a flat metal pan with little globs and blobs of green on them. There, on the floor – a partial sneaker print in green. The room smelled strongly of industrial disinfectant, but Naru could still make out the metallic aftertaste of blood in the air. Nephrite’s blood.
Her improvised orange bandage, hastily knotted and flecked with green, was in a trashcan. It had been cut through in a straight line, probably by surgical shears, and discarded along with the rest of the medical waste.
* * * * * * * *
Now she was heading back to Nephrite, unable to stay away.
Back at Juuban Middle School, the very same girl who’d fought beside Naru that morning was formally introduced to the class 6 homeroom.
Usagi frowned when she noticed her best friend wasn’t there to meet her new friend, Makoto Kino: maker of scrumptious lunch treats, seamstress of super cute lunch bags, defender of the innocent. She liked that everyone seemed to be joining her at school. Rei could stay where she was, though.
“Class,” the teacher called, as bright midday sunlight streamed through open windows. It shone onto the painted walls of the classroom, the natural red highlights in the new girl’s hair, and the clean linoleum floor. “Please welcome our new transfer student!”
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“I know everyone at T.A. Academy will welcome her,” said the teacher, and gestured to the unremarkable new girl standing next to her. “In-dee-ah Ko-henno, our newest student,” she pronounced somewhat incorrectly.
The students’ curious confusion at the new girl’s strange name and presence was resolved when the girl took a piece of paper out of her pocket, and finally lifted her head enough so that her face could be seen. In halting Japanese, the girl at the front of the class read: “Hello. My name is... India Cohen. I am... American. My father is... commander... United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka. We... move to Japan. I am happy... to be classmate.”
She shoved the paper back into her pocket and stared at the hardwood floor.
There was an awkward beat, before the teacher instructed her to take a seat. The new girl didn’t move at first, and the teacher had to gesture to the open desk for her to understand.
With her head down, India didn’t meet the eyes of any of the other girls as she paced to the only free seat in the classroom. For once, every desk in the room was occupied by a student. She sat next to a girl that normally didn’t have any schoolgirl sitting by her. In front and back of her, yes; and to the other side was one of the narrow windows. But no classroom seat neighbor.
At first India tried to pay attention, but it was pointless. She barely understood Japanese so she couldn’t even take notes. Instead she took in the details of the classroom. Except for some new electrical wiring, it looked unchanged since the school was founded at the turn of the century, with antique wood paneling and Breadin style desk-and-chair sets of scrolling iron. And of course, a hefty wooden cross at the head of the room, on the wall behind the teacher. It was a Catholic school, after all.
Kit had explained; it would be better for her this way. Easier access to crosses, holy water, spellbooks, and any other supplies she might need. Since most of teachers and some of the students lived there in dorms they counted as homes. So there was that protection as well, if she ever needed it. India had originally been set for a regular middle school in Juuban, but then Kit pulled some strings and gotten her enrolled here instead.
Her father had barely glanced at the official paperwork when it arrived, priority hand delivered by an officer. He signed off where red arrow stickers told him to without missing a beat in the argument he’d been having with her mother. Nothing was amiss to either of them. An elite, private, all girls’ academy was more their style anyway.
She’d gotten the uniform just in time, but looking around she could tell she stuck out. Everyone else had perfectly straight hair, black or very dark brown, and neatly styled with cute headbands or clips. Most of them kept it short as well, around shoulder length. The ends of their hair hung in an orderly line, as if they had all just gotten a fresh trim. India moved a hand over her head, as if that would somehow smooth down the little frizzy strands of her wavy hair. She usually just gathered the mass of it all into a single ponytail.
Only one other girl had hair as long as India – longer, even. The girl next to her, the one who didn’t have a sideways seat mate until India arrived. She looked what India thought was classically Japanese, with pin-straight black hair long enough to pool at her waist while she sat in her chair, totally zit-free skin, and big monolid eyes. She was a very pretty girl.
Then she caught India watching, and India quickly looked back to her notebook, cheeks burning. Why did she have to be so weird? Wasn’t her life already and unwillingly weird enough, without choosing to stare at people who wouldn’t want to be her friend now? She made random doodles in her notebooks to pass the time, exaggerated fangs on faces and ink hearts with “I+K” inside them.
The reverse action happened as well, when India was brave enough to raise her head and look around. The other students were clearly sneaking their own glances at her, but then turning their heads as soon as she caught them staring. Maybe there was something to adapting the “stupid gaijin” personality after all, instead of trying to fit in. By lunchtime India felt desperate enough to make another attempt, and when that girl to her side stood up India leapt to her feet. “Hahji-memash-tay!” she greeted, way too loud and completely wrong on the vowels. “India Cohen de-suh!” And she bowed sharply with her entire upper torso.
The girl said something in Japanese which, by the tone of her voice, probably meant, “Yeah, I know.” India cringed, remembering too late that she’d been officially introduced to the class only a few hours ago.
But then the girl kind of huffed and shook her head, like she was used to dealing with airheads like India all the time, and pointed to herself while saying her name. Hee-no? No, India recalled; in Japan the family name went first. Rei. Her name was Rei Hino.
Since the school was Western styled, there was a cafeteria for lunch, instead of students eating in their classrooms. India followed Rei to the counter, the daily menu handwritten on the clapboards hanging above them with cute little designs of sea creatures and dumplings. When it was her turn to order, India took a moment, and then just pointed to Rei’s tray until the servers understood she wanted the same things.
Rei seemed fine with letting India follow her to an empty table and sit with her to eat. The little dishes of food looked like nothing but seasoned rice, pickled vegetables in broth, and grilled tofu, so India dug in. It would probably look weird to have seconds of lunch; she’d have to start eating a bigger breakfast every morning.
She knew not to rub her wood chopsticks together or stick them upright in food like incense at a funeral, but it was still surprising to hear the Japanese girl say, “Warukunai ne!” in an approving tone.
“Huh?” said India.
Rei pointed with her free hand at the way India held her chopsticks, then clicked her own, and smiled just a little. India’s cheeks burned again; well of course, she would be adept at using wooden stakes, wouldn’t she?
Just then, both of them noticed as a pack of girls approached. They were leisurely in their pursuit, and there would be no escape from their attention.
“Nandeshou?” asked Rei, indignantly, to the leader of the group of girls when they arrived at the table.
“You should speak English, the new girl obviously doesn’t understand,” said the ringleader. She had an accent to India’s ears, but one of over-enunciation, and was clearly fluent in English. Once she sat down, so did all the other girls. “I’m Chizuru. Nice to meet you!”
India mumbled a reply. She was never good at figuring this out.
Chizuru took her plastic drink straw and pierced the tiny foil circle on top of her milk box one handed. “You’re half Asian, yes? But not Japanese, obviously. So what are you?”
Gemini, on the cusp of Cancer, thought India. “My mom is Filipino,” she said. That set the girls off, giggling ohhh, firi-pino at each other, raising their eyebrows and metaphorical noses at her.
“We never get new girls in the middle of the semester. The academy has very strict entrance requirements. Your father must be very important to get you into the school this late,” said Chizuru. India only shrugged.
“Rei’s father is very important too. He doesn’t see her very often though,” said Chizuru, and Rei made a face when she heard her own name. To know someone was badmouthing you right in front of you, but in a language you didn’t understand, was a special kind of exclusion. “Most people think it’s because of Rei’s abilities. She has visions – or so I’ve heard. A while back people went missing from the shrine she works at, but she didn’t help the police or anything. So maybe she’s just lying for attention.”
Chizuru calmly sipped at her milk while Rei glared. Something in India’s chest lightened its grip when hearing about Rei’s visions. She wondered if they happened the same way India received hers, in dreams. She wished she could tell Rei she believed her. She knew the police weren’t equipped to handle certain situations.
One of the other girls said something, and Chizuru nodded. “Are you planning to attend the autumn dance? It’s with our sibling school for boys. Japanese guys are probably different than what you’re used to.”
“I’m not used to anything,” India said, quietly defending herself.
“No? But all girls want a boyfriend. Aren’t you interested in catching a nice Japanese husband?”
At that, India felt caught. They didn’t deserve to know, but – her heart belonged to someone already.
The girls chatter changed as an administrator walked up to the lunch table. Chizuru seemed surprised that the purpose was to deliver a message for India: “A Mr. Boat-Weru has arrived to take you home for the rest of the day. He says it is a family matter?”
India jumped, literally jumped up, at the escape. “Um, see you tomorrow?” she said to Rei, who of course had no idea what she was saying. She felt a little guilty at leaving her there, but what else could she do? Rei was more experienced at dealing with the other students anyway.
Outside the front of the school was a plain black car with tinted windows, and India walked halfway around it before remembering that they drove on the other side of the road in Japan. She climbed into the correct passenger seat, and came face to face with the very British, very handsome Christopher “Kit” Bothwell. Just meeting his eyes for a second had her looking down to catch her breath.
“How was your first day?” he asked in his posh accent. India didn’t answer. “We can still do that language comprehension spell, if you’ve changed your mind.”
She drew in a shaky breath. India didn’t want to talk about her simple schoolgirl problems with him. “What’s the situation?”
Kit had no trouble driving, what with the traffic direction the same as his homeland, and his concentration on the road let India study his profile while he spoke. He was only eight years older than her. Some days that felt like nothing, and other days it was a chasm in front of her. “There’s some kind of demon at a nearby hospital. Police chatter reported it early, but response has been slow – slower than normal.”
“I’m not sure. I’ve prepared quite the stockpile in the boot for us. Personally, I’m hoping for an onmoraki. Bird demons are so rare; I think it has something to do with their descension from dinosaurs. In any case, it’s a change of pace from the usual nocturnal activity.”
“Lucky for the patients and civilians.” They came to a red light, and Kit put his hand on India’s shoulder and looked her in the eye. “They’re the ones that are lucky, because you’re here. Between whatever police task force they’d eventually put together, after enough people died or made a fuss, and maybe some magically talented good Samaritans in the know, I’m certain this demon would be defeated in the end. But how many days would it take? How many innocent lives killed in the meantime? They don’t know how lucky they are to have you right here. We might even be done by supper.”
He turned back to the windshield as the light turned green. The imprint of his palm on her skin, even through the layers of her blouse and blazer, was still warm to India. And she felt so guilty – it was an honor and a calling to Kit, their work. But for her there was only dread. She felt like an imposter who just got lucky every time she fought for her life and won.
And she hoped, like always, that her luck wouldn’t run out that day.
* * * * * * * *
to be continued...
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Shout out to my newest beta reader Blue Andie! I have multiple beta readers and I am so grateful to them for their hard work editing my crap. You guys are the reason this story is turning out so well. :)
[Author Edit: I've made two fixes to this chapter.
1 - Anonymous618 rightly pointed out that Naru's reference to the Diamond Ball being only a week ago is too soon. The timing in SM has always been nebulous - some watchers say it's about two episodes a week, and that's actually supported in episode 1x22. Naru has been out of school for more than a week, which means the episode introducing Sailor Jupiter happens less than a week after Nephrite dies. But in general I like the pacing of one episode's events per week, so I'm correcting the chapter to say Diamond's ball was a few weeks ago.
The pacing for this fic should also taper out - I'm focusing a lot on the 24 hours of the Big Change in the Universe, but then I hope to space chapters out more.
2 - I forgot that Naru has a phone in her room, d'oh! Come on self, she uses it to call Usagi after Nephrite's nocturnal visit. Fortunately that's an easy fix, and when the youma trashed her room to kidnap her they break her phone too, so Naru has to use the one in the hall.]
return to Index / go to Chapter 4
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury