A Gift by Starlight
by Mina Martin
Chapter 10: Spinning Needle
Chapter 11: Spinning Needle
* * * * * * * *
Tokyo, Japan, 1992
The Earth realm was too cold; Yulfa shivered, even though her human shirt was long-sleeved.
She had tracked the human girl all around Tokyo - from her home above a jewelry store, to school, to a large building called a hospital, and that was where she lost her.
When the three Plant Sisters failed to check in hours after King Zoisite’s return, he ordered a youma, who ordered another youma, who ordered Yulfa to figure out what was going on.
There was nothing to hide behind while looking at the scene building at the hospital. No tree or plant or rock, just a bunch of humans standing around like fish in a shoal, with Yulfa as the lamprey hiding among them. They even looked like fish, with their stupid open-mouthed expressions of worry.
Her big break, and she was already getting screwed out of it!
They all knew King Nephrite had been attacked in the Earth realm protecting a human girl, but nobody knew any real details. Yulfa called in a favor, to a friend who knew a friend, who could dowse and decipher the human address where the girl lived. So that’s where Yulfa started.
But it ended at the hospital. There were far too many humans gathering, and there was an eerie energy to the hospital building. She didn’t know what was going on, and she didn’t like what she didn’t understand. If the Plant Sisters were in there, then they were on their own.
Of course, she couldn’t go back to the Dark Kingdom with nothing to show for her time and effort. No – this time the feud between Zoisite and Nephrite might have consequences beyond just scores of dead youma. They had found the Earth realm. Their Great Ruler was beginning to Awaken. Things were going to change forever very, very soon. And Yulfa intended to get closer to the top of the hierarchy than any youma ever had before.
If she couldn’t get information, then in the meantime she could always gather the only currency that mattered in the Dark Kingdom, something to get the higher-ups off her back while she kept working.
Fortunately, Yulfa knew of a few places downtown, close to where the American military ships docked. The actual servicemen would be noticed if they went missing, but other English-speaking humans tended to gather there as well. And when foreigners went missing, the Japanese government didn’t really care about finding them.
Yulfa straightened the bow on the front of her school uniform replica. She put her hand in a skirt pocket, and touched the energy-gathering device in there. There was nearly a skip and a jump to her walk, as she made her way through the city.
Yes, there would be a feast tonight...
* * * * * * * *
The setting of Naru’s bedroom materialized around Nephrite, for the third time in a single night and day. The pastel of her blankets and the pattern of her wallpaper was becoming familiar to him.
He carefully laid her unconscious body on top of her bed. Then, he checked - she was breathing and her pulse was steady. Fitting, really, that Naru had a strong heart. After a moment, he slipped off her black patent shoes and dropped them on the floor. Should he untie her hair bow too? She should rest as comfortably as possible. But with her cheek to the pillow, Naru’s breathing was even and deep. She seemed to be sleeping well enough.
Nephrite looked around her room. The last time he’d been here, his focus was on the twin goals of finding the Legendary Silver Crystal and Sailor Moon’s secret identity. But the dark crystal only showed him Naru. And so he’d used her obvious feelings for him to draw out any useful information from her; to see if she would draw out Sailor Moon herself. She was both the bait and the trap itself.
Now – Naru could still be useful to him, clearly. But he didn’t need to manipulate her like that anymore. Nephrite trusted her completely; she had proven herself over and over again. And unlike Beryl, who either lauded or disposed of her own followers based purely on her mood instead of something like logic or loyalty, he would protect and value a useful asset. Naru deserved that at least.
Nephrite looked out through the translucent curtains of her sliding glass doors, towards her narrow balcony and to the blurry landscape beyond it. Just like Naru had done when he'd shown up and given his real name, just that little bit of truth wrapped up in a lie. Was that why he remained behind the curtain, on the balcony, instead of inside her room to speak to her face-to-face?
She was hardly the first woman – well, girl – to claim to love him. There had been plenty of the better-looking and spell-glamoured youma over the centuries for the Western King, and then plenty of humans for Masato Sanjouin over the last couple years. But something was different about this otherwise ordinary young girl. It had nothing to do with innocence, although she was still naïve in many ways. Naru Osaka was just... true. Like true north.
The three Plant Sisters left quite the mess during their kidnapping. Nephrite remembered the small bed, empty; covers and sheets crumpled far back, like the slumbering girl underneath them had been ripped out kicking and screaming. In Naru’s place was a note just for him, spelling out her imminent doom in Dark Kingdom glyphs.
There was still a hole in the wall from where the telephone had been ripped out, but Naru’s knocked-over dresser was righted, her bookcase mostly restacked, and her bed neatly made. Textbooks, school papers, and a couple of stuffed animal toys were in a heap on her desk.
Nephrite’s gloved hand reached out from the compulsion to walk over and close the mass produced rolltop desk cover, as he always did when walking away from his own desk. Naru, the girl so open with her emotions, kept her most private space the same. So different from his own workspace, always closed under lock and key, both physical and magical.
Her closet doors were closed, her desk and dresser drawers shut, the fabrics of her bed covered all kinds of things underneath its frame. But even with so many hiding places, so much of her life was simply out in the open right there in her bedroom. On the floor and peeking out from beneath the ruffled bed fabric was a yellow bicycle helmet. On top of her desk was a framed photograph of two little girls in yukatas at some festival, captured in the act of laughing, their arms around each other. One was a younger, frecklier Naru with her hair in pigtails, and the other was a very familiar blonde in a similar hairstyle. What else would he find if he took the time to look into every corner? He didn’t have to wake Naru to know he had blanket permission for anything he wanted.
Nephrite shook his head and backed away. He shouldn’t be wasting time rifling through a young girl’s bedroom.
He leant against the wall across from Naru’s bed. There was something soothing about watching her sleep. About standing guard over her.
He needed information. But his personal stellar altar was gone. The inter-phasing, magically-powered, grand projector orrery and star map that Nephrite had built in the old chapel of his mansion estate, to beseech the celestial deities and receive their wisdom – it had taken a sidereal year to build, but with his own time apparently running out Nephrite sacrificed its astronomical energy and sacred geometric skeleton, all to form the dark crystal.
That tool remained in Zoisite’s contemptible hands – for now. But there were other ways to seek advice from the stars, although what and where Nephrite needed to see next would require more than the average hall mirror or bowl of water.
It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon in Tokyo. The part of the Earth facing the stars at that very moment would stretch over most of North and South America. Nephrite mentally ran through the short list of bodies of water he knew about in that part of the world, until the solution suddenly came to him.
He started to laugh, but then stopped and looked at Naru. She twitched in her sleep but didn’t open her eyes at the noise. He hadn’t disturbed her. Good.
Teleporting across a single city a few times in a short period was easy enough, even for Tokyo, the largest metropolis in the world. But for this next step he’d have to first use one of portals set up in his mansion. Another benefit to being Masato Sanjouin – he had private bachelor pads in a dozen major cities around the globe.
Naru made a soft noise in her sleep, and one of her hands twitched.
He felt heavily rooted to the spot on the carpet he was standing on, to the solid wall behind his back. Nephrite tried to be analytic about his own damn emotions. It was completely irrational to stay right there and wonder what Naru was dreaming about. Him? Most likely, but probably all the monsters she’d faced lately too. Hopefully the dream version of himself was having better luck against them than Nephrite was having in real life.
A little longer, he reasoned with himself. He’d put up a few layers of magical protection while he was there, the kind that didn’t need long ritual preparation or tools. She’d be safe enough while he was gone, and he’d come back later to finish the job properly.
When the light of the sun changed enough, Nephrite teleported away.
* * * * * * * *
At nearly 600 feet in the air, one could easily mistake the red flash of teleportation for the lights on an airplane, passing by from even farther up. At 1AM in the morning, far away from the nightlife part of the city and presidential campaigns churning away, only hardworking taxi drivers and a few homeless souls were nearby when a man suddenly appeared above the point of the Washington Monument obelisk. He floated on nothing but air and went unnoticed.
Due west from the obelisk was the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Nephrite held out a hand and channeled a few different spells. Sleeping ducks suddenly roused and raced to hop out of the water. Leaves and algae lifted up into the air, dried and fizzled to dust as they were blown away. The movement of the water itself, already more tranquil than the average pond, slowed down until the surface was as still and clear as a silvered mirror.
Nephrite teleported once more, this time to float high above the base of the pool. It gave him a good vantage point of the water.
He took a few minutes to arrange some astrological energies, a much smaller and ephemeral version of the grand orrery. It was like fine-tuning an instrument. Anyone looking at Nephrite from the outside might mistake him for slowly conducting an invisible symphony.
At that thought, he threw in a few masking and darkening spells over the area. Even with the city’s building height limits, he didn’t want some insomniac to happen to look out from their hotel curtains and call the police in a panic over aliens or terrorists.
Although in a way, Nephrite was an alien terrorist. He grinned.
Finally, he transfigured his gloves into a small, sharp knife. A moment to brace himself, and then Nephrite sliced at the skin of his palm. Short, shallow, stinging. He squeezed to make a fist, and drops of green blood dripped out and down into the water.
“The stars know everything.”
A familiar ripple of cosmic energy answered him.
“Show me what has happened in the Dark Kingdom since my purported death!”
Before anything else, there was a noise Nephrite didn’t recognize. A kind of white noise in the background. No, not white noise – something about the pitch or tone was off. It was irritating and it wouldn’t go away. Why would the stars include this sound?
Images came together over the water, the accompanying voices and sounds distorted. Parts of the scene shifted when he wasn’t studying it directly, all of the edges fuzzy, and the picture was a grey monochrome. Nephrite wanted to growl – if he still had his grand orrery, then he wouldn’t have to deal with any of this muddled nonsense! Considering how short of a period he’d actually had it, Nephrite had grown very used to having the exact information he wanted deposited directly into his mind’s eye. A thousand years in the Dark Kingdom had taught him the importance of patience, but it still didn’t come naturally to him.
He smoothed out the irritated expression he could feel on his face and cleared his mind to receive the stars’ offered vision.
It began with Zoisite informing Queen Beryl that he had disposed of the traitor; presenting the dark crystal to her, making himself look loyal and efficient; testifying that his actions were based on evidence other youma had presented him. A scant failsafe: if Beryl became displeased, Zoisite could always claim that he too had been deceived.
There was a box in a study, with seals of protection and concealment. Nephrite recognized Queen Beryl’s clawed hands opening it, revealing a substantial cache of energy. It must contain almost all of the energy collected from the Earth realm so far, even the haphazard attempts from before Jadeite had grown bold in Japan.
Then the scene showed Beryl, kneeling and offering that energy to their Great Ruler – who spoke back to her. Nephrite shuddered despite the warm air that surrounded him. The Four Kings had all stood with Beryl in the deepest pit of the Dark Kingdom, at one point or another. They would feed wisps of energy though the metaphysical bars of the ultimate cage, all to sustain her, their Great Ruler. She’d always remained slumbering – reaching out through dreams, sometimes – but always asleep. Until now.
The magical moon barrier was completely gone. Their Great Ruler was awakening. The end was truly closing in on them all.
And then, a revelation: the seven rainbow crystals. Of course they hadn’t found the Legendary Silver Crystal yet – it had been split like light through a prism long ago. The fragments needed to be collected and reforged together as one.
Why were they only just remembering these details now? Nephrite tried to concentrate on everything he knew about the Great Monsters – his knowledge of them was hazy. Hearing of such a fearsome force in that last battle against the Moon Kingdom, he knew it to be a true statement, but he had no direct memories of them. Nephrite certainly had no clue that they’d been reborn, or that the human reincarnations held actual pieces of the Legendary Silver Crystal within them. Beryl herself had gotten it wrong, since she’d been commanding them to look for the complete and singular Silver Crystal this entire time.
Not that anyone would tell her that.
“As I recall, the seven Great Monsters were imprisoned by our hated enemy,” Kunzite said through the vision. Nephrite wondered at the other man’s wording – had he really remembered but said nothing while his favorite lover attempted to fulfill a futile mission? Not likely. Or was he just remembering now, as they all seemed to be?
One of Kunzite’s gloved hands under the edge of his cape, concealed from Beryl or any of the more observant youma, rhythmically clenched and unclenched. Zoisite’s time and resources, and by extension his own, had been utterly wasted in a search for an item that didn’t actually exist.
Nephrite’s dark crystal, modified by Beryl under their Great Ruler’s instructions, drifted out of Beryl’s floating orb. Then it shot out at Zoisite, who deftly caught it with one hand. Nephrite frowned at his rival’s quick reflexes. Was it too much to ask that he be caught off guard and get stabbed in the face?
The setup was simple enough:
Nephrite wanted to kick something. He’d been right. Hadn’t he been the first to wonder if the Silver Crystal was dimensionally phased and hidden inside a human, nestled between the flesh and the soul? Nobody appreciated his intellectual prowess.
The stars of the Pleiades constellation flashed over the water and the scene changed again, showing Zoisite using his dark crystal to resonate at something within a human man. The first rainbow crystal carrier?
A teenage girl appeared. Her face was very young, but she cut a striking figure. She was almost the same height as Zoisite, already as tall as a grown Japanese woman, with a very... talented figure. And athletic enough to actually land an off-center punch to Zoisite’s mouth and draw blood.
What the hell was going on with all the teenage girls in Tokyo lately?
He didn’t have much time to think on it. Once the real battle with the first Great Monster began, Zoisite teleported away. The Sailor Soldiers were joined by a new sailor girl, just barely managed to win the fight. He understood now why they were called Great with a capital G.
Nephrite’s second request was to see anything important happening in the present. Relevant to himself, of course. He didn’t care what the Lord Mayor of Budapest thought was important.
The surface of the water became an overly bright Technicolor scene. A small child’s bedroom by the look of it, messy and in multiple shades of pink and pastels. Almost everything, from the bedspread to the knick-knacks to the posters, had some kind of cloyingly cute bunny rabbit or lunar motif.
Wait. It couldn’t be...?
But it was! Sailor Moon herself climbed through the window and faded from the superhero to the girl Usagi Tsukino. A pet cat followed her in. Nephrite frowned again, though not as deep as when he’d observed Zoisite. He’d asked the stars before, lots of times, for the true identities of any of the Sailor Soldiers but they had never given a clear answer. It seems he was only privy to this scene now because he’d already discovered her identity through his own hard work.
She placed a strange, curved wand on top of her dresser, and then the young girl collapsed onto her bed. Whatever passive magic that was connected to her uniform and transformation had taken care of the worst of her injuries, but she was clearly exhausted.
“So, this is part of the Legendary Silver Crystal?” mumbled Usagi, looking at the thing in question while flat on her back. She held the red crystal up to her eye like a jeweler inspecting a gem. “It looks like a giant ruby.”
“We need to keep that safe, Usagi,” said her black cat.
Said her cat. It was the cat who’d spoken. As there was no one else in the room and its feline mouth flaps had moved along with the words, and Nephrite almost spoke aloud and broke the vision to question what the furikake he just heard.
The ditzy teenage superheroine who had managed to thwart some of the great Kings of the Dark Kingdom had a talking pet. How in all of the heavens’ names was something so ridiculous so successful!
Usagi whirled on her feline friend, indignation fueling her sudden burst of energy. “Hey! If the Silver Crystal was split into seven rainbow fragments, then how come you’ve been pushing us to look for the one big crystal all this time, huh Luna? You’ve been sending me and the other Sailor Soldiers on nothing but a wild goose chase!”
“Well, I – well,” Luna stammered. “My memory isn’t quite complete – I didn’t realize the crystal was split to contain the Great Monsters, and I don’t know how our enemy figured it out before us. But think of it this way: it’s been good practice. You’re already a much better Sailor Soldier from when I first found you.”
“Gooses are mean, Luna! They’re almost as bad as CATS!”
“I’m not sure how to respond to that. And I think you mean ‘geese’.”
Usagi sighed and curled up on her side. Then she winced and turned over to lay on her other side instead. “I don’t want to think about anything Sailor-y right now.”
“I don’t blame you for feeling that way, but it’s more important than ever to regroup and focus. We should schedule a meeting to meet with the other girls as soon as you’re all free. We can even go visit Rei afterwards to – Usagi? Hello?”
Naru’s friend started snoring, and very loudly for a girl so petite. She almost drowned out the strange, electrostatic noise still going on in the background.
The red crystal tumbled from her grip to the floor. Nephrite watched the cat pick up the red crystal in its mouth, easily jump to the top of a dresser, and drop the crystal in the first open drawer. Then it silently made its way to the space behind Usagi’s head on her pillow and circled to lie down, just as the vision of the present dissolved to an end.
His third request – and last, for there could only be three – was to see the future. This phantasmagoria would be the most distorted. The past was blurry and subjective to point of view; the here and now always seemed clearest; and the future was an ever-changing kaleidoscope of possibilities.
The water flared a brilliant green.
Faces in the dark, mutated and grinning.
The golden flash of armor, on what might be a Sailor Soldier’s magical uniform.
“I had to phone someone, so I picked on you.” Nephrite didn’t recognize the man speaking, or what it meant when he tapped the side of his nose.
A key, moving through space-time and winking strange light.
His dark crystal, flowering like a fractal and reflecting a black rainbow.
A sharp, bone-dry heat to match the Dark Kingdom’s sweltering swagger, and a growl that could make even their Great Ruler shiver in her sleep.
Naru’s face, even lovelier for her bright tears, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. We needed to learn to let go. It’s still too early to make anyone understand.”
And then – that noise. The not-quite-white-noise that had been playing underneath all three pieces of the divination the whole time. It grew louder, as if it would fill his mind and burst through the bone of his skull to keep going, and he knew that whatever was making that sound was rushing towards him.
No – that HE was rushing towards IT, as sure as a fatal plunge down an old, deep well, awaiting the sudden crunch and splat at the rough earthen base, a fortnight of wet rot putrefying the flesh, all for an eternity of disintegrated nothingness.
The fragmented scene sparked away, only a few seconds’ worth of discernable information.
The air went dark and muted again, nocturnal insects and distant cars making peaceful background noise. Without Nephrite’s mystical lens to cut through the modern industrial light dome, the stars shone very dimly overhead once again. His own green blood was already crusty and dry over his sore palm.
His business concluded, he immediately teleported back to his DC apartment. Nephrite washed his hands instead of magically cleaning them. Ritual cleansing, of a sort, instead of wasting energy.
He’d never heard that noise before; not in the Dark Kingdom, not in any of his divinations, not in real life. Even if he couldn’t remember his life before his service to their Great Ruler, he knew he’d never heard that noise before.
He grabbed some stationary to write down everything he remembered from the vision while it was still fresh in his mind. Nephrite needed to plan, and then he needed a drink. At some point in the very near future, he was going to have to invade another teenage girl’s bedroom. That alone was worth a shot of liquor.
Besides that, Nephrite never cared much for the capital of the United States. It was a humid, backstabbing swamp too much like the Dark Kingdom for his liking.
* * * * * * * *
The most dangerous place in the Dark Kingdom was, paradoxically, the most physically comfortable place in the entire negative dimension.
The inside of Queen Beryl’s immense throne room was constantly being scrubbed of vegetation, and the thick marble floor and walls were naturally absorbent of heat. Long ago, dark flora had overgrown and encased the palace on a cliff not unlike modern kudzu. No one remembered anymore if the shape they had grown into – a giant, grinning skull – was due to royal order or ambient shadow magic working its will. The few vines in certain corners to resist previous cleanings then grew broad and tall, like scorched redwood trees. The tops had broken through the original ceiling to fuse and gnarl together, making dark crevasses like a miniature underwater cave system. It all had the impression of a great, ancient palace that had first been abandoned and overtaken by nature – then sunk to the bottom of the deep sea.
Most youma couldn’t teleport like Kings could, and there was no portal anywhere near the Queen’s throne as a security measure. So, when the Dark Kingdom “nobility” assembled, they climbed a long and very steep set of stairs before walking through the hellmouth-like opening of the viny, thorny mess surrounding the palace. But once inside the throne room was dry and cool. A dozen or so reedy torches all ended high above the heads of anyone who gathered there, and the flames at their tops were made of magic that gave off light but no warmth.
Teleporting in with his usual, crimson-colored flair and arriving just a few inches off the ground, Nephrite’s boots clicked on the glossy stone floor as he lowered himself into a subservient half crouch, half bow directly in front of Beryl.
Youma Lieutenant Skall, standing before the Queen and in the middle of her report on the latest macroalgae experiments, completely forgot what she was talking about and her mouth dropped open. About two hundred or so youma were gathered behind them in the throne room, at what passed for court in the Dark Kingdom, and they immediately began to whisper amongst themselves.
“Nephrite,” hissed Queen Beryl, and she bared her teeth. The act was reflected in the display right behind her throne: the blackened, calcified skull of a great marine beast.
Unlike the façade of vines outside, this colossal remnant of bone was the real thing. While it lived, it had been the single largest specimen of a type of carnivorous fish species, that was found only in the native sea of this dark universe. In death, its skeleton head was forever stuck in a main pillar holding up the room. Its enormous fish teeth grinned eternally, and the nacre gleam of its empty eye sockets followed you wherever you were in the throne room.
Nephrite made the quick, unusual movement needed to reach into a dimensional pocket.
“It seems reports of your demise have been greatly exaggerated, traitor! Did you really think you could just come back—”
She cut herself off abruptly as Nephrite raised his hand to her, the red rainbow crystal shimmering and floating just above his gloved palm. He conjured a bit of light to diffuse through the crystal and help illuminate it – theatrics were a skill like any other that he naturally excelled at.
The whispers intensified behind him. After so long – a piece of the Legendary Silver Crystal, in their possession at last! Brought to them by a so-called traitor! Brought to them by a King thought to be dead!
“I made a vow to you, my Queen,” said Nephrite. He was keenly aware of how smug he sounded, and he didn’t care. He was going to savor this. “I swore I could retrieve energy for our Great Ruler and take care of those Sailor brats by infiltrating the human world, and I’ve done both of those things. I even promised I could find the Silver Crystal, so here I offer the first of the seven rainbow crystals.”
A familiar, degenerate smirk formed on Nephrite’s face. “I always said I work best alone – so I let Zoisite think he killed me, just so I could finally get some work done!”
Queen Beryl raised a hand and the red crystal floated over to her. “Impressive,” she finally said. “Perhaps I have misjudged you, Nephrite.” The inside of her hovering orb became a hazy mass of yellow smoke. She was summoning Zoisite.
He didn’t immediately appear. Ten seconds passed, then twenty, then thirty. The scaly youma Lieutenant was still standing there with him, unsure and afraid of what to do next. Nephrite counted off a minute in his head and started again, as the murmurs of the youma crowd grew once more. One could feel Beryl’s summons anywhere in the Dark Kingdom unless the intended target was flat-out unconscious. Nephrite’s mansion, halfway between realms, was out of reach and his usual excuse for not ‘hearing’ them.
Up until they had fully breached the dimensional containment a few years ago, igniting their final mission for energy and the Legendary Silver Crystal, Beryl would call her Kings for any and all commands, large or small, important or very much not. They were almost always the latter. As he waited, Nephrite recalled many of the ones he’d encountered over the centuries, in a mental parody of Beryl’s shrill voice that would have gotten him immediately sent to Eternal Sleep if she could hear his thoughts:
I need energy, give me energy. What’s your plan for breaking the moon barrier? What’s your plan to find more energy and take over the world when we break the moon barrier? How are the youma being trained, not that I know anything about military training? How are the youma being bred, even though I think Inheritance of Acquired Characters is like an heirloom necklace or something? Get me energy for our Great Ruler. Are you still loyal to me? Am I more beautiful than the Princess of the Moon? Never mind that most of you youma aren’t old enough to remember what she looks like, there’s only one right answer! Aren’t I a better Queen than she would have been? I’m bored, put on a play all about how I killed that little bitch Princess. I need more energy already, get it for me now. Why can’t you draw more energy from this ‘hairline crack’ in the barrier you discovered, because I demand immediate answers but I don’t understand basic science, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Why do we have nothing to eat but pond algae, bake me a cake! What do you think of my new royal gown, is the plunging neckline down to my navel more Mistress of Darkness, or Enchantress of the Eternal Night?
After two minutes, Nephrite wondered if he was missing something. The longer Zoisite remained incognito the more Beryl’s anger grew, and Nephrite was the only King in her sight.
Finally, the light of Kunzite’s teleportation flared across from him. Both Kunzite and Zoisite appeared before Beryl as the glow faded, the former having teleported them together. Zoisite dropped a hand from his mouth at the last second, almost as if he’d been cradling his jaw right before being summoned.
It only lasted a few seconds, but the series of emotions that played across Zoisite’s face when he started and realized just who was standing there alongside them, alive and very well, was awfully satisfying to watch. Shock, disbelief, the knowledge that he’d been outmaneuvered. And most deliciously, anger; wonderful, open anger splashed all across Zoisite’s face.
Nephrite smiled egregiously and tilted his head in a mockery of a formal greeting. Rage all you like, rat. Me.
Queen Beryl spoke. “Perhaps you’d care to explain yourself, Zoisite. You lied to me about the death of one of my Kings. He’s also recovered the first rainbow crystal, succeeding where you have failed! Are these the actions of a traitor?”
“I’m the liar -?!”
Nephrite saw one of Kunzite’s hands move to grip Zoisite’s arm, to keep him from doing something he’d regret.
“Your majesty,” Zoisite began again, “After months of nothing to show for his alleged efforts, Nephrite attacked and killed a youma of the Dark Kingdom – without any explanation or collection of her death energy, and in favor of a human. When her fellow youma saw him with that same human girl, they naturally went to gather more information and he simply killed them as well. What more proof do we need that he’s turned traitor?”
Nephrite raised his chin. “I acted in self-defense, and I won’t apologize for fighting anyone or anything in my way. I was carrying out the will of our Queen, which is more important than any single Dark Kingdom subject.” It had actually been Sailor Moon who finished off all of Zoisite’s youma, not that such details mattered right now.
Kunzite made a curt, subtle hand signal. Lieutenant Skall made a brusque bow to Beryl – who didn’t even notice - before backing up into the youma crowd. Nephrite spared some of his irritation for the simple act, because that kind of discipline was hard to find in underlings. Most youma were too stupid to take basic direction.
Meanwhile, Zoisite kept talking. “Was I supposed to ignore reports of a King straying from the mission granted to him? Just because his had the first rainbow crystal doesn’t mean he hasn’t betrayed the cause. His actions were clear – Nephrite protected a sniveling human and killed multiple high-level youma on her behalf!”
Nephrite held the moment of that accusation. Then he made another quick, unusual movement. This time, he didn’t need any tricks to illuminate the prize he offered. The crackling sphere of energy shone like an enormous lightning ball, in pure white light, and it gave off a faint buzzing sensation that could be felt in all corners of the throne room. He floated it over to Beryl as effortlessly as a soap bubble, to join the red crystal she already had.
The whispers of the youma court gave way to gasps and louder murmuring. Even the scales over Lieutenant Skall’s face rippled in shock.
“I protected my supply. The girl in question is the source of the energy you hold, your Majesty. You can see why I deemed her worthy of safeguarding from Zoisite’s reckless machinations,” said Nephrite. There – he hadn’t named her, but he’d identified Naru as his asset to the Dark Kingdom. Let any youma try and attack her now. “It’s no wonder the rainbow crystal wasn’t delivered to you until now. Fortunately, you still have me at your service.”
“I did take the first crystal!” Zoisite nearly screeched the rebuttal; his fair complexion was quickly turning ruddy, and the rippling light of Naru’s energy only highlighted the whites of his furious eyes. “But the first Great Monster turned on me! I thought they were supposed to be our fiercest warriors against the enemy, ancient champions of the Dark Kingdom that would return to us once awakened!”
Beryl said nothing. Her fingers moved over the sphere and its electric puffs of energy like it was a favored pet.
Finally, she looked up, as if just remembering that she had an audience, and gave a languid shrug. “They were our allies. If we had succeeded in retrieving the Legendary Silver Crystal all those centuries ago, we would have made them bow to our Great Ruler in the end.”
Nephrite raised an eyebrow at the new information, while Zoisite brought up both hands in some kind of gesture halted midway through, visibly shaking with anger. “But that’s not what you said.”
“You dare question me, after your failure?!” Beryl shrieked, and her hair sizzled in the air around her face. “You tried to hide the news of it from me as well! I ought to put you in Eternal Sleep along with Jadeite!”
Nephrite smiled so deeply it hurt his face.
“Your Majesty,” Kunzite spoke up. Of course he’d interject and deflect wrath from his favorite lover. Nephrite rolled his eyes. Did no one else realize Zoisite was only half as incompetent as he pretended to be? “The disturbing nature of the first Great Monster warranted a change of plans. I believed that reporting to you without first calculating a new strategy would have been remiss. And I advised Zoisite as such.”
It was a reasonable rebuttal. Well, Nephrite couldn’t have that.
“I agree, your Majesty; only a fool would return to you empty-handed,” he pointed out.
“Thanks to you,” fumed Zoisite. “Since when do Kings resort to petty thievery?”
Nephrite coolly glared at him. “You tell me; what else besides my dark crystal have you stolen? Who else in the Dark Kingdom have you robbed?”
“If you don’t set up solid defenses then you deserve to be conquered by your betters!”
A thin wisp of energy shot out from Beryl’s orb like an electric whip snap, making the air crackle. A small waste that only she could afford, and evidence of her growing impatience. “Nephrite has delivered on my instructions and performed far better than expected. If this is the quality of his loyalty without your interference, perhaps I should have put an end to your squabbling feud ages ago!”
“What about those Sailor Soldiers?” Zoisite put out in a rush, grasping to retain some semblance of control in this argument. “He brags about success, but how many of them has he killed?”
“You lack patience, Zoisite. I’ve discovered all of their secret identities,” answered Nephrite, and it was only a partial lie. Besides Usagi Tsukino, he knew that Sailor Mercury was Dr. Mizuno’s daughter. They may not even know a fourth one had just joined, thanks to Zoisite’s retreat from battle right before the newest Sailor Soldier arrived on the scene.
“If my Queen would like to know them I’m happy to tell her, in private.” He wasn’t going to be tricked into giving Zoisite any information. And if he was lucky – if he knew his irreverent Queen well enough after so many centuries -
“The human identities of the Sailor Soldiers are of no interest to me,” said Queen Beryl. “As long as they die.”
- this would be one of those times Beryl just didn’t care enough to press the issue. Excellent.
“But they’re not dead. What about that part of the mission? He hasn’t killed any of them!”
“Of course not,” said Nephrite. “Right now, they’re useful to me - to the Dark Kingdom - while they’re alive.”
“That’s ridiculous,” complained Zoisite. “How could our enemies possibly be of any help to us?”
“By thinking they’re helping me. Why do you think I spent so much time pretending to fall for a human girl and claiming to repent my ways? They actually feel sorry for me!” He laughed, and proceeded to spin a vague plan about convincing the Soldiers to heal crystal carrier humans right away instead of attacking him, tricking them into doing the Dark Kingdom’s work and leaving him free to gather the rainbow crystals. He would fool them into thinking he’d give the crystals to them after all seven were found.
Actually, that wasn’t a bad idea.
“That’s a terrible idea,” spat Zoisite. “Not even they would be stupid enough to trust you not to keep all the crystals for yourself, and they’re just weak human girls.”
“I meant to ask, Zoisite, how is your face healing?” Nephrite’s tone was perfectly amiable. “I only ask since your first and failed attempt to take the red rainbow crystal was thwarted by a mere human girl’s fist to your mouth, isn’t that right?”
“You pay an awful lot of attention to little girls, Nephrite,” Zoisite threw back. “It seems to me your obsession with that red-headed girl is what’s really kept you from getting anything done all this time.”
“Leave her out of this,” Nephrite said.
“Oh, have I struck a nerve? Queen Beryl, if this girl is such a valuable source of energy, she should be retrieved and kept here for maximum energy extraction.”
“Absolutely not,” he snapped without hesitation. “I won’t allow it.”
The crowd started to murmur faster at Nephrite’s stone-cold tone, and the familiar hint of insolence. So very often, damn it, he gave in to his anger far too often in front of his adversaries – Nephrite felt his pulse race and he willed himself not to clench his hands into fists in front of Zoisite or Beryl, not with all the higher-level youma watching.
Zoisite smirked. “Your loyalty is to the Dark Kingdom, not some girl who’s as disposable as any other human. Unless,” and at that, he briefly paused and brought a hand up to his mouth in his customary way, “You really did turn traitor for her and this is all just a ruse to play at being a double-agent for Sailor Moon and her friends?”
Nephrite turned to fully face Beryl. “My Queen, nobody understands the intricacies of this girl’s energy more than me. Bringing her here won’t work; the nature of the Dark Kingdom itself will dampen her lifeforce. Therefore, if we want more of her energy, it can only be collected within the Earth realm. And only I know the right way to do that – I’m the only one capable of doing it. You hold the proof in your hands.”
“That’s such a lie,” said Zoisite.
“You’ll continue using this girl then, to feed our Great Ruler?” asked Beryl.
“Even allowing for the time her body needs to recover and build up her lifeforce again, there should be regular opportunities to do so.” Nephrite answered the question without really answering the question, and then tried for a distraction. “After all, I’ll need something to do in between retrieving rainbow crystals, like the first one you have there.”
“You didn’t retrieve it, I did!”
“Using my dark crystal. You’re welcome for the temporary use of it by the way, since I’m taking it back. You lost a rainbow crystal on the very first try; who knows how long before you would’ve lost my dark crystal as well? Maybe even to the Sailor Soldiers! I should thank you for only sending a few youma to kill me; otherwise you’d have no one but Kunzite to pick up your slack.”
Nephrite might have gone too far on that last insult; that was definitely a scowl on Kunzite’s face.
“You arrogant, full-seas over pickled blowhard, you never do any real work—”
“Stop this bickering at once!” Both of them flinched at the sting of wrathful energy as Queen Beryl shouted at them. “Nephrite has not turned traitor and I reinstate him as our lead agent on Earth. He will take over the mission of gathering rainbow crystals from you, Zoisite.”
And then, Nephrite’s efforts to antagonize his already stressed-to-the-limit rival finally paid off. Emotions bubbling up too hot and pushing away all strategic thought, Zoisite did the unspoken, the forbidden: he protested back at Queen Beryl’s commands, and in front of an audience too.
“No, this isn’t fair! Something is wrong with the crystal carriers, and we might have figured it out by now if you had told us about the Legendary Silver Crystal being split into pieces in the first place!”
Nephrite carefully backed up a few steps.
The sudden panic on Zoisite’s face was so pitiful that Nephrite almost felt sorry for pushing his would-be murderer into the trap. Almost.
Nephrite put up personal shields just in time and he assumed Kunzite did the same. The youma of the court simply cowered back as far as they could, averting their eyes at the too-bright lights of the display, and the ones stuck at the front without any magical talent bore the brunt of what humans might call electrical burns.
It wasn’t a kill shot – it almost never was. But that mattered little to Kings and youma alike when Queen Beryl was in a punishing mood. Over Zoisite’s screams and the scorch of negative energy, Beryl’s amplified voice reverberated off the walls of the throne room as she bellowed, “NEVER – QUESTION – MY - SUPREME – ORDERS!”
The scene barely lasted a minute. Nephrite had to lower his shields to levitate his dark crystal from Zoisite’s person to his own hand, grimacing at the smell. As soon as it was in his grip, he teleported away. He didn’t need to worry about Beryl officially dismissing him; let the two remaining Kings take up her attention.
He did have to worry about planning his next steps. That hadn’t just gone well for him, it had gone well quickly. Nephrite wasn’t used to thinking so far ahead – but as some Earth musician had once sung; the times they are a-changing.
* * * * * * * *
Gary picked at the label on his bottle of beer. Japan had a great selection of beer, as it turned out. Even better, beer still tasted good to him. Gary always used to crave a cold one, coming home at the end of a long day, after hours of making nice with faceless idiots over the phone that thought their monitor was the computer, and what did he mean they needed to buy another computer, they were looking right at it, why wasn’t he fixing it already and why was he trying to upsell them?
That’s not what he craved any more. But beer still tasted pretty good, and wasn’t that just dandy?
He looked around the bar. It was one of hundreds if not thousands of spots in Tokyo to get a drink, but mostly filled with people like him – Americans or Europeans who didn’t speak a lot of Japanese. It wasn’t a sleek looking place, with chrome and glass and over-marked-up cocktails, and it wasn’t one of the kitschy theme bars either. Just a dimly lit room with a long bar, and tables or booths crowding the space, and a door at the end of the room that the bartender had said was the way to karaoke rooms on the side. The bartender spoke in perfectly accented English.
Gary could hear everyone chatting, talking about their stupid, boring lives with each other. Every time the door opened, the movement alerting him, it was always more people in twos or threes or more. Businessmen, rowdy guys, girl cliques, tourists, a couple with a baby even. Sometimes they went straight to the side door, and he could faintly hear pop music and some truly terrible singing. It was all dull and beneath his attention, and Gary was beginning to think the ‘wait-and-see’ approach wasn’t worth his time.
Until it was. A young girl came in – school aged, going by the uniform. Very easy on the eyes. And completely alone.
She took in every inch of the place, obviously new to the bar scene, and their eyes met for a second. Gary looked down first. He couldn’t come off too strong. He waited a little, then glanced back at her. When their eyes met again, he raised his bottle and gave a small smile, and a friendly nod. Then he turned in his chair to face the bar.
She might have been meeting friends, but to his delight she came up the bar next to him. Not right next to him - she wasn’t in his personal bubble or anything - but it was starting to look like Gary would get to indulge his craving tonight after all. Although he didn’t like the scarf wrapped around her neck. Autumn had barely started in Tokyo, it wasn’t that cold yet. Other, lesser men could cry about socks and stockings covering up shivering little legs. Gary liked to see some clavicle.
Now to play it right. She had to want to walk off with him by the end of this.
“I will have what he is having,” she said to the bartender, in pretty good English. But she pointed to Gary with her whole hand like a true Japanese person, instead of with her thumb or pointer finger or even a head tilt, like an American.
The bartender asked for an ID, which of course she claimed to have forgotten.
“Give her a soda on my tab,” Gary said. To the girl, “I’m sure they’ll let you use a phone to call your friends, if you’ve left your ID at home.”
“I lost it at the mall,” she said. “But I am 18 years old, not a child anymore. Is it really that hard to get a simple drink in this place? Adults are entitled to drink when the day ends.”
“Sure,” Gary agreed. “Except that the drinking age in Japan is 20.”
She looked up at Gary – being much shorter than him, even while he was seated and she was standing. She didn’t have the large eyes that anime suggested all Japanese girls had, but her skin was beautiful. She didn’t have any stereotypical teenage acne, not even a mole. “I thought this was an American bar?”
The bartender set down a bottle of ramune over a paper napkin for her. “We observe all Japanese law in this business, miss,” he said.
After a beat, she closed her eyes and groaned. She even dropped her head, all that thick black hair covering her forehead and her cheeks, with no skin visible at all. The teenage angst was palpable.
Gary clinked his beer bottle to her soda bottle. “Better luck next time,” he said. Attempting the classic underage beer run in an American-style bar; not a bad idea, for an amateur.
Her name was Yumi (“It is ‘you’ plus ‘me’ in English, yes?”) and she was all too happy to answer his questions about her life and school. She even sweetly asked Gary about his own life, and was suitably impressed with his IT admin job for English-speaking company branches in Japan. Schoolgirls were either closed off and reluctant, or all too open and eager.
Soda drained, Yumi checked her purse and frowned. “Excuse me, Gary,” she said, and there was only a faint L-sound to the second syllable of his name when she said it. “I need to ask a favor of you, even though you have already been so nice to me. Would you please, please lend me some money so I can take a taxi to meet my friends? They are probably all the way on the other side of Tokyo by now. And you are welcome to join us, of course!”
He could, but Gary had something even better – a car nearby, which wouldn’t cost her anything at all, and he would take her anywhere she wanted. If she wanted to do that instead.
“Oh, yes please!” said Yumi, and she clapped her hands together. “Thank you for helping me save money!”
Only a few minutes away from the bar, the streets became narrower and the lights from lamps or storefronts were every fourth shop instead of ever single store. Even the ground underneath went from the flat, even terrain of 20th century manufacture to the more uneven steps and alleyways of classic Tokyo.
“It’s just a little bit further,” said Gary. He made sure not to walk too fast, so young Yumi only had to hurry once or twice to catch up with him. The longer they walked, the quieter it became, and it was easy to hear her footsteps.
“Okay,” she said. “I do not mind.”
“That’s another difference between Americans and Japanese,” Gary said, and turned another corner. “Or, the rest of the world, really. We’re such car-worshippers that walking distance means something completely different to us, than it does to everyone else. For me this might seem to be taking forever, but for you it should seem like a short walk.”
“Oh yes, a very short walk. Actually, I am ready to stop now.”
Gary paused mid-step, with a swiftness and stillness that in better lighting would have been uncanny to witness. They were in a true alley by then, only one overhead lamp that occasionally buzzed in and out, and a dumpster ahead of them. The sound of people and cars were soft in the distance.
“Are you?” he asked. “It’s a little too late to be backing out now.”
With that, Gary put on his Game Face: he felt his forehead supernaturally shift and remodel to something more like a warrior beast facade, and his fangs descended with just the smallest amount of delicious pain as they pushed through his gums. Bloodlessly, of course – gum disease wasn’t something he had to worry about anymore.
He lazily turned to face Yumi, leaning into her personal space, knowing his eyes were now a glowing gold. “It’s just You and Me, now.”
Yumi blinked, then recoiled – slightly. “Ew, what are you?”
With his Game Face on, Gary couldn’t exactly frown any more than he already was, thanks to the extra muscle and bone that was magically built up on his forehead. “Did you just ew at me? This is the part where you’re supposed to scream in terror. Maybe try and run away?”
The Japanese schoolgirl just stared at him and ticked her head. “From what?”
Who would have thought he’d miss the chase? Short as they usually were. Oh well, it was her funeral. And the first thing to die could be that damn scarf.
“From this!” he said. With a speed only someone of his kind could accomplish, Gary ripped off her scarf with both hands, exposing her pale skin. His mouth latched on to the pulse point of her pretty neck, a bloody parody of a lover’s kiss. It only took a second, and then his fangs punctured deep into her unblemished skin. Immediately, her blood flowed out for him, like a special water fountain of youth he was always thirsty for.
And then he started full-on gagging. The taste, the smell – Gary didn’t even realize Yumi had shoved him away of her own power, because he was already throwing up.
“Oh my god – urk.” Gary put both hands to his knees and hunched over to spit on the ground. “Oh, that is foul. What’s wrong with you? You taste like garbage!”
Yumi grabbed him by the front of his shirt and lifted him up to her eyeline. Gary was starting to get the feeling something was different about her – besides the obvious strength, her eyes definitely hadn’t been that large and black before.
“I am a DELICIOUS SNACK, you pitiful old man!”
“I’m not old, you’re just young and stupid! Blech!”
Yumi growled. It was the kind of inhuman growl Gary thought only he could make. “You’re going to eat your last words, you weird human man thing. You shouldn’t have taken us so far away from others – you think you can try to attack me and get away with it?” She laughed, and it sounded loud and full in the muffled alleyway. “Now no one will hear you scream!”
She slammed him to the ground, his knees hitting with a double thump. Yumi – whose real name was Yulfa – pulled a plastic eraser box out of her skirt pocket. It was decorated in a colorful kawaii pattern, and still had the original eraser inside. But it also held a small bead made of a Dark Kingdom material and matrix that would drain a human in seconds.
Yulfa let her disguise fade out. All her limbs lengthened and her skin turned a grey-green shade. Her lips curled in on themselves and almost disappeared, and her pearly white teeth transformed into something yellowed and more like baleen. It was the presence of a long, slithering black tongue that allowed her to keep speaking the human languages so well.
“Say goodbye to your precious energy!” she gloated.
The eraser box began to glow an unearthly light, and Yulfa aimed it directly at the space between Gary’s golden eyes. The light shone brighter and harsher as the seconds went on.
Gary looked at the eraser box, almost going cross-eyed – his forehead ridges were not helping him - then back to Yulfa. Then back to the box.
He shoved her arm away very easily.
“You stop that!” she shrieked, and aimed the energy-draining device at Gary again.
He just got to his feet to stare at her incredulously, hands on his hips, healthy and unaffected while the energy draining device kept shining a light on him.
“I don’t understand,” said Yulfa, after a few more moments. She smacked the eraser box a couple times in her palm. “This usually works.”
“Performance issues? Not that uncommon, except, y’know, it’s normally with the males of the species. Anything you want to come clean about, Miss Yumi?”
Yulfa hissed, and went to strike him. But he actually dodged her - he was fast, for a human man. The way his face changed, maybe he was some kind mutated or cursed version. “What’s wrong with you? Where’s your energy!”
“My energy? What, you want to talk about chakras and see what color my aura is? I don’t know what energy you’re talking about.”
“You stupid human - your energy, your chi, your lifeforce!”
“What’s so funny!”
Suddenly, he grabbed her wrist tightly, the one that held the eraser box in hand. “I’m a vampire, little girl – there’s no life in me anymore. And I would’ve just walked away, since you’re clearly not human and I can’t feed off you. But then you know what you did?”
Gary squeezed, and Yulfa yelped from the pain – he’d broken her wrist. He shouldn’t be that strong, that wasn’t fair!
“You laughed at me. You shouldn’t have done thaaAAUGH!!”
Gary clutched at his face and swore. Yulfa had lengthened the nails on her free hand and gouged at his face like a lionfish. He still didn’t bleed, but the punctures went inches deep into his flesh, including one eye. It hurt even worse than it looked, enough that had to let go of her.
“What the hell, you’re not supposed to be able to fight back! What are you? Forget this, I’m just gonna kill you!”
“Who are you to lecture me?!” Yulfa shouted at him. “I am a youma of the Dark Kingdom, and all of you pitiful Earth creatures will grovel before out Great Ruler when she rises!”
“And you are dead!”
They lunged at each other.
What happens when a king cobra snake and a boa constrictor python fight to the death? One might assume a great battle for the ages, a spectacle unfortunately gone unwitnessed. And while that kind of righteous belief was foremost in both Yulfa and Gary’s minds, the truth was that neither of them were in any way trained fighters.
The only thing fueling each of their adrenaline rushes was rage – a sort of physiological type of anger. The vampire and the youma each knew, down to their very un-dead and un-human bones, that they were unique and special and powerful, and such truth gave them the divine right to crush anyone lesser to prove it. It was a truth and a power they could feel.
Even if neither one of them actually knew how to throw a punch correctly.
So end result was inevitable – come morning, the alleyway held more dust and grime than usual, the result of a fatal stalemate, and no one was the wiser.
It would be the last time such supernatural monsters would manage to take care of each other so neatly, no superheroine needed.
* * * * * * * *
to be continued...
* * * * * * * *
Author's Notes: I’m not bashing Zoisite, I promise. He’s just having some very bad luck right now – and that means even worse luck for everyone else once he gets his footing again.
What does everyone think of my take on the Dark Kingdom! This might be the only fanfic on the internet that depicts the Negaverse as hot and humid, instead of cold and desolate. I’m taking a few cues from the anime like the glowing flora, the thunderstorms over the castle Zoisite and Kunzite live in, and the idea that just because the main opening to the DK is in the north pole of the Earth realm, doesn’t mean the temperature is the same in both dimensions. I know the manga was clearer about it being cold, so coldness seeping into the DK might become a plot point.
But one of the best reasons to make the DK hot instead of freezing, well, think about it – a dark dimension devoid of much light or heat, with dangerous creatures and even more dangerous plant life... sounds a little too... Upside Down, don’t you think? :D
return to Index / go to Chapter 11
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury