* * * * * * * *
Nephrite watched the girl, who was now possessed by his shadow, go back into the ballroom. He felt a bit uneasy, as though he should follow her, to make sure nothing happened. Ridiculous, he told himself. Nothing would go wrong. Her movements were being controlled by him, through his shadow-youma; all she had to do was make contact with Princess Daiya and pass the shadow along to her. Then he would be able to make the Princess hand over the Crystal to him. As for the girl, who would suspect a sweet-looking young lady like her of any malicious intent? No one would think to stop her or question her. And if, after passing the youma along to Princess Daiya, Naru was found unconscious in the Princess's rooms, it would be put down to too much champagne and dancing.
Still, he had a hard time restraining the impulse to follow her. Nephrite went back inside, then forced himself to go downstairs, away from the hallway Naru would have taken to the Princess's chambers, and out the front entrance to wait in the courtyard. He would have the Princess throw the treasure to him down here, and he would be able to make his getaway before anyone realized what had happened.
There was another tug at his mind. What about the girl? Am I just going to leave her behind? He shook his head, clearing it of his unwanted worries for his human servant. What happened to her after this was none of his concern. All he needed to think about was getting the Crystal.
A commotion on a balcony above the courtyard caught his attention. A young girl with bobbed brown hair, a red gown, enormous glasses, and a tiara stood at the railing, holding a small chest. "Nephrite-sama!" she called out. He grinned and held out his arms, ready to catch the treasure. Suddenly the young white-gowned woman he and Naru had seen earlier ran onto the balcony and lunged to stop the Princess. "Princess Daiya, pull yourself together! Don't do this!"
"Let go of me!" The Princess pulled herself away out of the young woman's grasp. The young woman stumbled and fell, hanging halfway over the railing. The Princess nudged her with her hip, and she tumbled over, clinging to the railing with one hand. "I'm falling!" she screamed.
A man clad in a black tuxedo with a black top hat appeared on the balcony. He reached over the railing and grabbed the white-gowned girl's hand just as she lost her grip. Princess Daiya bumped him, shouting, "Fall and die!"
Suddenly a small cat leaped into the Princess's face, screeching and clawing at her. The Princess dropped the treasure chest onto the balcony. Damn, Nephrite thought. Once again things were spinning out of his control.
Nephrite recognized the man in the top hat. "Tuxedo Kamen, you nuisance!" he shouted. "Be grateful to die with a beautiful princess." He raised his arms to fire an attack at his enemy -
Instinctively, as the words rang out from nowhere, Nephrite covered his face with his arms just as a blast of fire burst around him. When the flames cleared away, Nephrite saw Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury standing in the courtyard. Damn, he swore fervently to himself.
"Tuxedo Kamen is my eternal love!" Mars called out as she and Mercury assumed their attack stances.
Nephrite poised himself to counterattack. Though there were two of the Senshi, he should be able to get the better of them. He was Nephrite, after all, a Lord and warrior of the Dark Kingdom; he couldn't possibly be defeated by young girls, no matter what powers they had.
Suddenly the odds changed. Tuxedo Kamen and the white-gowned girl slipped from the balcony railing and plummeted towards the ground. A parasol sprang from Tuxedo Kamen's hand and the pair floated gently down. This was not at all to Nephrite's liking; bolstered by Tuxedo Kamen's support, the two Senshi were going to be much harder to defeat. "This is bad," he muttered. It was time to call a tactical retreat. He leaped over the wall surrounding the embassy grounds and disappeared into the tangle of alleyways around the complex. After a moment he heard sounds of pursuit, but soon they went off in another direction. He faded out of sight and waited, holding his breath, but didn't hear anything else. He had lost his pursuers.
Nephrite followed the alleys until they led him to the back door of the embassy kitchens. He crouched beside some trash cans and refocused his attention on his puppet within the embassy. "Arise, my other self," he murmured. He could feel the rush of power as Princess Daiya knocked out the ball guests with a blast of dark energy. "All who oppose me will be offered as a sacrifice to our Great Leader!" he threatened the guests through his puppet.
Sailor Moon's voice rang in his mind through the connection with Princess Daiya. "Youma who possessed the pure and innocent Princess Daiya, I will never forgive you!"
Nephrite sneered inwardly at the Senshi's posturing. She had been a nuisance in the past, but he would not let her get in his way this time. "I will have the unrevealed Silver Crystal Treasure!" he shouted through Daiya. Bring it to me now, he ordered the Princess.
Using the superhuman abilities his shadow gave her, the girl leaped from the balcony and floated easily to the ground in a swirl of black wind - and right into Sailor Mars' trap. "Rin, pyo, toh, sha, kai, jin, retsu, zai, zen!" the Senshi chanted, then she flung the enchanted slip of paper at Daiya. "Evil spirit, begone!"
Nephrite lost contact with his puppet's mind as his shadow-self was forced out of her body, but he could still see and hear the Senshi through the disembodied shadow. "Nephrite!" the Senshi gasped.
"Suffer and die!" he taunted them, sending a blast of power through his shadow-self towards them.
The attack hit its mark. "I can't move! He'll beat us like this!" the Senshi wailed. Nephrite gathered his power again, preparing to finish them off. Then Mercury's voice rang out. "I'll do something about it! Shabon Spray!"
Suddenly Nephrite's shadow-vision and hearing became clouded, and the Senshi disappeared in encircling mist. Nephrite shivered from the cold of Mercury's bubble attack. Damn them. He tried to regroup, reorient himself, and send another attack in the direction he knew they were in.
"Shame on you for possessing Princess Daiya! In the name of the Moon, I will punish you!" Sailor Moon challenged him. He focused his concentration on the direction her muffled voice was coming from. Before he could gather his power again, he heard, "Moon Tiara Action!"
No. No, no, no, no, no.... Frantically, Nephrite tried to recall his shadow before the Tiara struck, but it was too late. Pain seared through him as the Tiara tore apart his shadow self. He screamed in agony, he couldn't help himself, and he heard the echo of the shadow's scream in his ears. With the shadow's death, the pain fled as suddenly as it had come, leaving Nephrite sweaty and trembling. In Metallia's great name, was that what it felt like to be destroyed by the Tiara? How would it feel if it were his body that had been the target rather than that small portion of his spirit? He shied away from the thought. He couldn't afford to, he wouldn't dare, allow himself to become afraid of Sailor Moon. She looked young and silly and weak, but if that was what she could do... He couldn't start to fear her, but he'd damn well better stop underestimating her.
Nephrite remained crouched in the alley, trying to will away the massive headache that Sailor Moon's attack on his shadow had left him with. His concentration drifted back to the ball, and he caught a brief image - a brilliant statue, carved of diamond, held by Princess Daiya. The unrevealed treasure. So it wasn't the Silver Crystal after all, but a chunk of mere diamond. Priceless by the standards of the mortal world, but completely useless to him. It wasn't his fault that the treasure wasn't what Beryl had hoped it was, and it had been her idea in the first place to investigate the Diamond Kingdom's unrevealed treasure, but Nephrite knew this would not save him from her displeasure. All that mattered was that he had once again failed in his mission. "I've wasted my time," he muttered in disgust, and teleported back to his mansion to try to figure out what to do next.
In his darkened study, he poured himself a drink as again, inexplicably, thoughts of the girl crossed his mind. He felt oddly uncomfortable at the idea of abandoning her at the embassy to face whatever consequences she might have to face alone. She'll be all right, he firmly reminded himself. No one will suspect her of anything. And why should I risk encountering Sailor Moon again for the sake of a human? Nephrite swallowed the whisky all at once. Forget about her. She'll be fine. What I need to worry about is how I'm going to keep Beryl from turning me into a giant icicle. Still, though, he cast his mind back to the embassy, searching along the tenuous link he had formed with the girl's mind when he sent his shadow into her....
* * * * * * * *
Naru stirred. Her head hurt ferociously. Where am I? She looked around; she lay on the floor of a richly-furnished room. Her surroundings seemed vaguely familiar, then the sense of familiarity was gone before she could grasp it. Naru sat up, rubbing her head. What happened? She remembered walking out onto the balcony with Sanjouin-san, he was acting as though he might kiss her, and then - nothing.
The door to the room flew open and two men in black suits, bow ties, and dark glasses stepped in. "What -" Naru started to say.
"Embassy security, Miss," the taller one said, flashing an I.D. badge pinned inside the lapel of his jacket. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I - I think so. I don't remember how I got here."
"There was an attempted robbery. No one is quite sure what happened. I remember you came up here to see the Princess. The thieves must have been lying in wait, and jumped you after the Princess left the suite. Do you need help getting home?"
"No." Naru shook her head. Everything was still fuzzy. She had come up here to see the Princess? She didn't remember that at all - though, for a brief flash of déjà vu, she thought she did remember. Then the memory was gone again. "I'll go find the person I'm here with. He'll take me home."
"All right, then. If you're sure...." The shorter of the two security guards reached down to help Naru to her feet. She was a bit unsteady, but after a few deeps breaths she felt better. "Thank you," she said, and left the room.
How odd, she thought. One minute she was about to be kissed by Sanjouin-san, and the next she was waking up on the floor of the Princess's rooms in the aftermath of a robbery attempt. Had Masato-san had anything to do with the robbery? No, he couldn't have. He wasn't a bad person, he had nothing to hide. If he had discovered that the unrevealed treasure was actually the Silver Crystal, he could have just gone to the embassy authorities, explained the situation to them, and asked them to either turn the Crystal over to him or seal it away for safekeeping. The thieves must have been the others who were after the Crystal, Sailor Moon's masters. Either that, or ordinary robbers.
Naru searched the hallways around the ballroom, then went into the ballroom and watched the resumed festivities for a while, but didn't see Sanjouin-san. Had he left already? Maybe, after her disappearance, he had assumed that she had left, and then discovered that the treasure wasn't really the Silver Crystal after all. Naru wondered if it was or not; she had learned nothing about it, and had completely missed the unveiling. People were talking about it, though. "Most spectacular," she heard many of them say to their partners as they danced past. "Made completely of diamonds - incredible." "An unbelievable treasure."
Unbelievable, perhaps, but not the treasure Sanjouin-san was looking for. Naru sighed, feeling as though she had let him down somehow. Dejectedly, she turned towards the balcony, feeling a need for some fresh air, or maybe to relive that brief moment with him, before she phoned for a taxi.
At the door, she paused. There was already a couple on the balcony. The young woman whom Naru thought looked like Usagi was out there, reclining on a stone bench set against the railing. A man in a dark cape, tuxedo, and top hat leaned over her, kissing her. He looks just like Sanjouin-sama that night at the department store, Naru thought. When he was disguised as - That man must be Tuxedo Kamen. But why would Tuxedo Kamen be kissing Usagi? It must not be her, after all.
Somehow, the sight of the amorous couple only made Naru feel more dejected and unsettled. She left the ballroom and went downstairs to the embassy lobby, where a few couples were collecting their coats at the reception desk, and called for a ride home.
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return to Index / go to Chapter 6
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury