by Moon Momma
* * * * * * * *
In the throne room, only Endymion stood beside Beryl's throne. The Queen beckoned Nephrite to stand at the other side of the throne. "Where's Kunzite?" he asked.
"Kunzite is dead," Beryl replied coldly.
"Dead?" Nephrite repeated. So suddenly... It was hard to imagine someone with Kunzite's presence and strength dead. "What happened?"
"He was a fool. He went to challenge the Sailor Senshi without telling me, and without my permission. Sailor Moon killed him. Because of his meddling, our strategy has failed. The Senshi, all five of them, are on their way here. I have sent out the DD Girls to eliminate all of them but Sailor Moon."
Nephrite swore silently. He thought of the scared-looking little girls he had talked to, not too long ago: Ami, Rei, Makoto, Minako. They were indeed doomed. The DD Girls were lazy--he had written them off as useless a long time ago--but when they did decide to do something they were strong, cunning, and vicious. The important thing was Sailor Moon and the Silver Crystal, he reminded himself. Those were the things that had to be protected at all costs, it was Sailor Moon and the Crystal that would destroy Beryl. All other considerations were secondary.
A distant sound of explosions and screams echoed and rumbled through the halls of the Dark Kingdom, reaching the throne room. Beryl's mouth stretched out into a reptilian grin. "That's the first one," she said.
* * * * * * * *
Naru had not moved from her huddled position on the floor. Suddenly the ground trembled, and the sound--no, the sense--of a scream filled her mind. She jumped to her feet, overcome with an urgent need to do something. Somewhere, someone needed her help. She hesitated, not knowing what to do. Nephrite had told her not to leave the room, no matter what. But she was needed somewhere else... Surely he wouldn't expect her to stay here when there was something that needed to be done. Naru put on her shoes and went to the doorway.
Nephrite had shown her how the door worked, in case there was an emergency when he wasn't there, but she had never used it. She had never before left this room by herself. The mechanism was very simple; the door was only illusion. All she had to do was place her hand on the non-existent stone while firmly believing that it didn't exist. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the non-reality of the stone, and placed her hand on it. Or on where it should have been. She looked; the door was open.
Naru ran into the corridor, then stopped. To her right, far in the distance, she could hear a faint chaos of noise; a draft of cold air flowed from that direction. She ran towards the source of the cold air and the noise, her senses leading her through the twists and turns of the dim tunnels.
She came to a place where the tunnel had collapsed. Before her rose a small mountain of rock, ice, and snow. Something deep inside her, in that source of life and knowledge where she had turned before, drove her to climb atop the piles of rubble, searching for--she would know when she found it. She set her hand on something cold and fleshy, and snatched it away, startled. She looked at what she had touched and saw the mangled body of a youma, obviously female, tall and shapely, wearing a revealing bathing-suit-type costume.
Naru kept digging, then caught a handful of pleated green fabric. Pushing the dirt and snow away, she uncovered a short skirt, followed by the rest of a Sailor Senshi uniform, then the form of one of the Senshi. The tall one, Jupiter. Makoto. She was entangled in vines wrapped tightly around her body. She was so cold and still, she couldn't possibly still be alive, but Naru detected just the faintest traces of breathing and heartbeat.
Makoto would die if Naru didn't get her someplace safe and warm right away. Naru freed the Scout's long legs from the rubble, then started tearing the vines apart. They were thick and strong, but, working strand by strand, Naru managed to break them. When Makoto was free of the vines, Naru hooked her arms under Makoto's arms and across her chest. Briefly she thought of Makoto's cold, rejecting look when she had tried to plead with Usagi to listen to her, then banished the thought from her mind. Jupiter was only being loyal to Sailor Moon, as was right. Carefully backing down the pile of rubble, doing her best not to slip on the ice and loose rocks, Naru pulled Jupiter away from the scene of the disaster.
The Sailor Senshi was considerably taller and heavier than Naru, a dead weight in her arms, but, doggedly, Naru pulled Makoto back along the corridors. Rounding a corner, she came upon a group of five lower youma carrying shovels who were rushing to the collapsed section of tunnel. One of them growled at Naru and raised its shovel over her head. Naru screamed, then another shovel came down over the youma's head, cracking it like an eggshell. "Lady Naru," the second youma said in its inhuman, choked-sounding voice. "We'll protect Lady Naru."
Naru stared, until she remembered the necessity of getting Makoto to safety as soon as possible. "Thank you," she said to the four remaining youma. They arranged themselves around her and Jupiter, staffs ready to fend off attack, and accompanied the two girls back to Naru and Nephrite's chambers.
Naru settled Makoto on the floor, then covered her with a fur from the bed. She sat down on the floor beside Makoto, and tried to catch her breath. She laid a hand on Makoto's forehead; the tall girl was still so cold, the signs of life were nearly undetectable. As she had done when Nephrite was stabbed in the lung, Naru fed a little of her own life-energy into Makoto.
A moment later the floor trembled again; Naru felt a second mental scream, a second call for help. This time the flow of cold air came from her left. She left two of her youma guarding the door. "Come with me," she told the other two youma, and started off through the maze of tunnels.
Her instincts and senses led her to another pile of rock, snow, and ice. She found the mangled body of another scantily-clad female youma, then dug Sailor Mercury from the rubble. While she broke the vines that bound the Scout, she remembered Ami saying, I'm sorry, Naru, but I have to take Usagi's side in this. Naru shook her head, dismissing the memory, then clasped Ami under the arms and around the chest and began dragging her back to safety.
Ami was considerably smaller than Makoto, but the way back was longer this time. On the way, Naru and her youma-guardians met another, larger, group of youma. After a brief battle, the youma who were loyal to Naru and Nephrite defeated the others. Her bodyguard now increased to five, Naru brought Ami to the room. She checked the dark-haired girl's vital signs again, gave her a boost of life-energy, and covered her with a fur. Exhausted and shaking from exertion, she tried to gather her strength. Two more to go. Or maybe three; would the youma who were attacking the Senshi also try to get Sailor Moon? After a little thought, Naru decided that they wouldn't. Sailor Moon had that crystal that Queen Beryl wanted, and the Queen would not risk the crystal getting lost. She would want Sailor Moon to bring it to her.
Naru didn't know how she would have the strength to rescue two more Senshi. But she had no choice; Sailor Moon couldn't fight Beryl alone. She would need her Senshi to help her, and it seemed to be up to Naru to help the Senshi. Naru pressed her hand low on her abdomen, and detected the tiny glow of life there. She would do what she had to, no matter how impossible it seemed, to ensure that her baby would have a world besides the Dark Kingdom to live in. At least now she had the help of the youma that Nephrite had trained to be loyal to him.
The next quaking, the next scream, came too soon. Accompanied by her five youma-guards, Naru found the scene of the next cave-in. Digging through the rocks and snow, oblivious to the alternating numbness and pain in her cut and abraded hands, she found the third Sailor Scout. This must be Sailor Venus, the newest one, who had come along after Naru and Nephrite fled to the Dark Kingdom. She looked familiar, with her long blonde hair topped with a jaunty red bow. Naru turned the Senshi over to two of her youma, who carried the fallen soldier with awkward gentleness through the halls to the sanctuary of her and Nephrite's room. A still-growing guard of youma surrounded them. Sailor Venus--Sailor V, Naru realized. This girl was the legendary Sailor V, star of comic books, movies, and video games. Cool, Naru thought absently, I might be saving Sailor V's life.
The youma laid Sailor Venus down on the floor next to the other two Senshi. Naru covered her with a fur and gave her a little extra life-energy to keep her going.
There was a little bit longer interval before the fourth attack, but still barely long enough for Naru's shivering to ease and for her to catch her breath. Her arms, back, and hands ached from digging through snow and rubble, her feet were soaked inside her shoes from melted snow. Then came the tremor, the silent scream, and Naru wearily set out to find and rescue the fourth Senshi. This one would be Sailor Mars, Rei, whose temper had always intimidated Naru. That didn't matter; she had to be saved.
Rei lay near the charred corpse of what Naru could only assume was another of the attacking youma. Sailor Mars had gone down fighting. Assited by two of her youma, Naru dug Rei out of the icy rubble, checked for signs of life, and gave her to the youma to carry back to the room. The chaos in the tunnels was growing. Her youma guards were almost constantly battling hostile youma, and the ones who were carrying Rei had to give the fallen Senshi to Naru so they could join the battle. She was so tired, she didn't think she could make it. At times, there was that curious shifting feeling, as though she were two people at once, like the night she had faced down Zoisite in the hospital. Then, the second identity, that of the maidservant from long ago, seemed to meld with Naru. She felt stronger. She could finish doing what had to be done.
Back in the room, Naru put Rei by the other three unconscious Sailor Senshi, placing them all close together so they could share their body warmth as it returned. She tended to Rei and gave each of them one more boost of her life-energy, then covered them all with layers of furs. Then she collapsed onto the blankets that remained on the bed. She was shaking, sore, and cold, exhausted to her bones and suddenly overwhelmed by the fear she hadn't let herself feel while on her rescue missions. Usagi was alone, without her Senshi--what would happen to her now? She curled up in a blanket and let herself cry, not even bothering to try to do anything about her cut, scraped, bleeding hands.
* * * * * * * *
"Good. Sailor Moon is alone now," Beryl said. The Queen was waiting in a private audience chamber with her two remaining commanders. Endymion knelt before her, a posture designed to make it clear to Sailor Moon where his loyalties lay. Nephrite stood a few feet to Beryl's other side, his sword drawn and standing upright before him, his hands casually resting on the hilt. He left off hoping that some miracle would intervene to save the other Senshi, and focused on what was to come. Usagi and the Silver Crystal must be protected at all costs, and Beryl and her demon mistress destroyed.
In an extravagant gesture, Beryl sent out a sphere of energy and captured Sailor Moon in it. The energy sphere deposited Sailor Moon on the black floor of the dimly-lit chamber, then disappeared. The girl struggled up to her hands and knees. She was distraught; as would only be expected, Nephrite thought, after seeing her friends killed by the DD Girls.
"Welcome to the Dark Kingdom," the Queen greeted Sailor Moon. "I'm sure you remember Prince Endymion." In a small bit of magic, she made the shadows shift to reveal Endymion kneeling before the Queen, holding her hand pressed to his lips.
Sailor Moon gasped. "Mamoru, no!"
"I want that crystal," Beryl said. "Get it for me, Endymion, and destroy Sailor Moon."
Endymion got to his feet. "It's been nice knowing you, Sailor Moon," he sneered. He drew his sword and lunged towards her.
In two long strides, Nephrite placed himself directly between Endymion and Sailor Moon. His and Endymion's swords met with a loud clash. Endymion looked absolutely shocked for a second, then the battle began in earnest, the two warriors driving each other back and forth across the small chamber. Sailor Moon pressed herself back against a wall, making small, frightened sounds, while above the noise of the swordfight, Beryl screeched, "What is this? Nephrite, what is the meaning of this?"
Though his right shoulder was stiff and weak, Nephrite was still able to drive the Prince in circles, forcing him to change positions often enough that Beryl could not attack. He saw the Queen repeatedly trying to take aim at him, then cursing in frustration as he moved out of range and Endymion became vulnerable. He laughed at Beryl's weakness, her lust for Endymion preventing her from destroying the one who had betrayed her.
A brilliant golden light flashed from behind Nephrite, where Sailor Moon sat huddled against the wall. Mamoru threw an arm across his eyes to shield them from the light, and Nephrite took advantage of the Prince's brief blindness to trip him. Not fair combat, but then there was too much at stake here to worry about fairness. Endymion tried to get up, but Nephrite planted one booted foot on his chest and pushed him back down. He rested the point of his sword on Endymion's throat. Beryl cursed again; she could not destroy Nephrite without endangering Endymion.
"Traitor!" Endymion gasped. "Why are you doing this?"
"I am no longer a traitor," Nephrite replied. "I serve my liege lord Prince Endymion, as I did before. If that means I must kill you, my Prince, in order to protect your Princess as I once promised I would, then that is what I will do."
"No!" Sailor Moon cried. "Don't kill him!" She crawled over to kneel beside the fallen Prince. "Mamoru, see, it's our locket, don't you remember?" In her cupped hands she held out a gold star-shaped locket. It opened by itself, emitting soft, haunting music and gently sparkling light. "Don't you remember the love there was between us, Mamoru?" she pled tearfully. "All you have to do is touch the locket, Mamoru, and you will be healed. Please."
"Usagi...?" Endymion said, sounding confused.
Nephrite kept his foot on Endymion's chest as the young man slowly reached a hand towards the glowing golden locket. "No!" Beryl shrieked. "You can't do this! Traitor!"
Endymion's hand brushed the locket, and light flooded over him. His back arched up, then his body relaxed. Sailor Moon dropped the locket and gathered him into her arms while Nephrite stepped aside.
"No!" Beryl screamed. A long, deadly-sharp black crystal appeared in her hands. Before Nephrite could move, she launched it like a spear towards Sailor Moon. Suddenly, Mamoru shifted. A red rose plunged into Beryl's breast right where her heart would be if she indeed had one, just as the crystal spear drove through Endymion's chest. "Mamoru!" Sailor Moon screamed.
Beryl shrieked, an unearthly, horrible sound, and collapsed. "You haven't seen the last of me!" she cried as her body dissolved through the floor. As Beryl disappeared, so did the crystal that penetrated Mamoru's body.
In the silence after Beryl's disappearance, Usagi held Mamoru in her arms, his blood soaking both of them. "Don't die, Mamoru," she sobbed.
Mamoru touched her face. "I'm sorry, Usako." Then he looked at Nephrite. "Thank you for not letting me harm her." By now his voice was barely audible
Nephrite knelt on one knee before the pair, head bowed, right fist over his heart, left hand holding his sword at an angle in front of him. Mamoru moaned and collapsed against Usagi. "Mama-chan, no!" she cried.
Nephrite helped Usagi carefully lay the Prince on the floor. "It's time now, Sailor Moon," Nephrite said gently. "I can't help you with this battle. It's up to you."
"But what about Mamoru?" the distraught girl asked.
"I'll take care of him. May the power of the stars be upon you, Princess."
Sailor Moon bowed her head, then raised the Crescent Moon Wand above her head. The Crystal began to glow...
Nephrite hoisted the dying Prince across his shoulders and teleported to his rooms.
* * * * * * * *
Naru sat up quickly when Nephrite appeared, with Mamoru slung across his shoulders. "Nephrite!" she cried out in relief. Nephrite stared at the four Sailor Senshi on the floor, then at Naru. Carefully, he lowered the unconscious, blood-soaked Prince to the floor. "Come help me with him."
"I'm sorry," Naru said as she hurried over to the wounded man. "I disobeyed you. I knew they needed help, so I went to help them. I couldn't just leave them to die. Some of the youma protected me. I hope I did the right thing."
"Yes, Naru-chan, you did. Exactly right. I don't care if you disobeyed me; I'm proud of you." He wanted to hold her in his arms and kiss her, but she was already busy with Mamoru. He helped her take off the Prince's armor, then she took Mamoru's shirt off and wadded it against the wound in his chest. She closed her eyes, biting her lip as she concentrated, and Nephrite sensed the transfer of her life energy into Mamoru.
When she was done, Nephrite took her battered hands in his. "Oh, Naru-chan, your hands. You've done it again."
* * * * * * * *
Once Mamoru was safe, there was nothing else to do but wait. The battle was in Usagi's hands, at least for the moment. Nephrite kept his armor on; it was too much of a project to take it off and then put it on if he needed it again. He sat on the edge of the bed, Naru huddled against him, and the two of them kept watch over the Senshi and Mamoru. The Senshi all lay so still that they might have been dead. They had faint but steady pulses, and the movement of their breathing was just barely visible, but it was clear that their spirits were far away.
Nephrite had summoned Dusty and sent her for bandages and salve for Naru's hands. Just as Dusty reappeared, the ground began to shake furiously. The force of the earthquake threw Nephrite and Naru from the bed to the floor. Dust and bits of rock showered down from the ceiling. Nephrite threw himself over Naru to protect her from the cave-in that seemed imminent.
Finally, after what could have been an hour or just a few minutes, the shaking stopped. Nephrite cautiously raised his head. The room was more or less intact. He sat up, shaking dust and bits of rock from his head, and helped Naru sit up. "It's over," he said. "I'll go see if anything else is still standing." He opened the door, then looked into the corridor to see nothing but piles of rubble and dead youma. Besides the emptiness and ruin, there was also a curious lightness in his mind and heart. For the first time in a thousand years, he felt the absence of Metallia's taint. "Usagi won." He looked at Naru, then at Dusty, who was sitting where she had fallen to the floor, still clutching the bag from the drugstore. "The Dark Kingdom is destroyed."
A burst of joy, an unfamiliar sense of freedom, filled Nephrite. He hugged Naru, laughing, forgetting to be careful of his armor. Naru looked up at him with shining eyes. "I feel free," she said. "The spell the Queen put on me is gone. We can leave now."
Nephrite buried his face in her hair. "Soon. I'd better go find Usagi first." He kissed her soundly, then teleported away.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 15
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury