by Moon Momma
* * * * * * * *
"Naru." Someone was shaking her awake. She stirred, and looked up into blue eyes. "Beryl wants us," Nephrite said."She doesn't like to be kept waiting."
"Is there someplace where I can wash up?" Naru asked.
"Over there." He indicated a nook opening off of the main room. Naru picked up her clothing and padded over. Peering in, she saw a bathroom of sorts. The fixtures were primitive, being worked out of the same rock as the walls of the cavern, but cleverly devised, to collect the water that ran in rivulets down the walls. Naru washed and dressed, then went back into the main room. After finding her hair ribbon among the bedding, she tied her hair back up in its usual bow. "Okay, I'm ready," she said, stepping into her black loafers. Then she looked down at her school uniform, which was somewhat the worse for wear. "Nephrite?"
"Hmm?" He was fastening his belt around his jacket.
"If you go outside again sometime, could you bring me some more clothes? I didn't exactly have time to pack a suitcase."
"You don't have to wait for me to go." He snapped the fingers of his right hand and called, "Dusty!"
Dusty the cleaning-youma appeared in a swirl of gray dust. She was a typical voluptuous female-humanoid youma, with hair that looked like a feather duster sprouting from the top of her head, and greenish-blue skin. She wore sensible brown shoes and a knee-length gray charwoman's dress which, in keeping with accepted youma fashion, seemed to be two sizes too small and missing its top six buttons. "Yes, Lord Nephrite," she said.
"Dusty, I want you to bring in some decent food for Naru and me." He smiled at Naru. "There is food here, but I doubt you would find it very appetizing." He addressed the youma again. "You know what I prefer, and I imagine you can find something that Naru will like. Also, please acquire some appropriate clothing for Naru."
"Yes, Master." Dusty disappeared in another swirl of her namesake dust.
Naru stared at where the youma had been. "How's she going to go shopping, looking like that?" Naru asked.
Nephrite was sitting on the bed, pulling on his boots. "She can disguise herself to look as human as you." He stood, briskly pulled on his white gloves, and gave himself a brief inspection in the mirror mounted on the back of the column where his throne was. "We'd better hurry. Beryl's starting to sound impatient." He took her hand, seeming to seek encouragement as much as to offer it.
Naru gave his hand a squeeze. "Let's go see what she wants, then."
Hand in hand, they made their way through the maze of tunnels to Beryl's throne room. "Let me do all the talking, unless Beryl asks you a direct question," Nephrite told Naru. "If that happens, say as little as you can without arousing her suspicions."
* * * * * * * *
Beryl stared at the pair with her cold, oily eyes. "I should not have to call you so many times, Nephrite."
"It took us a few moments to get ready, my Queen."
An all-too-familiar tenor voice spoke from the air somewhere off to Naru's left. "Well, well. Nephrite the Hermit is finally 'getting some action,' as the humans say. How old is she, twelve, thirteen?"
"I'm almost fifteen," Naru said at the same time that Nephrite growled, "It's none of your damn business."
"Gentlemen," Beryl said. "You are wasting my time. Nephrite, I'm still not quite sure I can trust you. You have been a troublemaker in the past, too set on doing things your own way without proper respect for my authority. Therefore, your assignment, until further notice, is to supervise the training of the lower youma."
Zoisite tittered. "How the mighty have fallen."
"Zoisite." The queen did not sound pleased. "I get the distinct feeling that your assigned mission is not keeping you busy enough. Do you need some additional chores?"
"No, my Queen." All the self-assurance was gone from Zoisite's voice. He disappeared in a flurry of cherry blossoms.
The Queen stared at the place where Zoisite had been. There was a hard look in her eyes that made Naru afraid even though it was not directed at her. "That young man relies too much on Kunzite's position to protect him. Now, girl," the Queen said, turning her orange gaze on Naru. "Tell me what you can about Sailor Moon. Why does she continually evade our attempts to defeat her?"
"My Queen--" Nephrite began, but was cut off by Beryl. "I asked the girl, not you, Nephrite. I expect an answer from her. Well, girl?"
Naru had no idea. She didn't think Queen Beryl would accept a plain "I don't know" as an answer, and she didn't dare look to Nephrite for help. If the Queen thought Nephrite was telling her what to say, she might start to get suspicious. "She's just lucky, I guess. I don't know. She never tells me anything."
"But you must know something. You have been involved in so many battles."
Naru shrugged. A plan for handling this had finally come to mind. "I don't know."
"That is not a satisfactory answer, girl. I demand that you tell me Sailor Moon's secret!"
"You're not my mom. I don't have to tell you anything." She folded her arms and looked at a point somewhere behind Beryl's right shoulder, and pouted.
"Nephrite! You will order your little pet here to answer my question!"
"Answer her, girl." Naru heard tension in his voice; he almost sounded angry. She hoped he would catch on to her strategy.
"Get real, Nephrite," she said in her snottiest tone. "You're my boyfriend, not my boss. I don't have to do what you say."
There were a few seconds of dead silence. Then Nephrite bowed and saluted and said, "I apologize, Queen Beryl-sama. The girl is at an age when humans tend to be stubborn and rebellious." His voice nearly vibrated with tension.
The Queen was silent for a moment that seemed to stretch out for an eternity. Her clawlike fingers writhed over the crystal ball. "Nephrite," she finally said, "I trust you will train the girl to be more obedient. You are both dismissed."
Nephrite bowed again. "Yes, my Queen." Naru curtsied quickly, then Nephrite took her hand and dragged her out of the throne room.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Naru?" he demanded when they were well away from Beryl. He was shaking, and his tension showed in every line and movement of his body.
"I kept from giving her any information without making her suspicious," Naru said. "Isn't that what you wanted?"
"Did you have to do it that way? Couldn't you have just made something up?"
"I can't lie as well as you can. And I mean that as a compliment," she added when he looked at her.
He sighed, but one corner of his mouth quirked up slightly. "Okay, Naru-chan, it's time for lesson number one." He seemed to be looking for a particular place along the wall. As far as Naru could tell, they were nowhere near his room. After a moment he put his hand on the wall and part of it dissolved, leaving a doorway.
They stepped through the opening into a large chamber that appeared to be a storage room. There were piles of armor, looking like it had been hastily discarded, mounds of cloth, piles of broken rock, and unidentifiable heaps of other sorts of castoffs. Towards the far end of the room was what looked like a giant block of glass or crystal. Encased within the block was a man with short blond hair and an expression of horror frozen on his face. He looked vaguely familiar.
"Come here." Nephrite pulled Naru over to the glass block. "Naru, meet Jadeite. Jadeite, Naru. You'll forgive Jadeite if he doesn't say much. He displeased Beryl and now he's the world's largest paperweight. I don't want you to end up like that, Naru, and I would rather not end up like that myself."
"Oh my gosh." Naru studied the man. "That's--that's Jae from the Hikawa Shrine, and also that cute gym owner, and--Is he alive in there, Nephrite?"
"No one knows. The general opinion is that he is. Opinion is equally divided on whether or not he is conscious. I tend to think that he is."
"So he knows what's happening to him? He can see us right now?"
"I believe so."
"Oh, how awful." Naru walked around a little, studying the encapsulated Jadeite from several angles. "That poor man. Isn't there anything anyone can do?"
"The spell is eternally binding."
"So he's like that--forever." Naru suddenly felt terribly cold and frightened. She moved close to Nephrite and he put his arms around her.
"I don't want either of us to end up like that, Naru. So please try to be as circumspect as you can with Beryl. You were very clever in there just now, but I don't know if you would be able to get away with that again."
Naru nodded her head against his chest. He put a hand behind her head and tilted her face back so he could kiss her. Finally he pulled away from her and whispered, "This is a very dangerous thing we're doing, Naru-chan. Just trust me, and do what I say. I'm glad you're with me; I don't think I could do it alone."
They left the storage room. Naru gave one last glance back at the man trapped in the crystal. "Maybe, if Sailor Moon defeats Beryl," she said, "you can try to free him."
"We'll see," Nephrite said. "If Sailor Moon defeats Beryl and Metallia."
"The demon Beryl serves. The source of her power. You didn't think Beryl was capable of making all of this by herself, did you?"
"I guess not," Naru said. A demon? she thought. That didn't sound good. "Does Sailor Moon know about Metallia?"
"I told her, the night the youma attacked us. I don't know if she believes anything I said to her that night."
They walked in uneasy silence for a moment. "Is your new job, training the youma, really that bad?" Naru asked. She wanted to try to encourage Nephrite even though she wasn't exactly feeling confident herself at the moment.
"It's pretty low, as far as status goes," Nephrite said quietly, as though he didn't want to be overheard. "The important thing is, it fits in perfectly with what I'm hoping to accomplish here."
"How is that?"
"The youma, especially the lower orders, are rabid gossips. There just isn't much else for them to do. No one pays any attention to what they're saying--it would be like listening to pack animals talk among themselves. I intend to pay attention. Also, their living conditions are very harsh, and they're treated pretty badly. I don't think it would take much to buy their loyalty. I'd like to have an army, even a small one, on our side."
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite was reluctant to leave Naru alone in their chambers and go to work. The audience with Queen Beryl and Naru's introduction to the man trapped in the crystal had been unnerving, to say the least, for him and, he was sure, for her too, though she seemed to be doing her best to hide it. Nephrite held her and kissed her and told her that Dusty would be returning before too long, until Naru finally said, "You'd probably better get going. I'll be okay." He didn't believe her, but he also didn't dare neglect his duties any longer. He kissed her once more, then teleported to the lower levels of the cavernous stronghold that housed the Dark Kingdom.
The lower youma were housed down there, crowded into several large chambers opening off of a vast common hall. The drivers who handled these youma had already herded them into the common hall to await Nephrite's arrival. There was a great deal of whispered, grunted conversation that died down when Nephrite strode onto the dais at one end of the hall.
He stared down at the gray masses below him. Stupid faces with blank eyes stared back up at him. These were the slaves of the Dark Kingdom, the ones who did the hard and dirty manual labor, the cannon-fodder in battles should any battles come, the expendables. Not that any of us aren't expendable, Nephrite thought. Most of the creatures below him had been peasants and common soldiers on Earth and the other planets who had been swept up by Metallia. Many of them had been his own men, the accusing thought came to him, turned into beasts because of his treason. The rest of the youma housed down here were the failed results of various attempts to create new youma in the Dark Kingdom. The higher youma, the serving and fighting youma, the ones that he himself had sent out against the Sailor Senshi, were drawn and formed from the strongest and smartest of the lower youma, usually the females, and also from the few successful experiments.
All the youma in the hall were now staring up at him expectantly. He spoke, putting just a bit of charming, smooth Sanjouin Masato into his voice. "Queen Beryl has asked me to personally oversee your training." Never mind that this was intended as punishment for him; he made it sound like a privilege for the youma. "The day is coming when strong, loyal, well-trained warriors will be needed. That is what I intend to turn all of you into."
He sensed the unaccustomed thoughts, wordless and vague, that began to form in the youmas' slow minds. The great Lord Nephrite, second mightiest of the Generals, was speaking to them personally. He hadn't sneered at them, called them worms, scum, good-for-nothing. He promised to make them into warriors. They mattered. They could serve well.
"But first," Nephrite continued, "your living conditions are appalling. I will assign cleaning crews, and see that you are given the proper equipment. I will also be reviewing your food rations and increasing them as necessary."
He... cared about them. They would be allowed to use some of their strength to benefit themselves. They would have clean quarters and enough food. Feelings stirred and began to form, feelings directed at the General standing before them.
Nephrite looked out over his audience. Many of the faces before him, not most, but a significant minority, were filled with sheer awe. Adoration, even. He smiled. Those ones were already his. They would do anything he asked.
* * * * * * * *
Though there was no way to judge time here, not even slight changes in the light, Naru had the feeling that her 'night' had been too short. She lay down for a nap and awoke when Dusty arrived back from her errands. The youma had brought bags of groceries, and boxes and parcels from one of Tokyo's finest department stores. Dusty unpacked the grocery bags to reveal fresh fruit, granola, juice, milk, crackers, expensive cheese, a bottle of wine, smoked salmon, and paper and plastic dishes.
"Won't these things spoil without a refrigerator?" Naru asked.
"They won't," Dusty said. "Ask Master why not. He understands it better than I do."
"Okay." Naru started digging into the purchases from the department store. It looked like Dusty had bought one of everything in the teen department: cute, trendy tops, skirts, and jeans, and tights and flat shoes in bright colors. There was also a suppy of undergarments in cute, bright colors and a few modest, lace-trimmed nightgowns in cute prints.
"Did I do well?"
"Yes, you did, Dusty. Thank you."
"Thank you, Mistress. I am happy to serve you in anything you need," Dusty said. She disappeared in a swirl of dust. Naru looked at her amazing new wardrobe for another moment, then began changing out of her school uniform.
Dusty reappeared a short time later, this time bringing a sleeping mat, pillow, and blankets. She started to spread them out on the floor on the opposite side of the room from the bed. "What's that for?" Naru asked.
"Master thought it would be best this way," the youma replied.
The bedding was for Nephrite, Naru realized. He wasn't planning on sharing the bed with her any more. It couldn't be because he didn't want to; he must still be feeling bad about what had happened, and was going to try to make sure it didn't happen again. Naru decided it would be better to not say anything about it for now, and to let him work it out for himself.
* * * * * * * *
When Nephrite arrived back in his chambers, Naru flew into his arms. He lifted her up to kiss her, then set her down and held her out at arm's length so he could look at her. "I see Dusty returned from her errands. I hope the things she brought are acceptable."
She smiled. "It's all really nice. After seeing some of the things the youma wear, I wasn't sure what to expect."
He smiled, running a discerning eye over the long-sleeved knit top and short, flared skirt she was wearing. They appeared to be of the highest quality. "Do you think I would have a youma on my personal staff who didn't have good taste?"
"No." Naru smiled up at him. "I guess if I'm going to be stuck here for a while, at least I'll be well-dressed." Her smile faltered a little.
He pulled her close to him again, wishing he had better comfort to offer her than that, then said, "I hope Dusty brought some food too."
Naru showed him the provisions, and Nephrite helped himself to cheese, smoked salmon, crackers, and wine. "Dusty said you'd explain to me why this stuff won't spoil," Naru said.
"Mmm. Okay," Nephrite mumbled around his food. He was starving. When he could speak politely, he said, "The whole Dark Kingdom is like a stasis field. The influence of Metallia acts in opposition to the forces of life-energy. Simply put, that means that living things, or things derived from living things, such as food, don't change here. We don't age here--I still look the same age I was when I first joined Beryl--we don't grow sick and die or grow old and die. We can die, but death has to be imposed from outside, by violence or other extreme conditions. We eat and sleep to replenish our energy, but we won't die from not doing so, unless the deprivation goes on for a very long time. There's no decay, no death, no birth, no change, no growth, none of the things that really characterize life. Does that answer your question?"
"Yes." She nibbled at a cracker and drank some juice. "Does that mean that if I never get to leave here, I'll look fourteen forever?"
Something about the question and the way she asked it made his heart break. He leaned over to her, his meal forgotten, and gathered her close.
"I don't mind being here forever if we're together," she said. Her voice shook a little in spite of her words.
He didn't say anything. There was nothing he could say, except to promise her that she wouldn't be here forever, and he wasn't entirely sure that wouldn't be another lie.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 9
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury