The Shi-Tennou Return
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As he watched Naru crying, tears began to well up in Nephrite's eyes. Even the warmth spreading through his body couldn't take away the deep sadness in his heart. He had said he would take her out for a chocolate parfait. It would have sounded silly, but he had lied to her so many times, he didn't want to lie to her again.
Now it was too late.
He was a spirit, standing and unable to do anything to comfort the girl who cried over his fading body. Nephrite tried to place a hand on her shoulder, to give her a hug and wipe away her tears, but he simply passed through her body. Nobody could see him. He was all alone there, forced to watch Naru's heart breaking into pieces like his corpse had.
Soon, he could feel himself rising into the heavens, along with the twinkling remains of his physical existence. Earth grew smaller, the clouds began to envelope him.
Was this... dying?
"Naru... Naru... please don't cry," he whispered.
He closed his eyes and felt the tears streaming down his cheeks. Even ghosts could cry, it seemed. Maybe it was the price he had to pay for siding with Beryl, but this was all he had known since his awakening. Where was he going to go now? To Heaven... or to hell?
Nephrite suddenly felt someone embracing him from behind, a gentle embrace, and a head leaning on his shoulder. Turning around, he opened his eyes to see a figure with familiar odango hair.
The figure shook her head.
Blinking again, Nephrite could see her more clearly; she was wearing a white gown and had a yellow upturned crescent on her forehead.
"Wh-who are you?" he asked, taking a step backward.
"I am Queen Serenity of the Silver Millenium," the figure replied with a sad smile.
"Why am I here?"
"Because you have died. Soon the other two will die as well... but they will not be here."
"Where will they..." Nephrite began, wondering how she could see the future.
"A dark place," Serenity replied, "They will be alone, completely alone."
Looking around, Nephrite saw a beautiful green meadow filled with colourful, fragrant flowers, and blossoming trees.
"Many of those who perished in the great battle that destroyed the Silver Millenium and the Earth Kingdom are here," Serenity continued, "Those who go to the dark place can escape... but only if they wish for someone to help them."
Nephrite furrowed an eyebrow.
"And can I escape from here as well?" he asked.
"I want to return to Earth," Nephrite stated, "Can I be revived, even in this state?"
"You can," Serenity replied, "But it will come at a cost. A toll must be paid before you can return. You must give up something, and in your case, as with Zoisite and Kunzite, you must eventually locate Jadeite. He suffers even to this day."
"Hmm," Nephrite grunted, thinking about his former colleague, "He was trash."
"Was he?" Serenity asked, "Jadeite was loyal to a great fault. He focused every fiber of his being on serving his ruler."
"He was trash!" Nephrite repeated.
"Look inside your heart, Nephrite. Try to remember who you once were, and who you once served before the great destruction."
Serenity reached out and touched Nephrite's forehead. The former Dark Kingdom lord felt a massive wave hit him, then saw Prince Endymion, and felt himself bowing to his ruler, the one he had vowed to protect. Then he saw an image of a beautiful woman with flowing, wavy red hair. Something was taking over her, and she grew more and more obsessed with Endymion. Finally, he saw himself and the other three lords of the heavens at the front line, attacking the Moon Kingdom. That final memory was like a spear through his heart.
The images faded, and upon opening his eyes, Nephrite found himself on his knees, and was weeping loudly. He couldn't look at Serenity, not after what he had done. A gentle hand tilted his head up by the chin.
"Stand up," Serenity whispered.
"I don't... belong here," Nephrite choked his words, "I don't... deserve it."
"You do," Serenity countered, "Naru helped save your soul. You are not evil."
She held Nephrite close, stroking his wavy auburn hair, while he sobbed uncontrollably into her shoulder. Together, they rose from the ground and flew over the vast meadow, over to a large, intricately-carved stone fountain.
The former general sat down at the edge, absentmindedly dipping his hand in the cool water. This was to be his heaven? Such beauty and peace, and yet, he knew it was too good for someone like him.
He gazed at a patch of delphinium, bent down and smelled the purple flowers.
"I don't deserve to be here," he whispered, "Not yet. I saved a life at the cost of my own, but I made her cry. I can't bear it. And even sacrificing myself cannot pay for the atrocities I had committed against the Silver Millennium."
"You must forgive yourself," Serenity said, plucking a yellow carnation and handing it to the former Earth Kingdom lord, "Because I have forgiven you. Wash away those tears, Nephrite, because you have a new mission... you must again protect Prince Endymion... you and the other lords."
Nephrite accepted the small gift, then scooped some water out of the fountain and splashed it against his face, sighing at how refreshingly cool it felt against his skin. Suddenly feeling thirsty, he took a long drink. Water had never tasted so good.
He then felt Queen Serenity's arm on his shoulder.
"Nephrite," the queen said, "It is time for you to go back."
Nephrite nodded and started to get up from the spot where he was kneeling, but Serenity motioned for him to stay.
"There is a toll," she reiterated, "You must give up something to go back."
"Anything," Nephrite said, "Anything to go back... to fulfill my promises."
Serenity knelt down in front of the auburn-haired lord and dried his face with the hem of her dress. Then she stroked his back and began to reach inside just below his neck. The massage felt very pleasant, but soon a jolt like that from an electric shock startled Nephrite. It went through his entire lower body, and he slumped over, his head resting in in the queen's lap.
"Is this... the toll?" Nephrite asked, reaching to push back a stray strand of hair from his face with an arm and hand that felt like they were suddenly made of lead.
The queen nodded and held Nephrite's hand.
"You will find that it is a small price," she said.
Nephrite's hand felt slightly numb, and he rubbed his fingers together, frowning. Even moving them was difficult, and they felt a little stiff.
"The toll is a tiny piece of your spinal cord, Nephrite," Serenity continued, "A very small part, but something which will affect you greatly... yet it will be a small price compared to what you gain."
"I see," Nephrite whispered, smiling sadly up at the queen, "I'm so sorry... for everything."
The queen cradled Nephrite in her arms, and stood up. She began to sing softly, causing the former Dark Kingdom lord to doze off.
When he awoke, Nephrite saw that he was in the mansion that had been his home, and he was lying in the steel-framed bed. He heard Serenity speaking, but couldn't see her.
"You will have everything you need, Nephrite," the queen said, "Just lay low for awhile, and remember your mission. Lay low for a few seasons, and come out after you see a great light in the sky."
"A great light?"
"Yes," Serenity replied, "The light of many Star Seeds."
"Star Seeds? What are you saying?"
"The ones that Sailor Senshi and guardians possess. You yourself have one, as do your fellow lords, and Prince Endymion – Tuxedo Mask."
"Very well, Serenity," Nephrite mumbled, "How will I use mine?"
The yellow carnation appeared above him, and floated down into his hands.
"You will know," Serenity replied, "Now I must go."
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite tried to sit up, but his body felt like it was being pinned down by something heavy. Looking at the side of the bed, he saw a large, padded chair with wheels on it. Then, he heard a knock at the door to his bed chamber.
"Who's there?" he demanded, alarmed that someone else was in the mansion.
"It-it's just me," a timid voice spoke.
The door opened and a chubby woman in a nurse's uniform walked in.
"Sanjouin-san," the woman said, "I need to turn you over now... I-I hope I didn't come at a bad time."
"You didn't," Nephrite – Masato – replied softly, "I just... had a bad dream. Must be those late night movies."
He and the nurse shared a quick chuckle, while she gently shifted him over onto his side.
"Nurse," he began, hesitating and blushing a little.
"Could you bring me something? I know it is a little late... but could you bring me something... chocolate?"
The nurse raised an eyebrow, but nodded and left the room, leaving Masato to assess the situation. He didn't know how, but he would come back to fulfill his mission... and his promises. Meanwhile, the guardian of Endymion would have to stay away from the public, away from Naru, and come to terms with the toll he had paid. Having a second chance, he decided, was more than worth it.
* * * * * * * *
For months, Sanjouin Masato rarely left his property. He couldn't risk being seen by Naru, or by others who would mistake him for a predator. It would be a given, since despite having only recently turned nineteen, Masato looked to be in his mid-twenties. He did however, before his death, drive like a teen who just got a license. The fake foreign license he had obtained thankfully negated the need for a tacky-looking waakaba – green leaf – bumper decal which would clash with his red Ferrari.
There were plenty of things to do aside from running his corporation – Masato had physical therapy, which involved lifting dumbbells and holding pens, re-learning to write, and even water therapy. Sometimes it was quite awkward, but he enjoyed floating freely in the water. It wasn't however quite so nice to his hair, which would become frizzy and unmanageable after getting wet.
Masato lounged on the sofa one night after his routine physical therapy, his head propped up with an expensive silk pillow, and watched the news. His nurse/therapist would sometimes join him before retiring to her room. Several things were happening, like humans turning into demons... the seven youma, as he remembered – seven champions of the Dark Kingdom. Then other strange demon-things he didn't recognize appeared, followed by humanoid robots.
Three more Senshi had appeared – first a tall one with long hair, then two who were seemingly never seen apart. One of them had wavy hair, and the other had short hair. All three looked older than the Senshi he had known. Their identities and origins were a mystery, but Masato felt like he remembered them, possibly from the great war of the Silver Millenium. He also heard word of a woman who survived a car accident but was in a coma – police suspected foul play.
Other enemies appeared; they were all women, and were making various attempts to extract something from the citizens. Masato decided to investigate in disguise, and took home a plant he had gotten rather cheaply. The whole thing smacked of Jadeite's "Pet-shop Perfume" scheme. No sooner had he brought the 'tellun' home, Masato could feel it attempting to suck something out of him.
Using one of his old powers, a power that he thought was lost, Masato grabbed the plant and burned it, setting off the sprinkler in his room. Then he went to check in on his nurse, finding that she had gotten two of those plants.
"I got one for you," she said, offering Masato the tellun in a rather sweet romantic gesture.
"Those are dangerous!" Masato yelled, wheeling himself over to the nurse he had long since thought of as a friend, "Put them down now!"
"What the heck? Masato! They're just pretty plants and I wanted to give you one..."
The Earth lord could not risk blowing his cover, even to a friend, so he had to let them work their magic. The flowers began to do just that, making the nurse drowsy. Both pots fell to the floor, out of Masoto's reach. Both flowers bloomed, and a hollow appeared in his friend's chest, and a crystal began to emerge. Masato felt a sudden wave of fatigue and a vise-like grip on his chest.
That was it. He had to kill the plants now.
The Earth lord remembered something – the gift that Queen Serenity gave him. Pulling the carnation out from his shirt, Masato began to transform. His clothes turned into a black tuxedo with yellow trim, and glowing brass flowed from the carnation onto his body. Masato felt the numbness melt away, and the muscles in his legs worked again. He could stand!
Masato – Tuxedo Nephrite – attacked the plants with two well-aimed carnations. The telluns withered and died, and as a final measure, Tuxedo Nephrite burned them. Then he called for an ambulance and changed back to his civilian form.
The numbness returned slowly, and he tumbled down to the floor, several feet away from his wheelchair. Feeling grateful for all of the exercises the nurse put him through, Masato pushed himself to a sitting position and scooted over to the chair, hooked his left leg onto it and climbed up into the seat. The auburn-haired Earth lord made note to himself to sit down in his chair before detransforming. Looking down at the floor, he saw a puddle and let out a string of obscenities.
When the nurse awoke, she had no memory of what happened. To cheer his friend up, Masato bought a Venus fly-trap, which she treasured.
* * * * * * * *
He continued to watch the news, waiting for the right moment, and seeing what new enemies the Senshi and Earth faced. During the eclipse, Masato felt an evil energy closing in on the city, and would sometimes investigate the strange circus that had appeared overnight. Once in awhile he would catch sight of Naru, who was now with a bespectacled boy. The sight of her with another saddened Masato, but he was glad that Naru was alive and well.
Then came word of a flying unicorn, and then a meteor shower. His nurse began to obsess with mirrors, looking into her compact or one of the mirrors on the wall. Soon after the meteor shower, strange demons with odango hair began to attack Tokyo. Masato feared for Naru, but he could not do anything to protect her, despite how much his heart ached. It wasn't time to reveal himself yet.
Masato continued to watch and wait, sometimes looking for Naru, all the while paying attention to the news reports about strange animal-like Sailor girls turning people into sailor parodies. There were three new Senshi as well – their fuku looked completely different from those of the Earth Senshi. They also looked much like the Three Lights, an idol group that performed enchanting songs. These songs gave Masato some strange visions, visions which told him the time was drawing near.
Another thing that popped up on the news every so often was a group that called itself "The Happy Hub". Many people had joined it looking for enlightenment and happiness, but there were reports of its members disappearing. Others had spent all their money and were now working long and hard, or moving away.
This alarmed Masato greatly.
"Is this part of my mission?" he wondered, "I need to know when to act!"
"Soon," Serenity's voice replied, "Soon the three will awaken."
"Naru," Masato whispered, "Is Naru safe?"
"For now she is."
"For now," Masato spat, "Not good enough! I don't want any more harm coming to her!"
"It is too late for that. You will have to rescue her."
"Who are you talking to?" The nurse asked, having walked in on the conversation and only heard half of it.
Masato turned and thought of a good save.
"Just... just myself," he lied, "Just writing a drama."
"Well it sounds like a good one," the nurse chuckled.
He noticed the nurse had started looking rather tired and stressed. Dark circles were under her eyes, and she had lost a lot of weight. Yet she had a smile on her face, a dreamy smile, with a painted-on quality.
"Are you alright?" a concerned Masato asked.
"I'm just fine," the nurse replied, "I've begun to learn how to understand things a lot better, why we feel sad and angry, why we fear. I can banish it if I just concentrate more."
Masato's face and shoulders prickled with every red flag going off inside him. Was she...?
"You look unwell," he said, "Why not go retire to your room, or take a vacation?"
"I can't," the nurse replied, "I really need to work more... been having some money problems."
"I can give you a bonus if you need..."
"You don't understand," the nurse said, smiling vacantly, "I cannot be lazy. They told me I must work harder or I will fail!"
Masato's hair stood on end. He needed to do something, and quickly. Grabbing the nurse's hand, Masato tried something he thought he'd never need to do again: steal her energy. When he attempted to initiate the link, however, the Earth lord noticed something else doing the same thing.
"What?" he gasped.
The woman began to laugh like a lunatic, stripping off her clothes and running out into the rain – right in front of a passing car. The car swerved and missed, but the nurse was in a state of catatonia. Masato took out his cellphone and dialed for help. The ambulance came and took her to the hospital, but then for some reason, she was transferred to another, far away.
"I need to visit her!" Masato demanded, feeling as though his stomach was lurching its way out of his throat.
"I'm sorry," the lady at the desk said, "Visitors are not allowed. She is very ill, and any outside contact right now will only make her worse."
* * * * * * * *
Masato spent hours asking for information, but it was pointless. For weeks, he tried to find some way to reach her, with no leads. He had by then hired a new physical therapist. She had previously worked with a woman named Eudial, who had survived a car accident and had to wear a body-cast for several months. Eudial had responded quite well, but the way she did it, from what the new therapist noted, it was as if she were channeling the energy of anger into her recovery.
He also would from time to time venture out in his Tuxedo form, and dealt with strange-looking women who dressed in what looked like sailor dresses. These women, however, were on the side of evil, trying to steal star seeds. At one point, Masato even briefly reunited with Kunzite and Zoisite after fighting and losing to an evil cat-sailor; the reunion would have lasted longer, but he had forgotten something and gotten into a rather embarrassing situation as a result. The Earth lord had a lot on his mind, and the last thing he wanted was to hear one of Zoisite's barbs about his clumsiness.
Aside from the averted embarrassment, Nephrite knew he had to do as Serenity had instructed and lay low, even if Naru's life was in danger. He could not let anyone recognise him, save perhaps Kunzite and Zoisite.
"I must reveal myself!" Masato cried out one night, alone in his bedroom, "Please! I have to rescue her!"
"You must wait... just a little longer," Serenity's voice whispered, "I'm sorry, Nephrite. I'm so sorry."
Weeping, Masato wheeled himself outside to watch the stars.
"Naru," he sobbed, "Naru, please be safe... please... I'm so sorry I cannot help you right now... please forgive me."
The sky suddenly grew very dark, and storm clouds formed, bringing a torrent of rain, strong wind and dangerous lightning. Then, he felt something pulling out of his forehead. Looking up, Masato saw that it was his Star Seed, clear and shining like gold. He watched it fly off, and felt himself began to fade away.
"Again?" Masato whispered, tears rolling down his cheeks, "Serenity... I thought..."
"Do not despair," Serenity's voice reassured him, "It is almost time."
"Naru," Masato lamented as the world grew dark, "I'm sorry... I cannot save you now... maybe we can have that chocolate parfait together... in Heaven..."
The next thing he knew, Masato awakened, feeling like he had dozed off for awhile in his chair. Looking up at the sky, he saw millions of Star Seeds flying through the sky. The sunlight felt warm on his face, and birds were singing. A cool breeze blew Masato's already-tangled hair, ratting it up more, but he didn't mind at all.
The time had finally come. It was time to go public and find out what happened to his friend the nurse, and to Naru. Zoisite and his youma would not spoil it.
Masato smiled and reached into his shirt, stroking the stem of his carnation. He had a second chance, a a chance to make up for everything that went wrong, a chance to make Naru smile, to give her a hug, to hear her laugh again.
"Naru," he vowed, "Wherever you are, I'm going to find you. Then we can have that chocolate parfait together – my treat!"
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return to Index / go to Chapter 2
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury