Slow Process to Redemption
by Keren Olivero

Chapter 3

* * * * * * * *

Ruby and the twin sisters were waiting for their master to return from trapping the professional tennis player. He had been rather abrupt with them when they offered to help, and they couldn't understand why, considering that he was usually very gracious when they offered assistance. During those times he seemed to be glad that they were taking initiative, because it showed that they were very competent. They decided not to press it, since he probably did have his reasons, but they hoped that he would eventually let them help him.

All of a sudden, Nephrite reappeared. Judging from the satisfied expression on his face, the trio of youma could tell that he had favorable news to report. They bowed respectfully.

"So Master Nephrite, how did it go?" asked Ruby. "Were you able to trap that girl?"

Nephrite smirked. "That I was. It was quite simple, given how gullible she was."

Miki cackled. "Of course."

"Excellent. Now if you succeed in luring the nosy senshi into this trap and they are destroyed, you'll be all set. Then you can put that vermin Zoisite in his place," said Ruby. She was very proud of her master, and she desperately wanted to make him proud of her. The two other youma were also very proud of him.

Nephrite couldn't help but chuckle at that remark. He did want to make the sakura shitennou eat his words, but that was not his primary goal. With the annoying fool out of his hair for the time being, he could focus on more important matters…like ridding the planet of the irritating senshi, and keeping an eye on Rui so that he completed the energy gathering operation successfully.

"Show me the girl!" he ordered the stars. The power of the stars created an image of Rui. It showed that she was playing tennis like mad, and she was being tough on her opponents. He was rather amused by her aggressiveness. It was exactly what he wanted her to do.

'That's right, Rui. Keep on using that racket so that I can snatch your energy to feed the great Queen Metallia.'

Yukari was rather amazed by how aggressively Rui was acting. She never knew that humans were capable of such behavior. 'These foolish mortals never cease to amaze me,' she thought.

Miki wasn't so amazed. This was actually making her happy. She was interested in seeing how the human emotions would help Metallia—when it was actually one human that the energy was being stolen from.

* * * * * * * *

Luna sprinted to the Crown Arcade to have a conversation with Central Control, to find out the latest news about what the Dark Kingdom was up to. It was safe to assume that Jadeite was dead since he had not appeared since the battle. Normally when he was defeated, he struck back with a vengeance, though she couldn't be sure he would do that, based on how he was when Usagi had seemed very forgiving. And based on the challenge, it seemed like he was getting anxious. But if he was dead now, that just meant one less enemy to worry about, even though it was a shame that he didn't get a chance to redeem himself, like Usagi was trying to get him to do. But that was all in the past now.

The feline entered the arcade that was nearly empty, and went over to Central's communication base. She touched the screen, and it activated. "This is Luna, and the password is kitty stalks in moonlight."

A deep male's voice responded, "Kitty will be fed."

"Kitty craves her catnip."

"Welcome, Luna. We have new information for you about our enemy."

That got Luna's attention. "Really? What is it?"

"The first Dark Kingdom's shitennou, Jadeite, is deceased."

Luna's eyes narrowed knowingly. "I thought so."

"Another shitennou has taken over the duty of gathering energy in order to feed Beryl's evil master. His name is Nephrite. He is much stronger than Jadeite."

It all made sense to Luna. Now she knew why Jadeite was gathering energy from different groups of people. She suspected that it was for an evil purpose. She had to notify the girls about it so that they could train to defeat this new enemy. That way, they would be ready once they saw who they were up against. She went to alert the girls.

* * * * * * * *

Soon, the senshi gathered at Hikawa Shrine for their meeting. Luna told them everything about what Central Control had said about the enemy.

"So Jadeite is dead...what a shame that he went without redemption," said Usagi wistfully. In spite of all he had done, she honestly felt sorry for him. She looked so sad. Rei picked up on it.

"Usagi, no time to mope about what happened to Jadeite. We have more important things to worry about."

Usagi thought that was the cruelest thing that Rei ever said. "Oh back off, Rei. You would never understand!"

Rei was about to argue back. It frustrated her how overly sensitive the blonde could be.

"Don't start!" said Ami, before Rei could say anything. "We have important things to discuss. "

Usagi and Rei forgot about the little spat and nodded. "Right," said Usagi.

"Did Central tell you anything else about this Nephrite person?" asked Rei.

Luna shook her head. "Only that he is considerably stronger than Jadeite. That means that we'll have to make a lot of preparation."

"Oh, I wouldn't need to make any more preparation. I'm all set! So just let me take care of them!" said Rei.

The raven haired girl was getting overconfident…not a good sign at all.

"No, Rei, we must not be hasty. Remember we would not have been able to defeat Jadeite had it not been for teamwork," Ami reminded her.

"That's right," Luna agreed. "We have no idea who we're up against. And depending on how much more powerful this Nephrite is, we'll have to step up our training."

Usagi's ears jumped when she heard Luna said training. The meeting was boring before, but now things were starting to get interesting because now she had some input. "I know! For training, we could take tennis lessons!" she suggested excitedly.

"What?" exclaimed Ami and Rei. They could tell that the blonde had not been listening enough to know what type of training Luna was talking about.

"Wait until you see that new movie star gorgeous tennis couch, Masato Sanjouin!" She started giggling. If only she knew who he really was...

Rei shook her head in disbelief. "So you mean you've given up on Tuxedo Kamen? That's a-okay with me. That means I'll have a chance at him." She smiled deviously—she thought she and the masked man would be the perfect match.

Luna gave an exasperated sigh. "It's a good thing that Mars and Mercury have been awakened. If Sailor Moon was the only senshi, this planet would cease to exist!"

Usagi felt very insulted. "Luna! What are you saying! That I don't care about our future?"

"No, she means that you don't take your job seriously, which you need to start doing," answered Rei.

"Blah, blah, blah! Your lectures are soo annoying!" snapped Usagi.

"You guys should not forget that Usagi is our leader, so we should respect her," said Ami.

Usagi smiled at Ami. Finally someone on her side. She pulled her friend into a big hug. "Thanks so much for understanding me!" the blonde said dramatically.

Ami was a tad surprised by the sudden affection Usagi showed her. She decided to humor her. "I need to work on a program that will show what the new shitennou looks like. I'll tell you what. While we work on that, you take the tennis lesson and we will fill you in later. Okay?"

"Okay!" That sure sounded good to Usagi. She jogged home to tell her parents about her new decision. Ami left, too, because she had to go to cram school.

* * * * * * * *

Ever since the day Nephrite's alias made his appearance at the tennis court the previous week, Rui's personality drastically changed, almost as if she were under an evil spell. She was extremely demanding and condescending to her teammates. She would force them into matches, even if it was well past closing hours. Some of them were starting to dislike having her around, but they kept it to themselves, for fear that she would go into one of her rages.

One night, she was on the tennis court, practicing for the upcoming tournament. There were only a handful of people there. Most of the members had already left. Chuckling evilly, she took her place on the court and she stepped on her opponent's racket, which she managed to knock out of her hand by one of her rough serves. It looked like it was beginning to fall apart, which would be the second racket belonging to someone else that she damaged.

Rui's opponent was horrified when she saw this. "Stop walking on the racket, you'll damage it! It's very expensive and will be difficult to replace!" she said loudly.

Rui smirked. She could care less. "Oh well. No point in paying so much because it's not doing you any good. Get up and play or get off!"

The red head was so tired of Rui's snarky attitude. She didn't care to be out late at night anyway. She jumped to her feet in a huff. "I'm going! It's very late." She stiffly walked off the court. The other members decided to leave as well.

Naru, who had been on the sidelines watching, had seen how Rui was treating the other players, and was upset by her behavior. 'What's going on? Rui is usually a very nice person.' Naru just had to find out what was going on with her. She timidly walked onto the court. "Excuse me Rui." She was being super polite because of how vitriolic her friend was lately.

Rui looked up, with a 'what do you want' look on her face. There stood Naru, her closest friend. She wasn't too pleased to see her. But then again she wasn't happy to see any humans these days.

"Is something wrong? If you're upset about anything at all, you know you can always come to me."

The tennis star took a look at her childhood friend. So innocent, so filled with concern, yet so naïve. She was sure the girl meant well, but she wasn't in the mood for it right now. "It's personal. Now go away and leave me alone!" the brunette snapped.

Naru felt like she was slapped in the face. Maybe she was being nosy. But she had every right to be concerned, but if Rui didn't want her to know, then she wouldn't press the issue further. "All right. I'm sorry." Feeling sorely distraught, she left the tennis court. She could feel tears at the corner of her eyes and when they threatened to slide down her face, she didn't bother fighting them. It looked like her friendship with Rui was over.

* * * * * * * *

All day at school the following day, Usagi noticed that Naru seemed depressed about something. She was unusually taciturn and just appeared to be in her own world. Because school wasn't exactly the most appropriate place to discuss personal issues, Usagi went over to Naru's place after school. Naru was glad to see her. She fixed a snack of mochi and tea. Once cooled, she poured the tea into little tea cups, put the mochi on a plate and placed the plate, some napkins and teacups on a tray. She carefully carried the tray into her bedroom, with Usagi following her. The two girls sat on the floor and enjoyed their afternoon snack.

"Thank you for coming over," said Naru, when she and Usagi were done.

"It was nothing," replied Usagi. "I noticed that in school, you seemed very down. What happened? Are you ok?"

Naru still looked sad. But since Usagi was her best friend she thought maybe she might feel better if she confided in her. "It's not me. It's Rui. I think someone must have made her really upset."

Usagi cocked an eyebrow. She wasn't sure what happened since she wasn't able to make it to any tennis lessons. "Huh? What makes you say that?"

"She's become very vitriolic and aggressive to the other players. She's become like a total stranger. She used to be such a nice person."

"Maybe she's just stressed out because of the big tournament, because of all of the pressure she is feeling from those who expect her to win."

Naru had tried to believe that, but there had to be more to it. Why would Rui be afraid to just admit that? She shook her head. "At first I was trying to convince myself that's all it was but…something in my gut tells me that her problem is much more serious." The red head started to cry over the fact that she didn't know what could have caused her friend to change so much. She remembered the happier times, like when they were little and they used to play together. And the fact that those happy times might never happen again really stung.

"I tried to ask her what was wrong and she bit my head off," Naru finished, sniffling. She used one of the napkins she brought in to wipe her tears away.

It saddened the blonde to see Naru like this. She really wanted to make her feel better. "I think you should try again to find out what is going on with her. And this time, I'll come with you so we can do it together. "

Naru started to beam. "Really? You'll help?"

"Course I'll help. That's what friends are for."

Naru still wasn't too sure of this, but maybe with Usagi's help, she felt like she would make a bit more progress. She threw her arms around her best friend. "Thank you so much, Usagi! I don't know what I would do without you!"

Usagi held Naru close. "Right back at you. "

* * * * * * * *

Later that night, Naru and Usagi headed over to the tennis club. Usagi was feeling a bit drowsy, but she didn't show it for once. She had made the promise to Naru that she would help her get to the bottom of Rui's actions, and there was no way she was going to break it. Still, she thought being out there that late was insane.

"You mean to tell me that Rui-san is still out here?" she asked her best bud incredulously.

Naru nodded. "Yes. She has been practicing really late every night this week."

Usagi was almost afraid to see the tennis match that Rui had set up, now that she knew how the girl had been acting. But she knew she had to. She began to suspect that this was a plot of the Dark Kingdom. 'This will be the perfect opportunity for me to prove that I can hold my own in a fight.' She chuckled softly to herself. There were two men on the tennis court. She wondered why they were on the ground.

"Playing against her is like fighting a sumo wrestler," the blonde heard one of the men say.

Rui was amused by this. If they couldn't deal with her when it was just an informal match then they would not stand a chance once it was time for the tournament. "Giving up so soon? I thought you clowns were real men."

The two guys had been dealing with her taunting all evening and they were becoming weary of it. "Seriously, it's getting late. We have work tomorrow."

Rui feigned disappointment. "Just one more game!" She started cackling and she prepared to deliver her ferocious serve.

Naru nudged Usagi, as if to say, 'now we make our move', to which Usagi nodded. The two girls entered the court. "Rui-san, stop it!" Naru yelled.

Rui looked up sharply, and saw Naru standing with Usagi. She did not appreciate her game being interrupted one bit."Get lost!"

This time Naru was not intimidated by Rui's menacing tone. She was filled with more determination than ever. "No! Not until you stop and listen to what we have to say!" She was not going to be frightened away this time.

"Get lost, if both of you know what's good for you!" the tennis player screamed for the second time.

"Naru is only trying to help you!" said Usagi. "Why are you acting this way?"

"Last chance and you'll be sorry!" Rui blared at the top of her lungs. She noticed that the girls were still not budging. In a rage, she grabbed her racket and swung at them. The magical crest that had been engraved on it proceeded to glow bright red, causing the racket to emit a blast of negative energy. It sent the two girls careening off the tennis court, into the bushes.

Nephrite had been observing these turn of events using the power of the stars, and was satisfied with all the energy she invested in her pastime. It was now time to put that energy to better use. "Her energy has reached its peak…I summon you, Tesuni!"A female youma with short light brown hair, elf-like ears, dressed in a red jumpsuit and holding a racket of her own arose from Rui's racket. This caused Rui a great deal of discomfort, and she collapsed. Clutching the energy draining ball he received from Ruby, Nephrite teleported to the scene, made himself invisible and proceeded to drain the energy from the young girl. His work done, he retreated back to his mansion. No way was he going to linger around like Jadeite always did. Not like he needed to, since he would still have the gathered energy whether the senshi interfered or not.

The tennis youma gave an evil laugh. She peered at Rui's unconscious form and smirked. "That's right, you stupid little girl. Surrender that wasted energy to a more worthy cause."

Usagi had finally come to and heard the evil laughter. She sat up, took one look at the ugly youma, and realized that her suspicions were correct. This was a Dark Kingdom trap and poor Rui had been lured right into it. This made her very angry. 'Not to worry, Naru. Everything will be back to normal again soon. I'll make this creep pay for this.' She gave Naru a reassuring pat on the head and hid behind the bushes. "Moon Prism Power, Make Up!" After her transformation, she went to face off against the monster.

* * * * * * * *

'Excellent,' thought Nephrite, when he requested the stars to show him the setting of the battle and he saw that the senshi of the moon had shown up. 'The annoying fool has fallen into my trap. Soon, she and her pitiful little friends will be destroyed.' He hoped that Tesuni would not fail him. He had very little tolerance for failure even though it was essential for him to witness her tactics so that he would know the right way to destroy her.

Just then, his most trusted servants appeared, curtsying respectfully. "I see we're just in time to watch the fight," said Yukari, noting the image of the battle between Sailor Moon and Tesuni.

"You definitely wouldn't want to miss that," said Miki.

"This should be fun," said Ruby in her sassy tone. She was sure that Moon would not stand a chance. Tesuni was strong, unlike the youma that belonged to Jadeite.

Sailor Moon started with her usual speech that threatened her opponents. As boring as it was, the three women were also thoroughly tickled, because the moon brat obviously didn't know what she was up against.

And indeed she didn't. The youma emitted something that looked like a small ball from her racket and the blonde started running. It didn't do any good, because the ball hit her and a yellow tennis ball appeared on her, almost as if she were wearing it. It made her start bouncing all over the court and at one point she landed on her face.

The three youma thought this was extremely hilarious, partly because it was funny to see Moon in such a sight and partly because they thought Tesuni would have to do better than that to defeat the senshi. Miki and Ruby were trying to stifle their laughter, but were not doing a good job. Yukari didn't even bother trying to hide her laughter. She laughed the loudest and nearly fell on the floor. She was almost crying. The other two youma glanced at each other. They had never heard the woman laugh so hard. The brunette wiped her eyes. It was a good thing that she wasn't wearing that much make up otherwise it would have had to have been redone.

"Look at the champion of justice now," Ruby mocked.

"I know right?" agreed Yukari.

"There's no way that clumsy oaf is going to get out of this one. Her lucky streak is over." Miki believed that the blonde's defeat was inevitable since her friends were nowhere to be found, but then again those friends would be defeated too.

Nephrite didn't mind the laughter, though he thought the women should tone it down a little. In fact, he was amused by what Tesuni did to Moon as well. 'You're mine now, Sailor Moon,' he mentally gloated.

Tesuni prepared to finish her foe off, but unfortunately she was hit in the face with a flurry of crimson rose petals. She wondered who dared to interrupt her fight. Once regaining her senses, she searched around for the culprit. She saw a rose stuck in the ground and asked, "Who did that?"

"You don't want to know," answered a deep voice. There was a figure clad in a cape, top hat and mask sitting on the bench.

Unlike the monster, Sailor Moon was actually glad to see the masked hero. Things were appearing less dire for her.

The trio of henchwomen's feelings about Tuxedo Kamen interrupting matched Tesuni's. But then again, they would jump at the opportunity to see him get turned into a tennis ball as well. So when the tennis youma warned Tuxedo Kamen to leave the battle or else he would suffer the same fate as Moon, the girls mentally urged her to do it.

Much to their chagrin, Tesuni's projectile missed its target when she attacked and Cape Boy managed to attack her with his cane. This freed the young heroine from the tennis ball.

The girls were extremely enraged about this, but kept their cool, since there was still time. The girl was only delaying her inevitable destruction, from their point of view.

Sailor Moon was so relieved that she started celebrating. Tuxedo Kamen had to remind her that they still had a ways to go before they won the battle.

'You're correct about the battle not being over yet, Tuxedo Kamen. Except you're foolish enough to think you can defeat my youma. That's where you're wrong,' thought the star shitennou. There was no way he was going to let the masked man get away with interfering with his scheme.

The rest of the battle went downhill for Tesuni. Moon and Tux managed to evade every one of her attacks. And Sailor Moon's lovesickness for her masked hero certainly didn't help matters.

"What a halfwit she is, getting lovesick during a battle," remarked Miki. It boggled her mind how someone who managed to outwit the Dark Kingdom numerous times could be such a goof.

"Not to worry. Soon her imbecilic emotions will be the end of her," said Nephrite. He always believed that it was foolish to show such a weakness so openly to an enemy, since what was considered a person's greatest strength could also become his or her greatest weakness.

It did not seem to matter that Tuxedo Kamen was beginning to feel some discomfort. The senshi of the moon used that as the opening she needed to finish off Tesuni. The three young women looked on in horror as they watched their onetime ally turn to moon dust. Nephrite was displeased, too, but he was not going to go there swearing revenge. He looked at the energy ball in his hand and he saw that he still had the energy, just like Ruby said he would. It was a win lose situation. He admired the vast amount of energy he gathered. Beryl would surely be impressed and overlook his failure to defeat the senshi.

Miki decided to try asking again if she and her comrades could be of assistance. "Master Nephrite? Will Yukari, Ruby and I ever have a chance to help you? With our skills combined with yours you will be indestructible."

The star king looked in her olive green eyes and could see how badly she and the other girls wanted to help him. It was part of why they were so displeased that Jadeite was chosen first to be chief commander. While he usually worked alone, he witnessed the abilities of his henchwomen, and he trusted them. "Yes. You girls will have your chance to help me, all in due time."

"I thank you."

* * * * * * * *

Rui had to be hospitalized as a result of her energy loss. Doctors thought her survival rate was high, given the fact that she was just a young teen. But it looked like she would have to pull out of the big tennis tournament. Naru was upset about this, but was relieved that her friend would be just fine. She was especially glad that after 2 days of being in a coma, she received news that the tennis star was awake. Now she could clear things up with her.

"I am going to the hospital to see Rui," Naru told Usagi, after school that day. "Want to come with me?"

"Sure," answered the blonde cheerfully. Although she didn't know the girl well, she was always open to making new friends.

"Great." First, Naru had to stop home to get the get well basket she had made the previous night. Usagi waited outside while she did that. When she came back out, she and Usagi walked to the hospital together.

"I hope Rui is even better today," said Usagi thoughtfully.

"I hope so too." Naru couldn't help being scared that her friend made a turn for the worst. She had heard lots of hospital stories of that happening. So she picked up the pace a bit.

"Hey, wait for me!" Usagi ran to catch up with the red head. They briskly walked inside, and went to Rui's room. The two girls walked in quietly. Rui was sitting up, reading a sports magazine. Naru was glad to see that she was ok, and color had returned to her face. It was hard seeing her so pale before.

Rui gave a small smile when she saw Naru. "Hi," she said tiredly.

Naru felt shy all of a sudden. Though Rui seemed as friendly as she usually was, she couldn't be certain that Rui was back to her old self. "Hi Rui. "

"How are you feeling?" asked Usagi. She didn't think it would be right if Naru did all the talking.

"I'm okay, thank you very much," answered the brunette.

"I'm glad," said Naru. "I have something for you."

"You do?"

"Yes." She moved closer to Rui's bed and handed her friend the basket.

"Thank you very much."

"So, are we friends again?" Naru asked a bit cautiously.

Rui was puzzled. She didn't remember having any fight with Naru. It was all so unclear. "What do you mean? We've always been friends."

Naru realized that Rui must not have remembered what happened before, but if she really meant it, then she wouldn't complain. "I guess you're right."

Usagi smiled, glad to see that things were back to normal between the two girls.

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 4

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury