by Moon Momma

Chapter 4

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It was nighttime at the hideout, and Nephrite and Naru were training in one of the thicker groves of trees. Naru was perched on a large, solid branch, waiting to ambush Nephrite, who was making his way stealthily from tree to tree. Suddenly there was an abrupt, odd shifting of their surroundings. The sky flickered between light and dark several times, and Naru's tree suddenly wasn't there any more. She fell, and landed hard on the ground right in front of Nephrite. "What happened?" she gasped. He didn't answer; she followed his gaze to the tree, which had reappeared, and up to the dark, unsteady sky.

"Damn," he said. He stared up at the sky a moment longer, a deep furrow between his eyebrows. "Stay there and don't move. I'll be right back." He disappeared in a swirl of red and white light.

Naru sat where she was, in the grass at the base of the tree, hardly even daring to breathe, much less move. If this place he had magically created fell apart, where would she end up? In that horrible cold nothingness they had passed through when they teleported here? She forced her mind away from that thought and focused on the small patch of ground where she sat.

The seconds seemed like minutes, the minutes seemed like hours. Every so often, everything would shift and waver again, and Naru would catch her breath, her heart pounding, waiting for the nothingness to swallow her.

And then everything went cold and black. Naru froze with terror. But before she could form any thoughts, she felt solid ground beneath her and the world took shape around her again.

She was in a large tent, lit by torches and candles that glowed with balls of light instead of with fire. The walls and the floor were covered with colorful rugs woven in swirling geometric patterns. In the center of the tent stood three women dressed in white robes with loose cowls that two of them wore pulled up as hoods. Naru looked down at herself. Instead of her jeans and t-shirt, she was wearing a white robe trimmed at the sleeves and hem with broad gold braid. Questions rushed into her mind all at once. "Who are you? How did I get here? Nephrite said --"

"He was a fool to think that he could hide you from us," the unhooded woman said. Her white hair was wound in braids around the top of her head. Her face was lined, the skin appearing thin and fragile, and her tall, slender frame was slightly stooped through the back and shoulders. Her voice was thin and whispery, but sharp.

"I think he does not remember us, Sifabi," one of the hooded women said. The shadows from her hood hid her face, but from her soft voice and her thin, stooped frame, Naru guessed she was also old. "If he did, he would also have remembered her."

"You may be correct, Serare," the first woman, Sifabi, said.

"He is still a fool," the third woman said. She was shorter and heavier than the other two, and her voice sounded stronger. "He always was. Cocky and arrogant, interfering in matters of which he knew nothing."

"Why are you talking about Nephrite that way?" Naru asked. "He's a good person. He saved my life. And he was trying to protect me."

Sifabi, who seemed to be the leader of the three women, gave her a smile that made her feel like she had done something stupid. "Foolish child. He is unworthy of you, as is this girl you call your friend, the Senshi Sailor Moon."

"But --"

"When you have learned your true identity and your destiny, and the true extent of your powers, you will thank us for taking you away from them."

"I'll never stop caring about Usagi-chan and Nephrite-sama," Naru said. "I don't care who you say I am!"

Sifabi laughed, a thin, papery noise. "You don't care who you are? Why, dear child," she said, "you are Solaris, the Princess of the Sun."

For a moment, Naru was too stunned to say anything. "I'm what?"

"Many thousands of years ago, as the people of Earth count time, this solar system was home to many great civilizations," Sifabi said. "The Earth, the other planets, and the Earth's Moon, as well as a number of the other planets' moons, were each home to their own kingdom."

"There's no life on the moon, or any of the other planets," Naru said. "It's impossible."

"The original war against the Dark Kingdom rendered all the moons and planets except for Earth uninhabitable, and destroyed the entire civilization that existed on Earth at that time. But that war does not concern us. Of all the great and ancient civilizations in the solar system, none were more ancient or proud than the People of the Sun."

"Okay, I'm not going to believe that anyone was ever able to live on the sun."

"And indeed no one ever has. It has always been impossible. We, the People of the Sun, have always been a nomadic people. We are guided, ruled over, and blessed by the sun, but we have never lived there. The rulers and other great and powerful people of the other kingdoms mistakenly assumed that since we are a traveling people that we are also poor, humble, desperate beggars, willing to enslave ourselves in exchange for petty favors.

"The Earth's moon and all of the planets except for Earth each had a princess. The princesses of the planets served the Moon Princess as her bodyguards and ladies-in-waiting. The Moon Queen also wished the Princess of the Sun People to serve as a Senshi to the Moon Princess."

"Senshi? That's like --"

"Yes. Sailor Moon is the last Moon Princess, reborn. There was a time when she wanted you to be her servant."

The shortest woman cut in. "The haughty little fool, thinking that the Princess of the oldest and greatest Kingdom in the solar system would consent to grovel to her."

"Of course, as Issoril rightly said, such a thing could never be permitted," Sifabi continued. "Neither did we ally ourselves with any other kingdom. We remained independent, rulers of our own destiny, indebted to and enslaved by no one."

"Okay," Naru said. "I get that, but what do you need me for? Don't you have another Princess by now?"

"You were our last Princess. Now that you have been reborn, you can take your rightful place among your people."

"My people? Where are they?" Naru asked.

"Sadly, we are the last of our kind," Serare said.

"Just you three? Aren't there any younger people? Don't you have any children?"

"Our people were weakened by an enemy. We died out until there only we three, the Priestesses of the Sun, were left, and you."

"If there's only the four of us, and there won't be any more, why does there even need to be a Sun Princess?" Naru asked. "If you need a place to live, I could help you find one in my neighborhood in Tokyo --"

"This tent is our rightful home, and yours as well," Sifabi said. "Within this tent, we can live in the way we have always been accustomed to, no matter where in the solar system we travel."

"But I don't want to travel around space in a tent! I want to hang out with my friends, and go to school, and pass the entrance exams for Juuban Academy and go out on dates with Nephrite-sama! I don't want to be your princess, especially if you won't tell me what you want from me." Naru stopped herself from shouting. Her fists were clenched in frustration beneath the wide, gold-trimmed sleeves of her robe.

"Very well," Sifabi said. "I had hoped to give you a little time to get used to your true identity before telling you of your task, but it appears you lack patience. Princess Solaris, you must complete the final great task of the Sun People." The priestess's thin, wrinkled lips twisted bitterly. "The task at which we failed so many years ago. You must defeat the enemy of our people, the Star Swallower. The name is self-explanatory; it devours stars. Needless to say, it presents a great danger to all life in the Universe. As the people who have the power and the blessings of the sun, which of course is a star, we were given the particular task of guarding the solar system against it and destroying it. We have failed in that task repeatedly, and have paid a heavy price for our failure.

"What is it?" Naru asked. "Is it another monster like the ones from the Dark Kingdom?"

"We're not certain of its exact nature," Sifabi said. "We don't know whether it has physical being, or is a spirit, or simply a manifestation of power from some source that is unknown to us. This is what makes it so hard to defeat. Fortunately for us, another enemy came along which the Star Swallower fears greatly, though of course this threat is not as dangerous and powerful as the Star Swallower. At the time of your death, you were nearly strong enough to destroy the Star Swallower, but things did not happen the way they were supposed to, and you were killed. The Star Swallower went into hiding at that time, but we fear it will emerge eventually. We hope we will have enough time before then for us to train you to your full strength."

Serare smiled gently at Naru. "Now that you know how important this is, you will work as hard as you can at your training, won't you, child?"

This was all just too strange. She, Osaka Naru, fourteen years old, eighth-grader at Juuban Junior High, was a princess named Solaris who was supposed to defeat an ancient creature called the Star Swallower? After everything she had gone through with Nephrite, nothing should seem strange any more, but nothing had prepared her for this. What was more, she didn't really seem to have any choice in the matter. She had no idea where she was or how to get back to the hideout or back home or if the three old women would even let her leave. She doubted they would, at least not until she did what they wanted her to do. It was exactly the sort of thing Nephrite had been trying to protect her from. "Okay," she finally said. "It looks like I don't have a choice. I'll train hard and defeat this Star Swallower. And then you'll let me go home, right?"

Sifabi gave her that same condescending smile. "We will begin your training after you've had some rest."

Serare gave Naru a bowl of some kind of soupy cooked grains to eat and water to drink. It was very bland. Had this been their whole life for centuries, being stuck in this tent and eating nothing but gruel and water? Was keeping their tradition and being separate from everyone else that important? Naru hoped with all her heart that she could do what they wanted her to do quickly so she wouldn't have to live like this for very long.

When she was done eating, they gave her a thin, lumpy mat and a small hard pillow on the floor in one corner of the tent. Although she had had a long day of training even before she was brought to this tent by these three strange women and told this unbelievable story, Naru didn't think she would be able to sleep. She was homesick, both for her mom's apartment and for the hideout that Nephrite had made. What would he think when he came back and couldn't find her? She didn't know what would be worse, if he was angry at her, or worried and scared. But her mind and body were both exhausted, so, despite her jumbled thoughts and feelings and the uncomfortable bed, she quickly fell asleep.

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Nephrite returned to the training yard without any answers. There had definitely been some sort of disturbance in the boundaries of the hideout, but he couldn't tell what had caused it. It was possible that the forces involved in the battles between the Dark Kingdom and the Senshi might have caused a disturbance in time and space that would have affected his interdimensional pocket. He needed to get Naru into the house, the stable core of the pocket, while he tried to shore up the boundaries, repair any damage that had been done, and figure out what was going on.

Naru wasn't where he had left her. Which was strange; she always followed his instructions, if not always without question. And she seemed to understand that the safety of their hiding place was dependent on delicately-balanced forces and dangerously powerful, potentially unstable spells. He hoped she had just gone into the house and hadn't wandered off or fallen out.

His heart pounding, Nephrite walked across the yard to the house, his senses attuned to any hint that the hideout had been breached. He didn't detect any signs of damage, at least not along the direct path from the tree where he had left Naru to the entrance to the house. Surely she wouldn't have wandered off around the grounds, not when she knew how dangerous the situation was. She had to be in the house. He reached the door and opened it. "Naru-chan!"

There was no answer. She wasn't in the living room, or in the kitchen, which was usually the first place she went after one of their training sessions. He went to her bedroom and knocked on the door. No answer. He slowly opened the door a crack and peeked in, wondering if she had fallen asleep. But she wasn't there, either. She might have decided to take a shower, he thought, but he didn't hear water running in the bathroom. "Naru-chan?" he called again.


Maybe she hadn't heard him. Maybe she had slipped and hit her head and was lying unconscious on the bathroom floor. He walked quickly across the bedroom and pushed the bathroom door all the way open without regard for her privacy.

The room was dry, silent, and dark, the towels hanging undisturbed from the towel racks, her pajamas neatly folded on the vanity.

"Damn." Fear rose up in his chest and throat, threatening to choke him. He fought it down. She had to be somewhere around the house. Would she have gone into his room for some reason?

He strode across her bedroom and the living room to his room. "Naru-chan!" He searched the bathroom, under the bed, behind the furniture, in the wardrobe. There was no sign of her, and everything was exactly as he had left it earlier in the day.

His heart was pounding at runaway speed now. He ran back out to the yard, searching around the trees, looking up in the branches, calling her name, hoping that she was just planning a sneak attack on him. But after searching the whole yard three times, he finally had to admit that she wasn't there.

Somehow, she was gone. Had she fallen out, or wandered out, or had someone come and taken her? Without knowing what dimension of space or time she was in, it was far too dangerous to try to teleport to where she might be. Maybe, despite his warnings about the fragility of the interdimensional pocket, Sailor Moon had come for her. He focused his attention on the Senshi and teleported to where she was.

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He materialized in a traditional-style Japanese house. "Nephrite!" Sailor Moon exclaimed when he appeared. She was seated at a low table with four other girls. Two of them he recognized as Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury; the other two, a tall girl with a brown ponytail and a girl with long, loose blonde hair, were unfamiliar. He assumed they were also Senshi, revealed after he had left the Dark Kingdom and taken Naru into hiding. Despite the piles of manga and empty take-out food containers on the table, the girls were silent and glum.

"Do you know where Naru is?" he asked Sailor Moon.

"She's supposed to be with you!"

"She's gone. There was a disturbance in the boundaries of the hiding place. I went out for just a moment to investigate, and when I came back in she was missing. There's no sign of her anywhere. I thought maybe you had found a way in."

"No." Sailor Moon's eyes were wide. "You said that no one can come or go without ruining the security. I wouldn't put her in danger by doing that. If I could find it and find a way in, which I couldn't."

"I could probably find it," Sailor Mercury said. She was tapping on a small blue handheld computer, a visor with figures moving across it covering her eyes. "But I haven't tried because you told Sailor Moon it wouldn't be safe."

That only left one possibility that he could think of. "Don't tell her mother that she's missing. Give me a few days. I'll do what I can to find her."

"Nephrite, do you think --" Sailor Moon started to ask, but he didn't want to stay around to discuss the thing he feared. He teleported out of the house and to his old chambers in the Dark Kingdom.

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return to Index / go to Chapter 5

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury