24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

2:00 am, Tokyo
Nephrite, the Senshi

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Sailor Moon suddenly jerked out of her trance. "Huh? What was that?"

"What was what?" Sailor Mars asked.

Nephrite, startled out of the light doze he had fallen into, asked, "Is something happening?"

"I don't know," Sailor Moon said. "I felt a shift - Like the world was moving back into that other reality, the one where you and the Dark Kingdom happened."

"Is it done? Completed?" Nephrite asked. "Will everyone -" Naru was what he meant to say "- remember us now?"

"I don't know," Sailor Moon repeated. "I don't know what happened -"

And then something huge and dark crashed through the window of the apartment.

Utterly black, somewhat humanoid in shape but with spikes on its head and joints and down its back, it reared up on powerful thighs and backward-bending knees, its eyes glowing red. It was tall enough that its head nearly brushed the ceiling. A deafening roar came from its fanged mouth and it slashed out with its long front claws. The Sailor Senshi screamed and scattered, but quickly collected themselves. Their voices rang out with their attacks: "Venus Love and Beauty Shock!" "Jupiter Oak Evolution!" "Mars Flame Sniper!" "Mercury Aqua Rhapsody!"

Energy in a multitude of colors and shapes converged on the creature. It roared in pain and fury as the energy attacks struck it, then it reared back and slashed its claws through the attacks, ripping them to shreds. As the Senshis' attacks faded, the creature flung long, jagged blades of black energy spinning towards the Senshi. They ducked the attack, but Sailor Venus screamed as one of the blades just skimmed over her arm.

In spite of the injury and the continued assault from the creature, the Senshi prepared another round of attacks. They launched the colorful barrage of energy, covering Sailor Moon as she summoned a great jeweled sceptre into her hand and began the series of gestures that would shape her own attack.

The monster tore apart that second wave of attacks. Tuxedo Mask leaped between Sailor Moon and the creature and began spinning his cane, deflecting the creature's black energy blades away from Sailor Moon. The Senshi alternated between ducking for cover from the wildly flying black blades and throwing more of their own attacks at the monster.

The fight was getting desperate, Nephrite realized. The monster didn't seem interested in attacking him, at least not so far, but he couldn't hold back while the young people he had asked to help him were fighting for their lives.

He centered himself, feeling the growing warmth in the center of his forehead where his mystical symbol would appear. "I call on the power of the stars," he murmured, and the warmth intensified. He fed the star power and his own magic into his hands, where it formed into a ball that brightened. When he sensed that the attack had reached its optimum strength, he unleashed it. "Starlight Attack!"

Balls of brilliant bluish-white light flew towards the monster and exploded when they hit it. For a moment Nephrite was blinded, then his vision cleared and he saw that the monster, while appearing shaken and knocked somewhat off balance, was still on its feet and still attacking. The Senshi's attacks were growing weaker and slower, and the spinning of Tuxedo Mask's cane had slowed down and begun to falter.

Sailor Moon finally took her attack pose and cried out, "Silver Moon Crystal Power Kiss!" Multi-colored lights burst out from the scepter and flew towards the beast. It jerked and stiffened under the attack, screaming in pain, then was gone in a burst of light.

Dark and quiet returned to the apartment. Nephrite could hear the gasps and whimpers of exhausted, wounded girls. Tuxedo Mask was doubled over, hands on his knees, gasping for breath. Then Nephrite realized that Tuxedo Mask had reverted to his identity as Chiba Mamoru. He looked around and saw that the Senshi had also returned to their everyday appearances. They all looked exhausted; the battle must have drained them too much for them to even be able to maintain their Senshi forms. Venus's upper arm was bleeding from the deep cut she had received early in the fight, and she wasn't the only one who was bleeding from an injury.

Mamoru walked into another room and came back with a white first aid kit. Mercury, who was herself bleeding from a cut on her forehead, began examining Venus's injury. She dabbed ointment on it and wrapped a bandage around it, then began tending to a bump on Jupiter's head.

"You're hurt, too!" Usagi exclaimed in concern.

Mercury touched her forehead and brought her hand away with blood on it. "It's just a shallow cut. I'll be okay."

Usagi went over to her, cleaned the cut and applied ointment to it, and wrapped a bandage around Mercury's forehead, just managing not to blindfold her. "There," she said with satisfaction. "It won't help any of us if you pass out!"

Mamoru had sunk onto the sofa, and Usagi dropped down beside him. "What was that, Mamo-chan? Are we facing a new enemy?"

"I don't know," he said. "Maybe Sailor Mercury can check her computer when she's finished tending the injuries and tell us if there's any strange activity going on anywhere else."

"I thought we were done with all that, at least until... Well, you know." She looked at Nephrite. "I'm sorry, Nephrite. I'm afraid that fighting that thing took all of our strength for now. We're going to have to rest and build up our energy again before we can try to help you. It's going to take a while, I'm afraid."

"Don't be sorry," he said. "You had to defend yourselves and destroy that... whatever it was. I still have -" he looked at his watch "- almost fifteen hours." Fifteen hours to restore the Earth's reality to what it should have been, where the war against the Dark Kingdom had actually happened; fifteen hours for Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite to win enough money to pay their debts; fifteen hours for them to find everyone who had been affected by their actions in service of Beryl and Metallia and make the necessary apologies and reparations.

Fifteen hours for him to win another chance with Naru.

If only he could gather energy for the Senshi. If he just took small amounts from a number of different people, it wouldn't harm them; at worst, they might feel unusually tired in the morning. But that would be taking something without their permission, which was stealing, which was wrong. And against the rules. He sighed, and sat down to wait some more.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury