Ami watched the approaching guards warily, dividing her attention between them and the other armed guests at the inn, who were looking at her with open hostility now. She shrank a bit deeper into her chair, and strongly considered the possibility of fleeing. Getting away would be no problem with the dungeon heart's power, but the people here seemed the cautious type and would start searching for her. Who knew how easy it was for them to accidentally stumble over her dungeon while doing so? Not to mention that being a wanted criminal right of the start would put a damper on her ability to discover a way home. To make matters worse, she didn't know what that ward had done to give her away.
Putting her hands flat on the wooden table on each side of her plate, she addressed the men in armour directly "Wait! I don't want any trouble! What am I being arrested for anyway?"
"You're an evil witch, all glowy red eyes and weird looking, too!" Boris, the black bearded Neanderthal, as she had come to think of him, spat furiously. "An' probably a Keeper spy too," he accused.
Ami's eyebrows shot upward. Glowing red eyes? But she had blue eyes! When was the last time she had looked into a mirror, anyway? "You think I'm evil just because I look differently?"
"No, it's perfectly normal for people's eyes to start blazing with the fires of hell when in contact with a holy ward," the tall blonde woman wearing a breastplate that Ami had noticed earlier stated, deadpan. A few of the other heroes chuckled, but Boris just looked confused.
"But I haven't done anything!" Ami whined. She checked her access to the dungeon heart. Yes, still working.
The taller of the town guards approached her, spear held up cautiously, and heavy mail boots clanking. "That will be for the judge to decide!"
"I'll get a trial?" Ami asked, sounding hopeful.
"Waste of time if you ask me," Boris growled. Everybody ignored him.
"Obviously. We aren't monsters like your associates in the Underworld," the smaller and more portly of the guards retorted. Chains were rattling in his hands.
"Fine then," Ami lowered her head in defeat. If she got a chance to explain, then she could maybe convince these people that she was innocent. In any case, she would learn more about this world, and running from the law was something that felt wrong for a champion of love and justice. Besides, she could just teleport away if things went awry. All going along would really cost her was some time and her food, she noted sourly. She felt one of the guards chain her wrists together behind her back before she was roughly pulled to her feet. The other patrons relaxed their postures when it became clear that she wasn't going to put up a fight. The innkeeper seemed especially relieved that the situation hadn't degenerated into a furniture-destroying battle.
"Good to see that you are reasonable," the lead guard noted. Louder, he continued "and someone get that Acolyte back in here! I don't want to end up as a toad if she decides to change her mind."
"No need, no need! I am already here!" Snyder strutted in through the open door, a large earthen amphora held in his arms. "Divine inspiration has struck, revealing to me why the previous ward failed through no fault of my own!" Ami noted that the sceptical glances of the others matched her own. The short man in priestly robes was walking toward her now, a wide grin on his face.
"The reason is rather simple, if not obvious. This girl," he pointed at Ami, who stood between the two guards towering over her, wrapped in her dark red cloak, "must be hiding some kind of heavily enchanted item on her person that wasn't deactivated when her own power was bound!"
The guards shuffled further away from the blue-haired girl upon hearing these words, all the while trying to appear as if they weren't. They weren't paid enough to deal with evil sorcery.
"But never fear! I have already retrieved the appropriate countermeasures from my stash!" he lifted the amphora he was holding. Something inside made sloshing noises.
Ami didn't like where this was going, and took a step away from him until her back touched the bar counter.
"This holy water has been especially blessed and enchanted by the Abbot himself! A single splash will neutralise all magical items on somebody's person!" With that, he pulled back his arms, as if to swing the container in the prisoner's direction.
Ami paled. Neutralise all magical items? What about her precious, currently inactive visor?The innkeeper was about to protest that one couldn't just pour water all over his floor, but it was already too late. A spray of transparent liquid shot from the amphora and sparkled in the air before it struck Ami's face and drenched her clothes. She cringed away, but the effects were near instantaneous. Her lithe form was surrounded by a curtain of green motes and pale blue streamers of light for a moment, and suddenly she felt a draft on her wet skin. Had she had more time to consider the situation, she would have realised that her cloak and senshi uniform were just as much magical creations as her visor.
"Eeeeek!" Ami dropped to the ground, hid under the table, and pulled her knees to her chest to protect her modesty as well as possibly within circumstances, which, given that her wrists were still tied behind her back, wasn't all that much.
The surprised silence within the inn was quickly broken by jeers and whistles. "Well, at least we learned that her hair colour is indeed natural," the same man with rodent-like features as before drawled.
Ami's face was red as a tomato as she cowered under the table. Enough was enough. "SHABON SPRAY!" Getting the spell off with her limbs restrained was by no means easy, but fortunately it wasn't something that had to be aimed. Obscuring fog spread through the inn, performing its tasks of hiding her from leering gazes. The drop in temperature was rather uncomfortable in her current state of undress, though. Around her, the voices turned surprised and frightened, and she could hear people bumping into each other as they tried to move in the haze.
"Pigs," the tall blond woman muttered as she set down her cup of tea, in order to better punch her companion in the shoulder.
"Ouch! Stop being so jealous, Cathy," he complained, but the woman had already stood up and walked into the mist, becoming a thin silhouette before disappearing completely. He heard a scuffle, as if from far away, despite the fact that it was happening in the same room. "Unhand me, woman! What are you doing? I am an upstanding man of the faith, and- Ow!" Something heavy clattered to the floor, making gurgling noises.
Cathy squatted down and peered into the surrounding greyish-white mist, slowly advancing toward the location where the young sorceress had last been. Someone bumped into her, making her armour ring, but she ignored the collision. That arching black form had to be the table. Two red pinpricks of light glowered at her from underneath. The correct one, then. The long-haired blonde held out a bundle of cloth in front of her. "I have clothes. Thought you might want them."
Ami let the stranger approach, taking note in passing of the sword at the woman's hips. The straight scar running down her right cheek indicated that she had been in battles and probably knew how to use it. The prospect of clothes was mighty attractive at the moment though, so Ami allowed her to approach and slip the robes over her head. The coarse fabric tingled uncomfortably.
"Now that you are decent, do something about your spell." It wasn't a request, Ami realised. There was steel in the long-haired warrior's voice. Well, it had already served its purpose, so she stopped maintaining it.
Once visibility was restored, the woman hauled Ami to her feet, and she could see the unintended consequences of her spell. Tables had been overturned in the heroes' haste to take more defensible positions. She was at the receiving end of many a glare, and averted her eyes, blushing. The two town guards were huddling in a corner, eyes closed tightly, and holding each other as they shivered in dread. Next to the staircase, that annoying monk Snyder lay on the floor, rubbing a bump on his head, and wearing only nightshirt-like underclothes. Ami looked down at herself. Yes, she was wearing his white-and red garb. She turned her head upwards and sideways to give the tall woman a questioning glance.
"He's the moron who destroyed yours. Besides, the two of you are nearly the same size," she replied dispassionately.
"Hey! Hey now! Don't go casting aspersions on my intelligence! This is all her fault! Who wears nothing but conjured clothes? That's just not done!" the redhead defended himself, already getting up after running into the wall during the mist episode. Ami gave him a nasty glare, eyes momentarily flashing red. He was the fool responsible for embarrassing her like this!
"Ahem. It just isn't seemly for a man of my position to be seen like this. We shall continue this talk later," he sputtered with as much dignity as he could muster, all the while backing up towards the stairs, then turning tail and fleeing up to his room.
"Snyder," the woman sighed, making the word sound like a curse. "I wish Jered had hired an experienced priest instead.
A few hours later, Ami found herself on the back of a horse, sitting in front of the woman - Cathy, she now knew - who had saved her from terminal embarrassment. Currently, she was also saving her from falling off the horse. Ami had never learned to ride, and having her wrists tied together was not improving her balance. To her right was Snyder on a temperamental brown and white spotted mare. The acolyte had replaced his robes - Ami was still wearing his old ones, though her chains had been loosened once so she could put on the the garment properly. He had also put a new ward on her, this one etched into a golden necklace that wouldn't burst into flames. To her, it felt about as effective as the paper one, and it also made her eyes glow red eerily, as she had checked by watching her reflection in a pond. That had been deeply unsettling. Currently, the red-headed acolyte was trying (and failing) to start up a conversation with Cathy.
In front of her was that black-bearded brute, Boris, sitting on a horse that he made look like a pony with his size. Strapped to the barbarian's back was a massive double-bladed axe, and he was busily complaining to the party leader Jered, the weasely-looking man who had been making all those insinuating comments back at the inn, about having to 'bring the horrid little witch' along.
Jered shook his wavy brown hair and answered "We were going to the capital anyway. The payment the mayor promised us for this prisoner transport more than makes up for the inconvenience. Now give it a rest already."
The ride really was less interesting than Ami had expected, at least after she had gotten the hang of staying on the horse. After the first couple of sunlit fields, pastures, and forests, the sight of more became mere routine. She distracted herself by checking up on her dungeon, which became easier and easier with practice. By now, she could actually see whatever she was concentrating on. She was also ordering the imps to drive more exploration shafts into the surrounding terrain, delving dropped off the horse in surprise when a black-carapaced beetle had wandered out of the dust. It was absolutely enormous, bigger than a sheep even! She had sweated nervously when the thing had ignored her imps and made a beeline straight for her dungeon heart. Those mandibles looked awfully sharp. When it had gotten close enough that it risked falling into the beating membrane, she had considered using the Reaper to deal with the problem, but after a moment, she felt something like a tug on her mind, a request for approval. She granted it, and the beetle walked off, deeper into her dungeon, making a cheerful buzzing sound with its wings.
Aware that she had just attracted her first minion - she wasn't sure enough about the Reaper's loyalties to consider him a minion - she assigned a place for it to live. Apparently satisfied with her choice, the critter started building a nest in the narrow, damp crevasse. Still shaken by the scare of something just wandering in and toward her dungeon heart, Ami drew up some defensive measures. Soon, her imps were busy retrofitting the dungeon with rockfalls, trap doors, collapsible ceilings, and the likes. She also had a special plan for her dungeon heart chamber, but before she could put it into motion, she felt an insistent pull from her library. The crystal ball was active. That Nicodemus guy must have her books ready, and she wasn't anywhere near to conclude the transaction! What to do? She couldn't just pop away, because then she wouldn't be able to return. Besides, there would inevitably be questions, and she wasn't willing to throw away this opportunity yet after all she had gone through. Well, she had another option.
Hoping that she wasn't making a big mistake, she snatched the horned demon off his throne and dropped him in the library, then shoved him gently in the direction of the glowing communication device when he looked around in confusion. When a stack of gold coins landed on the desk next to the crystal ball, he finally seemed to get the idea. There was a lot more growling and threatening scythe-waving involved than she was happy with, but in the end, a rectangular green glow appeared on one of the empty shelves, slowly solidifying into a heavy tome.
Ami felt giddy. Finally a clue to getting home! Now, if only she was in a situation where she could use the book. Maybe she could still read it if she got an imp to turn the pages for her?
"KEEPER! Your traps are malfunctioning!" the angry voice of the reaper echoed through the dungeon, loud enough to attract her attention. A soft giggle escaped her lips when she found him. The red demon's scythe was spanning the length of a pit, blade resting on one side, end of the grip on the other. Holding onto the horizontal weapon's heft was the Reaper, dangling precariously over the hole that had been hidden underneath the trapdoor. What was he talking about? It had worked as intended, though she'd have to remember to make it wider in the future. After moving the demon to safe ground, she plopped an imp down next to him, its three-fingered hands full of mud. At her direction, the illiterate creature started to draw on the wall.
The Horned Reaper narrowed his yellow eyes as the imp started to write words in huge letters on the bare stone. The handwriting was atrocious but legible. In disbelief, he snorted "That has to be the most ridiculous method of communication devised yet. To answer your question: the trap is clearly malfunctioning because it doesn't distinguish between allied and hostile creatures!"
The imp scribbled some more. The reaper read. "What do you mean, you don't know how to make those? Do you expect your creatures to remember where all of them are all the time?"
The imp was slowly running out of mud. "No, frankly, the fact that most of them are imp-operated doesn't reassure me at all. Do you have any idea how malicious the little freaks are, given half a chance? No, of course you don't. Why in darkness' name are you communicating like this anyway instead of just talking?"
"Damn it Boris! Cease and desist! I'm done talking about this! We are taking her along, and that's final!" Jered finally lost his temper with his huge companion. "You have been at this since we left, and it's nearly midday now! It's not as if she's making any trouble!" he fingered the bandoleer of daggers strapped over his green shirt, fingers twitching as if yearning to use them.
Cathy urged her ride to go faster, until she was riding next to the brown-haired man, and leaned over the gap separating them. "About that. Did you drug her or something?" she whispered, indicating the girl whom her left arm was half wrapped around, "she has been giggling at odd times and doesn't seem to register what's right in front of her eyes."
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Attached comments:[Regarding Mercury's destroyed clothes] Oh, she wasn't forced back into civilian form. It's just the equipment that suffered