Ami felt the corners of her lips curve downwards as she noticed the walls flash a faint violet. That familiar glow could only be Jadeite teleporting in somewhere behind her. She had thought she had made her position absolutely clear when she had transported him away. With a start, she noticed the patient before her cringe. She realised that her fingers were pressing much harder down on his wrist than necessary in order to take his pulse. "Oh, sorry about that," she apologised, angry at herself for losing her composure so easily just because of the dark general's presence. With a sigh, she turned to face the blonde. "What is it now? This had better be important."
"Oh, it is," Jadeite said. The grey-uniformed man stood with his arms crossed, a confident smile on his face. "See?" He turned halfway toward the back of the room, pointing at Umbra with an open-handed gesture.
The one-legged youma held a sphere-like object covered with a black cloth before her and looked nervous. She briefly met Ami's eyes and quickly looked down.
"Hey! What did you do that for?" Sailor Moon's voice could be heard from underneath the covered crystal ball.
Surprised at hearing her friends voice, Ami immediately started worrying why her friends would contact her outside of the usual hours. Was the Dark Kingdom on the move?
However, Jadeite pre-empted her questions. "I called them. The cover is in place so you won't have to explain to your mother why you are looking like this right now."
Ami's eyes went huge. "My mother? Now?" For the moment, her patients were forgotten. I'm going to see my mother again! Happiness mixed with worry. What am I going to tell her? How do I explain everything? Maybe she can tell me how to help these people!"
Jadeite waved a gloved hand in front of her face to catch her attention. "You might want to get back to your normal form first," he suggested, sounding amused.
"Oh, of course." It wouldn't do to be seen as an ice golem. Mom might think that I'm some kind of shape-shifting imposter! I hope my long disappearance didn't hurt her too much! With a burst of magic, she propelled herself out of the ice statue she was possessing. The red-eyed black cloud of energy she turned into solidified into a tar-like column as it condensed and sprouted limbs. Moments later, the darkness faded away, and Ami stood on her own feet again. Her knees felt weak and jelly-like as the exhaustion hit her, but shook her head to fight it off. I hope they didn't shift the viewpoint of their crystal ball yet. Mom wouldn't recognise me as Sailor Mercury!
With a mental command, the black and blue sailor uniform she was wearing dissolved into glowing ribbons and was replaced by her regular school uniform. She had probably given Jadeite an eyeful right now, but she couldn't bring herself to care. Mainly because her legs were refusing to support her weight now that she was back in civilian form. Just before her eyes fell shut and her vision went black, she felt two strong arms catch her.
"That went about as well as I expected," Jadeite muttered, not at all surprised as he shifted the weight of the unconscious girl in his arms so that her head was resting against his right shoulder.
Umbra, whom the comment had been directed at, fidgeted and looked at the inert form of the empress. He guessed that she was thinking something along the lines of "Why in Metallia's name did I have to become involved in this?"
"What did you do to her?" came an angry screech from the crystal ball. Sailor Moon had obviously decided to circumvent the obstacle obstructing her view by simply scrying on the room.
"You tricked her!" a second voice accused, "why did you tell her we had her mother here? We were only supposed to talk some sense into her!"
"It was the easiest way to get her out of that golem," Jadeite said unapologetically. "And I didn't have to do anything. She passed out all on her own." He approached Umbra and pulled the black rag off the crystal ball so he could see whom he was talking to.
Luna sighed as she took in Ami's sleeping face. "I suppose it couldn't be helped, with her having stayed awake for four days." She narrowed her eyes at the scrying ball right in front of her furry paws. "You haven't explained why she would deprive herself of sleep for so long yet! She is too smart to risk her health like that for nothing."
Jadeite shrugged and looked briefly down at the sleeping girl he was holding. "Unforeseen complications during the rescue mission. We got the people out, but... well, see for yourself." He stepped aside, letting the cat and the blonde see the back of the room unhindered.
Sailor Moon gasped, and the blood fled from her face. "Are- are those people blind?" she asked in a small voice.
The dark general nodded. "Yes. All of them. Mercury thinks that it's her fault that those crazy cultists went after them in the first place, and she is trying to find a way to undo the damage. She hasn't allowed herself a break since she rescued them."
"Poor Ami," Sailor Moon said, her lips quivering. Her gaze lingered on the two blind children in the back of the room who were sharing a bowl of cookies. "What kind of monster would do something like that?"
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Luna asked.
"Well, if you could manage to really have Mrs. Mizuno present before Mercury wakes up, you would spare me a whole lot of trouble," Jadeite said, having the good grace to look a bit sheepish. "Aside from that, I don't think there's much you can do from where you are."
"Right! Ami will need any comfort she can get!" Sailor Moon answered, straightening and thrusting a fist into the air. "I'll make sure she gets to see her, even if I have to break into her apartment!"
"Sailor Moon!" Luna chided, shaking her head. She focused on Jadeite again. "Thanks for taking care of Ami," she said, "but I still don't like you lying to her. If you hurt her..." The cat unsheathed her claws.
"Shouldn't you be making sure that your Moon brat doesn't do something stupid?" he countered. With a smirk, he watched the talking cat bound after her charge, muttering something unflattering under her breath.
"That was quite the gamble, Sir" Umbra pointed out when the crystal ball went inert. "What would you have done if the empress had remained conscious?"
"Then I would have helped her tiredness along a bit," the grey-uniformed man said. "I was never worried about that part of my plan"
"She is not going to be happy when she wakes up."
"Yes, I'm still figuring out what to do about that," Jadeite confessed, "but since she's going to be out for several hours at least, I'm sure I'll be able to think of something. First things first, though. Let's get her to her room."
Cathy let out a yelp of pain when her orcish opponent tagged her sword hand hard with an upward swing. The iron maul's impact rattled her bones and sent her sword flying in a high arc. It sailed over the heads of the spectators cheering around the combat pit, and landed with a loud clang behind them.
The swordswoman leapt back, kicking up sand as she did, and landed in a neutral stance. Damn, but I have come to rely too much on the boosts that Mercury's magic gave me! She shook her injured hand in order to make the numbness recede. “All right, that's enough. You win this one,” she said to the approaching brute. An instant later, she had to throw herself aside to avoid the whistling downward swing that drove the maul's head deep into the soft ground. Wide-eyed, she shouted “Hey! Spar is over! What do you think you are doing?”
“Getting myself promoted,” the unkempt orc growled, a dangerous glint in his pig-like eyes. With a grunt, he brought his heavy weapon up for another swing. “You aren't that tough without the Keeper's magic backing you up. She deserves a commander who is strong for real!”
Just great, this newcomer fool thought Mercury would handle things similar to the way other Keepers did. Cathy back-pedalled furiously, just managing to stay ahead of his strikes. “Stop it! The Empress isn't going to reward insubordination!” she protested while her eyes darted left and right, looking for something to use as a weapon. No help was forthcoming from the watching troops. If she survived this, she'd have to hammer the concepts of teamwork and protecting their superior officers into them. Painfully.
She gasped when the latest swing of her attacker turned out to be a feint. Already committed to her dodge, she managed to twist her body sideways such that his follow-up only clipped her and tossed her away a few steps, rather than crushing her ribcage through her breastplate. She needed a weapon, quickly, and there seemed to be only one option. Gritting her teeth, she focused on the one spell she had learned. Even as fire stripped away her armour and trousers, she could feel a weight materialising in her hands.
Before the Reaper scythe had time to fully form, she lunged forward, hoping to thrust it into her enemy's chest while he was still squinting into the flames hugging her form.
The orc was good, perhaps even better than her, though. Despite his surprise, he managed to bat the blow aside as bulging muscles tore at the weight of his hammer-like weapon, bringing it up in a parry.
While he was still spinning from the inertia, Cathy darted in close, leading with her right shoulder. She was much lighter than the monster, and a tackle wouldn't normally have had much effect on a creature like him. However, the pauldron covering her shoulder not only represented a large percentage of the reaper's skimpy armour, it was also decorated with a sharp spike. The blonde could feel weak resistance as it bit deeply into her opponent's pink skin, spraying her side with the hot blood of her enemy.
With a gurgle, the orc went to his knees, grasping at the spurting wound in his throat.
Pumped on adrenaline, Cathy leapt back and watched him drop into the stained sand face-first. “Get a healer in here!” she ordered, but she didn't expect him to survive. That didn't bother her much, since the jerk had been trying to kill her, after all. She'd have to report this incident to Mercury, though, who might be disappointed in her. Panting, she brushed the sweat from her brow. At least, this hadn't been a misunderstanding. Several times since passing out during the Dreadfog Island battle, she had almost gotten into fights with monsters who didn't recognise her civilian form. Fortunately, merely informing them about her identity had been enough to break the disguise effect in those situations.
As she climbed up the ladder out of the pit, she could feel all eyes on her sweat-glistening body. She was just glad that Mercury had come up with a version of the reaper armour spell that included a bra. “Not one word,” she hissed as she strode through the goblins and orcs parting before her. “Get back to your regular exercises!” she shouted as she marched out of the training hall.
Grumbling, she stomped through the corridors leading to her room. As she approached the library, she found herself wishing that the lighting in this place left some shadows to sneak through. Being seen in this outfit was embarrassing, and in her civilian identity doubly so.
“...think she wants with those wretches?” a male voice escaped from the half-open library door.
“Well, she is an Empress. Maybe she wants a population for her empire?” someone else speculated.
“My guess is sacrifices,” a third, older voice said.
“That's silly. She wouldn't need them well cared for in that case!”
“Ah, but you weren't with us when we were still in Malleus' old dungeon, Nemez,” the old voice contradicted. “When we were afflicted by a plague, she placated the dark gods by sacrificing power drained from everyone. Clearly, she wants a large, regenerative source of sacrifices!”
Cathy could hear some approving noises as the other dark magicians considered the merits of the idea. Maybe she could sneak past unseen while they were distracted by their discussion?
“... think her goddess helped her defeat Crowned Death's monster?”
“I heard rumours that she ate it.”
“Don't believe that nonsense. She was with us during the battle, remember?”
“I was sitting closest to her, and I could hear a girl's voice that I didn't recognise from her crystal ball,” Nemez commented. “Think it was one of those allies even more powerful than her that she told Torian about?”
“Where's Torian, anyway?”
Cathy suppressed a groan. Why did they have to start looking around for their comrade the exact moment she attempted to make her way unseen past the open door? The wolf whistles were particularly vexing. Dressed silly or not, she wouldn't let them get away with that. The blonde suppressed her urge to cover herself and stalked closer to them. Her scowl challenged the dozen or so pairs of eyes staring at her. “Stop leering at me, and make yourself useful! Give me a robe or something!”
“Who are you that you think you can command us?” one of the younger warlocks said, his gaze glued to the swordswoman's chest.
“I know very well that you recognise me, since you were all in the command room when I passed out, and I'll be sure to remember you when I report to the Empress ," Cathy replied with a nasty grin.
“It was only a joke!” the warlock protested, shrinking into the crowd.
“Ah, Commander,” a warlock with a shaggy black beard said, "did you run into trouble?" He pointed a crooked finger at the blood coating her side.
"Some. The fool has been dealt with."
"I see." The purple-robed man nodded. "In any case, it is good that you are here, since I have a question. Do you think the Empress would mind if we investigated one of her airships for a while?”
The under-dressed blonde blinked. “The airships?" Cathy didn't think the magic users understood enough about them to find out anything useful. However, the warlocks apparently had no intention of getting her some clothes, so who was she to keep them from wandering around the vile-smelling decks for no gain? "Go ahead, she's not happy with the remodelling she had to do to accommodate all the passengers, anyway, so you probably won't be able to mess things up.”
The man brightened, and he turned to his colleagues. "You heard her! Let's find out what arcane secrets we can learn!"
Like children clustering around a fascinating new toy, the warlocks huddled together. "I'll get the candles!"
"Which books do you think would be the most useful to take along?"
"Forget about the books, we need more measuring instruments! The dowsing rods should-"
There was a ripping noise as a scythe blade stabbed down through the hood of a warlock turning his back to Cathy. Using the weapon like a hook, she yanked him backwards, and he dropped on his behind. As he looked up at her bared teeth in stunned surprise, she demanded "Clothes. Now!"
A few waves of his hands and a muttered incantation later, she felt soft fabric settle over her armour. The maroon robe he had created wasn't exactly the height of fashion, but it covered her to her satisfaction. She removed the blade from the vicinity of his neck, prompting him to let out a relieved breath. "Good. I'll leave you to your discussions now," she said into the silence, turned on her heel, and strutted out. Slamming the door behind her was perhaps overly theatrical, but it felt good. The room remained quiet for several heartbeats before she heard a reverent voice through the oaken obstacle.
"I envy her closeness to the Empress! Imagine how much knowledge and power she must be able to glean!"
Now wasn't that soothing to her ego? Cathy continued on her way with a smile.
"I prefer imagining that blood had been sweet syrup instead," a younger voice quipped.
Cathy almost missed a step and let out an angry huff.
"Oh, yeah. Quite a nice sight," a sagely third voice agreed, "but Venna has bigger..."
Cathy stormed off, not wanting to hear what else those old lechers had to say, her mood thoroughly ruined once more.
Jadeite shimmered into sight in front of Mercury's bedroom door. He pondered what to do next with the girl who looked quite comfortable in his arms. Wasn't there any imp around he could delegate getting her into her pyjamas and bed to? He turned around when rapid, clanking footsteps approached, and his face lit up when he spotted Cathy, who was wearing a hideous maroon dress for some reason. "Cathy!"
Startled surprise replaced the fierce scowl on the swordswoman's face when Jadeite appeared before her so suddenly that she almost crashed into him. Her eyes widened when she noticed whom he was carrying.
"Here!" the grey-uniformed man handed the schoolgirl to the long-haired blonde, forcing her to let go of her scythe in order to not drop the younger girl."Tuck her in, will you?" He pointed a thumb at Mercury's bedroom door.
Jadeite teleported away before Cathy could ask him any questions. He had come up with the basic outline of a plan to placate Mercury when she woke up, and was eager to put it into action. First, he needed to pick something up from a dimly lit room. He approached the large cot at one end of the chamber, leaned down, and seized the elongated object lying at its side.
It didn't move.
"Let. Go!" Jadeite demanded as he glared down at the owner of the weapon. "You'll get it back later." The horned bundle of bandages staring back up at him with solid white eyes let out a growl.
Getting the injured reaper to let go of his scythe took a foot placed on his chest and some very determined application of force, but in the end, the sweat-drenched dark general was victorious in the tug-of-war. Heedless of the angry roars behind him, he shouldered the weapon and moved onwards. The clucking of chickens in the hatchery guided him toward his next destination.
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