Sailor Moon followed Mrs Mizuno through the latter's spacious apartment and into the living room. When the door swung open, she almost missed a step. Books, candles, various tapestries, and exotic-looking idols had transformed the place into something akin to a fortune teller's tent.
"Please have a seat." Dr Mizuno cleared some space on the table, gathering a stack of books into her arms.
Sailor Moon blinked at the contrast between the woman's prim business suit and the book covers covered in occult symbols.
Mrs Mizuno noticed the magical girl's surprise, and let out an embarrassed laugh. "Oh, all of this is research material! I just found out that magic is real and that it made my daughter disappear! Of course I'm going to learn everything I can about the subject!"
"Ah. Does any of this really work?" Sailor Moon eyed one of the colourful masks on the wall dubiously, since it resembled a youma she had once fought.
"I am having trouble discerning the real from mere folklore, superstition, and outright scams," the doctor admitted. "Could you perhaps assist me with that?"
"Me?" Sailor Moon pointed at herself. The sheer amount of books in the room was rather intimidating. "I only use magic," she said quickly. "I don't actually know how it works! I say the spell, something happens!"
Dr Mizuno frowned. "In that case, I would like to talk at some point to the person who taught you."
Sailor Moon associated bad things with the expression on the older woman's face. Her own mother wore the same one whenever she wanted to talk about Usagi's scholastic performance. "Err, I'll let her know," she agreed in a heartbeat. Let Luna handle this!
In an effort to change the subject, the blonde retrieved a crystal ball from the bag slung over her shoulder, and placed it on the table. "Let's see how Ami is doing, okay?"
A picture of box-like wooden walls formed in the scrying device. Only the glow of the crystal ball at the other end of the connection lit the tiny space's interior.
"Oh, that's the inside of a drawer," Sailor Moon realised after a moment.
"Then let's search for Ami," Mrs Mizuno suggested eagerly and reached toward the orb.
"That's not a good idea," Sailor Moon blurted out. She grabbed the ball and pulled it closer to herself, covering the smooth surface protectively with her hands. "You don't want to be blinded! Ami has put bright lights everywhere! They go off like extra-strong camera flashes when someone tries to scry on her without permission!"
"Sensible." Mrs Mizuno clearly approved of her daughter protecting her privacy. "Now, how do we let her know that we want to talk to her?"
"Ami? Ami! Are you around?" Sailor Moon called out loudly.
Mrs Mizuno winced at the volume and shot the blonde an incredulous look. "Shouting?"
Sailor Moon shrugged and looked apologetic.
In the crystal ball, something moved. The image within shook as the drawer opened and a shadow appeared in the gap outside.
"What is that?" the older woman asked in a whisper, staring at the slender appendage that was slithering in through the opening.
The tentacle felt around in the confined space until it touched the crystal ball and wrapped itself around the bottom of the scrying device. Lodged securely around the narrow part where the transparent sphere connected to the flaring pedestal, it withdrew from the drawer, taking its catch with it.
"Why is there a tentacle monster in my daughter's bedroom?" Mrs Mizuno screeched as a great mound of black-ringed green tentacles, dotted with the occasional eye, came into view.
"Um," Sailor Moon's eyes were wide, and she twirled one of her long pigtails nervously. "I think it's some kind of pet?"
"Pet?" the pale doctor repeated in a small voice.
The creature put the scrying device on the bedside locker and focused most of its eyes on it. Its many pseudopodia wriggled to the left and right.
"That almost looks as if it's shaking its head," the blonde noted. "Hey you! What are you doing in Ami's- I mean the Empress' room?"
The mass of tentacles quivered for a moment and then slowly ambled over toward the exit. It grabbed the door handle with several pseudopodia and started rattling the sturdy portal to no apparent effect.
"You are locked in?" Sailor Moon asked.
The creature bobbed up and down, which may have been a shrug or a nod.
"That thing can understand you?" Mrs Mizuno asked. She was watching the strange creature with horrified fascination and looked a little green around the nose.
"Seems so. Hey, do you know where the Empress is?"
The tentacle monster shook once more and burst into a flurry of activity. It used several tentacles to snatch Ami's arcane tomes from the desk and flipped them open. With another tentacle, it picked up the crystal ball and dangled it over the collection. More tentacles appeared, moving to different spots on the pages and tapping them.
"Huh?" Sailor Moon looked at the proceedings with a blank expression. "What is it doing?"
"It can't talk," Dr Mizuno assumed. "Instead, it's pointing at words in the books! To think that such an odd creature knows how to read..."
"Oh. What is it saying?"
"I don't know. I can't read that language," Mrs Mizuno reminded the blonde.
Sailor Moon squinted and paid more attention to the words that the tentacle monster was indicating. "Try. Striped. One. Crystal. Spherical." She read out loud. "What does it mean?"
"Crystal Sphere. Another crystal ball? 'Try' seems clear enough, so 'Striped One' could be a name or a place description," the blue-haired woman pondered.
"Striped One." The magical girl frowned. "Do you mean Tiger?"
The writhing mass bobbed once more, flipped a page, and stabbed a tentacle down on the word 'positive'.
"Okay then, I'll try that. Thanks." Sailor Moon sighed and let the connection flicker out.
"Tiger?" Dr Mizuno asked.
"A youma who is working for Ami. She isn't nice," the pigtailed girl explained. "All right, let's give this a try and hope she won't give us too much trouble."
With walls of dark, bluish stone and pale lights that rested on top of slender pillars, Tiger's office resembled Queen Beryl's throne room. Wall cabinets with tinted windows hid most of the paperwork so that nothing distracted from the massive desk that dominated the room.
In theory, Tiger would be an intimidating sight to behold when seated in the throne-like chair behind the polished desk. In practice, the youma's left cheek rested on the documents before her as she snored quietly.
The crystal ball on the corner of the desk came alive, casting more light onto the dozing figure and causing the highlights in her blue hair to gleam brighter.
"Ami?" a familiar voice gasped.
"Yes?" Tiger responded sleepily as she started awake and raised her head. Blinking, she brushed away the sheet of paper still stuck to her face before recognition of the voice fully set in. Her head whirled toward the crystal, eyes wide. "Mu- moment, please?"
A second face appeared in the sphere, frowning. "Tiger! Don't you dare try that again!"
"Oh. Hello, Sailor Moon." The youma went through several different facial expressions in short order, reflecting her inner turmoil. In order, they were shock at seeing the person who her memories designated as her mother, irritation at Sailor Moon butting in, depression at having made the blonde dislike her, longing for a friendship that had never been hers, and self-loathing for being so weak that she actually desired things like that. She turned away so the others couldn't watch her face. "What do you want?" she snapped.
"We are looking for Ami," Sailor Moon said, her arms akimbo as she glowered through the sphere. "Could you get her, please?"
"Right." Tiger stood up, eager to flee this situation.
"Wait!" Mrs Mizuno shouted, causing the youma to hesitate. "Why do you look so much like Ami?"
While Tiger was more muscular and taller than Ami, their resemblance was too great to be coincidence. It was obvious to the youma that her- Ami's mother had noticed that too. While part of her would have enjoyed explaining to the woman in great detail what her daughter had done to her, another was terrified of finding out what the woman would think. Or, more precisely, of rejection.
"She tried to impersonate Ami before," Sailor Moon accused, "she almost caused a lot of trouble!"
"Well, maybe if you were smarter, it wouldn't have gotten that far at all!" Tiger lashed out at the blonde.
"Why would you do that?" Mrs Mizuno asked, sounding a little reproachful.
"None of your business!" Tiger snapped. She had no intention of explaining herself to them! Even a youma had her pride. "Now, if you'll excuse me..." She disappeared underneath a shell of earth-coloured rock, which crumbled away into nothingness.
Ami, clad in her school uniform, appeared in Tiger's office half a minute after the youma had vacated it. Using magic in her civilian form felt odd, since she was so unused to it. She noted in passing that the usual snowflakes accompanying her every teleport in Sailor Mercury form were missing. Interesting. More important, was the active crystal ball on the desk's mirror-smooth surface. The teenager smiled widely. "Mum! Sailor Moon!"
"Hi, Ami!" Sailor Moon greeted.
"Ami! How are you doing?" Mrs Mizuno asked, inspecting her daughter as closely as the crystal ball allowed for.
"Oh, I'm starting to feel on top of things again," the blue-haired girl reported. "I'm well rested, there is no pressing emergency, and things are looking up with the rescued villagers too!"
"I'm glad to hear that!" Dr Mizuno's smile waned slightly as her expression turned inquisitive. "Ami, that Tiger person we just talked with - I'm wondering why she looks so much like you that I mistook her for you at first glance?"
"Oh, Tiger. It's... complicated," Ami began.
"She was kind of rude," Sailor moon commented.
"Does it have something to do with the fact that she responded when I called your name?"
Ami grasped her hands in front of her skirt and looked down. "Er, somewhat. How do I put this..."
Her mother's eyes widened as an idea occurred to her. "Ami, you didn't develop some kind of monstrous alternate form to better fit your role as an evil overlord, did you?"
"What?" Ami stared. "No! Tiger's her own person!" Since her Keeper senses had located the striped youma right outside the door, eavesdropping on the conversation, she felt no compunctions about yanking her through space and to her side. "Mother, whatever gave you that idea?"
Tiger blinked in surprise, and her face fell as she recognised her surroundings.
Mrs. Mizuno blushed faintly as she looked from her daughter to the youma that stood next to her with her arms crossed. She cleared her throat. "Well, I came upon the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during my recent bout of research, and it didn't sound much crazier than what has already happened to you." She let out a short, embarrassed laugh. "On second thought, I really should have trusted you not to try to hide a second identity from me."
Ami almost winced and looked down in order to hide her sheepish expression. Now she felt miserable about still hiding the fact that she was Sailor Mercury. But she owed it to Sailor Moon and the others to protect their secrecy. Didn't she? From the corner of her eyes, she could see Tiger smirking.
"Hey, I remember now!" Sailor Moon shouted, pointing at the tall figure to Ami's right. "Didn't you say something about taking Ami's memories?"
"I did not take them!" Tiger protested loudly.
"Memories?" Dr Mizuno looked alarmed. "How did that happen?"
"Actually," Ami raised her hand to draw attention to herself, "Tiger here has some valid to resent me, and that's also part of those reasons. In short, what happened is that- mmph!" Ami found it hard to speak through the strong hand that suddenly pressed itself against her lips.
Behind the teenager, Tiger glared. "Can we please not talk about that? I consider that kind of thing private!"
"Let Ami go!" came an outraged cry from the crystal ball.
"I'm not doing anything to her, sheesh," the youma said, but she took a step back and removed her hand from the teenager's mouth.
Ami looked up at the taller girl, puzzled. "But, I would have thought you'd want them to know?"
"Know what?" Mrs Mizuno frowned and was sounding worried.
"I don't need their pity!" Tiger stamped her foot angrily.
"Pity?" Sailor Moon blinked. "Why do you expect us to pity you?" There was no malice in her voice, only genuine confusion.
Dr Mizuno was thinking things through faster then the blonde and formulated a theory. "Ami, did you do something to her?"
"Not on purpose!"
"Can we stop talking about this already?"
Ami looked imploringly at Tiger. "What are you so afraid of? Remember what you know about them! Do you really think they wouldn't give you the chance you deserve?"
The tiger-striped youma looked at the crystal ball.
"I am certainly not going to hold anything you may have unintentionally done wrong or had no control over against you," Mrs Mizuno said with a reassuring smile.
Tiger stared at Sailor Moon, who was looking sceptical.
"Look, I still don't like the way you tried to trick us," the senshi said, "but if Ami is willing to forgive you, so am I."
Finally, the scowl on the youma's face dissipated, and her shoulders slumped in defeat. "Fine. I guess knowing one way or another is better than eternal uncertainty."
Ami patted her on the back weakly, thinking that she should do something to reassure the youma. "Well then," she started her explanation. "When Jadeite rescued Tiger from her imprisonment, her mind was gone." Her voice vent quieter. "I, err, needed a body that could use Dark Kingdom style magic at the time, so I possessed her."
"It was either you or one of the other youma, who were all awake and functional at the time," Ami said apologetically. "I decided that it was better to inhabit someone who was no more self-aware than a lizard, rather than risk the death of someone with an intact personality."
"Leaving aside for the moment that I find it morally questionable to do something like that to someone who cannot give consent," Mrs Mizuno frowned, "I need some clarification about this 'possession' ability you mentioned. When you say 'possession' I think of stories where evil spirits enter someone's body and use it like a puppet."
"That's... that's pretty much exactly how it works," Ami admitted, hanging her head. "Since Tiger is a youma and made of magic, her appearance depends a lot on her self-image. Now, when I was in control, the body changed to resemble me. Except when I left, she was kind of stuck that way."
"That was very irresponsible of you, Ami." Mrs Mizuno chided. She glanced over at Tiger. "Is that why you dislike my daughter? We are, of course, going to fix this. Right Ami?"
"No, Mum, its worse than that," Ami confessed. "This isn't all. When we managed to restore her sanity later, it turned out that many of my memories had imprinted on her too. She has my memories. She remembers you raising her. She remembers being friends with my friends. And then it turned out that nothing of it was real."
"You- you are Ami too, then?" Dr Mizuno asked for clarification. She swayed, causing Sailor Moon to quickly put a steadying hand on her shoulder.
"I'm not a copy!" Tiger contradicted. "Just because I look like her and remember much the same things as she does, I'm not like her. I wouldn't like being that meek, for example," she taunted with a sideways glance at the shorter teenager. "I'd be the older and bolder sibling, at the very least!"
"Hmm, they kind of do look like sisters when they stand next to each other like that," Sailor Moon said when the ensuing silence threatened to turn awkward.
This prompted Ami and Tiger to look at each other. Sure enough, they both stood with their backs straight and their hands in front of themselves, fidgeting slightly.
It was clear from Mrs Mizuno's facial expression that she had trouble with the concept of suddenly having acquired a second daughter. A daughter who was older than her first, had skin covered in a strange striped pattern, and tiny horns. Finally, she let out a long sigh. "I'm glad I'm sitting down already. Well, they say that parenthood is full of unexpected surprises." She let out a short laugh. "I certainly never expected to become a mother again - with so little warning at that."
Tiger's eyes lit up with hope. "Y-you mean it?" Mrs Mizuno nodded. "How could I be so cruel as to turn you away when you know me so well already? Besides, as Ami's parent, I must take responsibility for her actions. Welcome to the family."
Tiger turned away "I'm not good at this mushy stuff," she explained. A hint of tears glittered in the corners of her eyes.
"Ami, give her a hug for me," the doctor ordered.
The young Keeper complied, reaching awkwardly around the youma, who didn't resist.
"So- you were nasty to Ami because you thought we wouldn't like you?" Sailor Moon asked, her eyes wide.
Tiger extricated herself from her adopted sister's embrace and nodded. "What else was I supposed to think? You senshi kill youma!"
Sailor Moon looked taken aback. "That's because they attack us first! None of them ever try to talk! I'd love not having to fight!"
"Tiger, you can take over Umbra's magic lessons for the senshi so you can discuss this properly, if that's all right with both of you?" Ami interrupted quickly.
"I think I would enjoy that," Tiger agreed.
"Okay," Sailor Moon said simply.
"Oh, and Ami, speaking of responsibility... who else did you use that possession spell on?" Dr Mizuno asked, her voice full of motherly authority. "Should I be expecting more surprises?"
Ami shook her head and raised her hands, palms facing outward. "No, no, nothing like that ever happened before! I don't like using the spell on sentient beings at all, except as a lie detector. Well, I also need to use it on Cathy too sometimes so I can renew certain enchantments, but that takes only a moment and she agrees to it. I mainly use it on the imps and the ice golems, which are pretty much the same thing!"
"Ah, yes, those imps. I have been thinking about them. They are some kind of slave, aren't they?"
"Um." Ami felt uncomfortable about that line of questioning. "They are summoned spirits attached to an artificial body. "
"But they are forced to work for you without compensation?"
The blue-haired girl nodded mutely.
"Ami, that's the definition of slavery. Are you sure all of this," Mrs Mizuno made an encompassing gesture with her hand, "isn't getting to you? Are you still doing the right thing?"
"Mother, they aren't people! I have been in their head!" Ami protested. "They are not much smarter than a dog, and evil and mischievous to boot! Wait, I'll show you!" She focused inward, searching for an example. Unfortunately, she didn't have to search for long. She held out her arm and reached through space for the culprit. "This one, for example." She lifted the startled imp by grabbing the back of the creature's coverall. "She was sneaking into rooms and stealing single socks from each pair, then hiding them."
With a squeak, the imp hid the incriminating woollen object in her hand behind her back.
"Too late. You are going to put all of them back where you found them," she ordered sternly and returned the bug-eyed creature to its original location.
"That doesn't sound like something that a being barely smarter than a monkey would be capable of," Dr Mizuno pointed out.
"That- um..." Ami was at a loss for words and blinked. Had she possessed one of them since she had developed the Metallia-based version? And if so, had she taken the time to make sure there was nothing different about them? "I recently started using a new version," she admitted after some time. "I didn't think to check if they were different. By all accounts, they are more vicious than the originals..." Ami felt like slapping herself. She shouldn't have needed her mother to point something like this out. Particularly not after one of the ice golems evolved into a magic-eating monstrosity. Were all of her imps now baby youma that could grow into something more? That would make the way she used them rather... well, it was not something a good person would do without reservations. "I- I'll have to look into it."
"Ami! Don't look so depressed! I'm not angry at you. I know you have too much to deal with, and mistakes happen, " her mother comforted her. "I just don't want you to forget who you are and turn into what you are pretending to be."
"Thanks, mum," the young Keeper said, the red glow in her eyes almost fading for a moment.
"So, let's move on to lighter things," Mrs Mizuno suggested. "Tiger."
The youma looked up in wonder. "Yes?"
A mischievous grin played around the elder Mizuno's mouth. "Why don't you start doing the sacred duty of every older sibling?"
"What would that be?" the youma asked cautiously.
"Why, thoroughly mortifying their younger siblings by talking about all the embarrassing little things they have been up to!"
"MUM!" Ami shrieked. The grin that had appeared on Tiger's face didn't bode well for her.
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