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Mrs Mizuno's hands were shaking. Therefore, she took care to keep them hidden under the table, out of sight of the crystal ball. For Ami's sake, she had to appear as if she was taking things in stride. As she was still recovering from the surprises, she only half-listened to Tiger to chatter about Ami's exploits. Of course, she really was interested in every little thing that her missing daughter had been up to, but right now, she needed to come to terms with the changed situation. I should prescribe myself some calming drugs for future conversations like this, she pondered, keeping a small smile frozen on her face. Her poor darling was too young for many of the things she currently had to deal with. The doctor briefly closed her eyes. If she could take some burdens off Ami's shoulders by appearing as an island of stability, then she would do so. Suddenly, she felt another hand gently enveloping her shaking fingers and squeezing them reassuringly. Startled, she looked to her left.

Sailor Moon was looking at her with an understanding smile and nodded slightly in the doctor's direction when she met her eyes.

So far, Dr Mizuno had thought of the blonde as well-meaning, but not too quick on the uptake. However, the magical girl seemed to be much more perspective than she appeared. Or is my expression that transparent? The doctor quickly looked back at the crystal ball, worried that Ami had observed the exchange. Her fear proved unfounded. Ami wasn't paying attention to her, since she was much too busy alternating between hiding the bottom of her face with her fists and shooting glares at the youma.

Youma. No, Tiger. She needed to stop thinking of the being as a creature and start to think of her as adopted daughter. After all, there could be a very confused copy of Ami trapped in that body. Kami, this entire situation was so bizarre. She didn't even want to imagine the creative paperwork that would be required if - when - Ami made it back. All of this was taking some serious getting used to. Mrs Mizuno's trail of thought was interrupted when her brain seized on some of Tiger's words in particular. "Wait, you got drunk?" Mrs Mizuno sounded almost relieved. While she didn't exactly approve of her daughter experimenting with alcohol consumption, it was such a mundane act that she latched onto it in desperation. No evil magic, empire-building, mythical monsters, cloned sisters, or horrible mutilations. Just a complication that any parent of a teenager could reasonably expect to face.

"It was a victory party," Ami hurried to explain. "I didn't intend to!"

The sheepish expression on her daughter's face convinced Mrs Mizuno about her sincerity. "Well. I hope the resulting hangover taught you a valuable lesson."

"Actually, she avoided that one," Tiger interjected. Sitting on her desk and letting her legs dangle off its edge, she smirked. "She was using conjured alcohol, so it disappeared from her system before she could suffer from any of its after-effects!"

Mrs Mizuno blinked and looked alarmed. "Ami, that can't be healthy!" she shouted as she leaned toward the crystal ball. "Liquid suddenly disappearing from cells that are already using it - I shudder to think what that does to a metabolism." Very sternly, she continued "Next time you want to get drunk, use a real drink! Doctor's order!"

Ami, Tiger, and even Sailor Moon turned to look at her with wide eyes and went silent.

Dr Mizuno paused, thought about what she had said, and started massaging her temples. That had not come out as she had intended. Why did there always have to be magic to make things more complicated? "I'm not suggesting that you should get drunk again, or that I approve," she added in a pained voice. "I don't. But there isn't really much I can do about it if you decide to anyway!" An instant later, she regretted her words when she saw tears glitter in the corners of Ami's crimson-glowing eyes.

"Mum, I- I'm not going to turn into some kind of delinquent! You can trust me!" the blue-haired girl protested.

"Ami, I didn't mean it like that!" Mrs Mizuno said, cursing the feeling of helplessness that had led her to blurt out that thoughtless statement. "I'm very proud of how you are handling yourself, and I'm sure you are doing the best you can! I just wish I could be over there to support you." She hesitated and turned to look at Sailor Moon, narrowing her eyes. "Can I? Is there a way for me to get to Ami? If she got there..."

The blonde blinked. "I don't really know." Uncertain, she looked at the crystal ball. "Ami?"

"Thanks for the offer, Mum, but if we had some magic like that, I'd use it to come home instead," she explained, sounding sad.

"Oh. Of course." Mrs Mizuno fell quiet as that glimmer of hope died.

Before the silence could get awkward, Sailor Moon pulled the scrying device closer to herself, curiosity glimmering in her blue eyes. "Hey, Tiger, you said Ami made some outfit-changing spell while inebriated? What does it do?"

Grateful for the change of topic, Dr Mizuno allowed herself a grin. "Actually, I was wondering that myself."

Her daughter's eyes widened, and she shuffled her feet. "Err, I would prefer not to demonstrate that. I would lose the irreplaceable set of clothes I'm currently wearing, and-"

"I'd be happy to demonstrate!" Tiger announced and slid off the desk.

Ami made a strangled noise. "Wait!" She lunged at the youma, but was too late. Brightly-burning flames forced her back as they snaked around Tiger's body.

In front of the crystal ball, Mrs Mizuno gasped. Didn't the fire hurt? She kept watching in horrified fascination as the flames looped around limbs and took on more rigid shapes. Mentally, she rushed through a list of first aid measures for burn wounds. When the fiery transformation effects faded away, she let out the breath she had been holding. What little there was of the costume left no doubt that Tiger's skin remained healthy and unblemished.

The youma grinned widely and pirouetted on one leg to better show off every part of the daring outfit. Spiked pauldrons, chains, and metal greaves glittered in the lamplight as she completed her turn and raised her scythe over her head. She came to a stop in a wide-legged stance that was an obvious parody of Sailor Moon's poses.

“Oh, only that one,” Sailor Moon said as she sat sunk back into her seat.

The lack of surprise and faint disappointment in Sailor Moon's voice indicated that the blonde had seen the ridiculous outfit before. Mrs. Mizuno's brow furrowed. Did her daughter run around in that skimpy thing frequently?

Ami looked as if she wanted the ground to swallow her. "I didn't design it! I only added the bra!" She waved her index finger at Tiger's chest area and shot her a venomous look.

"And I'm still wondering why you made it out of steel. It's not really comfortable that way," the youma commented. She looked back at the crystal ball. "Well, what do you think?"

"Well," Mrs Mizuno hesitated and looked at Ami's worried face. "It's certainly a unique look. I suppose it's not worse than a bikini," she delivered her verdict. Which, considering that Ami had definitely preferred modest one-piece swimsuits before, was not exactly reassuring.

"It's actually fairly tame for local fashion," Tiger allowed, perhaps sensing that she was making her adoptive mother uncomfortable. "It's certainly not going to tarnish Ami's reputation."

Mrs Mizuno couldn't quite read the dark look that Ami reacted with. Instead, she focused her attention on the outfit again. Something about it seemed familiar, and she suddenly realised where she had seen it before. It had been in Ami's wardrobe, lying folded up next to some leather items that had caused her sleepless nights worrying about her daughter growing up. Thinking of Ami's bedroom reminded the doctor of something she couldn't believe she had forgotten due to all the excitement. "Ami, there's a tentacle monster in your room!"

"Err, that's Tserk. I forgot all about it."

"It's supposed to be in there?" Mrs Mizuno asked cautiously, not liking the possible implications.

"Not really," the blue-haired girl shook her head. "It clung to me when I teleported back to my room in a hurry, so it got dragged along. Since it witnessed something I don't want the other monsters to learn, I decided to just leave it there for the moment while I went to have a shower. But then I got distracted by a great idea and forgot," Ami admitted, wringing her hands in embarrassment. "I really need to figure out what to do about that," she muttered under her breath.

"Should I ask why it was clinging to you in the first place?" Mrs Mizuno focused on the part of the explanation that she found the most alarming.

"Oh, that? That was her fault!" Ami demonstrated that she had grasped the concept of blaming the sibling very quickly. Her eyes narrowed mischievously as she continued "She had it hold me down!"

"What? Explain!" The doctor focused her piercing stare on Tiger, who ducked her head. Mrs Mizuno found that the youma's widening eyes increased her resemblance to Ami even more.

"Not nice, little sister, not nice at all," she commented as she crossed her arms. "It's your own fault for not holding still for your medical treatment!"

Mrs Mizuno's gaze returned to Ami. "Treatment? Are you sick, Ami?" She couldn't help having doubts about any kind of cure that involved a tentacle monster. Even if magic really existed.

"Nothing like that,” Ami hurried to assure her. “I only had some magical contamination removed. Unfortunately, the holy spell to do so feels unpleasant and triggers a flight reflex, due to my current condition." She raised both hands to point at her glowing eyes. “I'm fine, mother,” she added after a moment.

Mrs Mizuno let the sceptical expression on her face melt away. “I'll take your word for it.” Magical Contamination. How did one even begin to accurately estimate the danger of something like that? As a medical doctor, it vexed her not to have any idea about the health risks involved. She felt completely out of the loop and didn't like it at all. Neither Ami nor Tiger seemed overly concerned, though. Perhaps she should just trust in their superior expertise?

“Did you really have to use a tentacle monster?” Sailor Moon asked, her lips quivering slightly with disgust.

“Better that it took the bruises than me!” Tiger said immediately. She mimed some punches and kicks. “Ami here wasn't exactly safe to hold onto!”

“Ami,” Dr Mizuno interrupted in order to regain the initiative before more weirdness could put her off-balance. She retrieved a stack of several papers from underneath the table. “Let's talk about the patients you have to care for. I have compiled a list of step-by-step instructions on how to properly clean and bandage wounds in general so that you won't have to guess.” She held up one of the sheets. “There's also a section on how to recognise the symptoms of infection and fever, and another on treating injuries in the eye region. I also included instructions for making concentrated alcohol to use as disinfectant, in case it works better on those cursed wounds than your magic.” She arranged the sheets in a circle around the crystal ball so that Ami could see them.

“Thanks, Mother,” Ami smiled warmly. “This may help those who can't use magic!”

A handful of imps stormed into the room, letting out short squeals. They pushed and jostled each other as they rushed toward the empty chair behind the desk. Still fighting over who would be first, they hopped onto the chair and from there on top of the desk. Two of the black-eyed creatures were slower than the others, but more adventurous. They headed for Tiger instead, clambering up her armoured greaves as they used her as an improvised, protesting ladder.

“Hey! You little-” The youma quickly grabbed the chain around her waist that held up her loincloth when one of the imps used it as a handhold to pull herself up. “Get off me!” She whirled around to glower at the gaggle of servants leaving dusty footprints on the shiny, polished surface of her desk. “What are you even doing here?”

As if to answer her question, the imps sat down in a circle around the crystal ball, each one armed with a pen and a sheet of paper. Frowning and with their tongues poking out of the corners of their mouths, they started copying the instructions that Mrs. Mizuno had provided.

Tiger pointed her glower at a more deserving target. “You did that on purpose!” she accused her adopted sister.

Ami smiled innocently. “They know what I need done, not necessarily how I want it done,” she explained.

Dr Mizuno stared at the scribbling imps, wondering once again just exactly how smart they were. “They can read, too?”

Her daughter shook her head. “No, they are simply copying what they see. Anyway, I have great news about the patients! We found a partial cure!” She gesticulated with her right hand in the air and snipped her fingers. “There. I just deactivated the anti-scrying spotlights in the dining area. Try focusing on the patient I showed you last time!”

Sailor Moon gulped and shut her eyes tight. “All right,” she said in a small voice and touched the crystal ball.

Tiger's office faded from sight, to be replaced by a large hall where people sat at a long, wooden table. The viewpoint zoomed in on a man who was eating chicken broth from a wooden bowl. Like most of the other humans here, he was wearing a large piece of dyed cloth wrapped around himself in a toga-like fashion.

Mrs Mizuno barely noticed the strange garments. If she had, she would have come to the correct conclusion that the patients' original clothes were intolerably smelly and unhygienic by now. Instead, she stood up from her seat and brought her face so close to the scrying device that her nose almost touched it. It was unbelievable. That man had eyes! They all had eyes! Complete regeneration! For a doctor like her, it was a dream come true. She tapped the crystal ball with a fingertip, focusing the point of view on her amazing daughter again. “Ami,” she began, her voice very serious as she stared straight into the teenager's eyes. Carefully pronouncing every word, she continued “I insist that you teach me how to do that!”

“I'd love to,” Ami said with a sheepish smile, “but sadly, I don't know how. I didn't cast the spell myself.”

Sailor Moon cautiously opened one eye. When she spotted no raw-looking wounds, she opened the other too. “What did I miss?”

“Jadeite restored their eyes with a glamour,” the blue-haired girl explained for both her and her mother's benefit. ”It's a type of magic that escapes me so far,” she admitted with a sigh.

“Jadeite! That creep managed can do something like that?” Sailor Moon blurted out, earning herself a reproachful frown from Ami.

“Yes. His magic is very versatile. ” Ami explained.

“Do you think I could talk to him?” Mrs Mizuno requested. “Perhaps I have more luck than you. The possibility of being able to do that is worth at least a try!”

“You don't have access to the source of magical power that he's using,” Ami dashed her mother's hopes.

Mrs Mizuno wasn't willing to give up that easily, though. She had caught a glimpse at the holy grail of medicine, and she wasn't going to just let it slip through her grasp. “Then how do I get access to it?” she asked in a no-nonsense kind of voice.

While the question surprised and startled Ami, Tiger was quick to answer. “Well, first you need to start worsh-”

“No!”

The youma went down under a swarm of imps that jumped off the desk and onto her back, tackling her to the ground. Several three-fingered hands covered her mouth.

“- mph!”

“No, no, no!” Ami continued and put her hands in front of herself, palms facing outward. “This is a terrible idea! He gets his power from serving a great evil, and you shouldn't even consider this, Mother!”

“But-”

“The cure isn't even permanent! ” Ami continued, uncharacteristically raising her voice to cut off her mother's protest. “His spell is an illusion so powerful that it affects reality, but he needs to maintain it! If these poor people get too far away from him, they'll go blind again!”

Mrs Mizuno blinked and digested the news. That limited the usefulness of the technique somewhat.

“Call those stupid things off already!” Tiger demanded. She was clinging to the upper part of one of the crystal-topped pillars that lighted her office. Below her, the pack of imps circled the structure, and one of them took a swing at it with her pick.

Dr Mizuno heard Sailor moon giggle, and rolled her eyes. “Ami, stop it. Your sister could get hurt if she falls from that height,” she ordered. If she was to consider the youma family, then she had best act like it. Her misgivings about all the weirdness were returning. Why couldn't her daughters fight like normal siblings?

“She can fly,” the blue-haired girl muttered quietly, looking at the ground. Nevertheless, the servant creatures scuttled away. She cleared her throat. “Mother, do you know how long it takes for all the cells within eye tissue to be replaced with new cells?”

Dr Mizuno shook her head. “Sorry, that is not the kind of data I usually work with at the hospital. I'll ask some experts for you, but I'm not sure if studies on that topic even exist.” It pained her to disappoint Ami like that, in particular since it was a medical question, but she simply didn't know the answer. She was about to suggest dosing someone's eyes with an easily-detected, harmless magical marker and timing how long it took for the traces to disappear, but then thought better of it. The last thing she wanted to do was giving Ami the impression that it was all right to perform experiments on humans. Not that she didn't trust her daughter, but her current environment seemed to actively encourage quick and unethical solutions.

“Thank you,” Ami smiled. “If you want to learn healing magic, I could let you photograph some of my spellbooks.” She held out her hand, palm facing upward. An instant later, a large tome dropped into it. “This one isn't actually about healing, as I'm not sure if normal humans from our world can even can power spells on their own. Instead, the book describes techniques for collecting ambient mana to fuel one's magic with."

“Ami, I like the idea, but I can't read that language,” Mrs Mizuno pointed out a slight flaw.

Tiger appeared at Ami's side. "Oh, but that's not a problem. You have a translator right there!" She pointed through the crystal ball at Sailor Moon.

"Huh?" The blonde looked up, noticed the size of the book and let out a whimper. "Now it's proven. You are evil!" she whined, pouting.

Previous chapter: Next chapter:
Chapter 145: Family Matters Chapter 147: Let Them Eat Cake

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