"YOU DID WHAT?" the black cat with the crescent moon on her forehead shouted. Usagi was sure her long blonde braids were being blown back by the force of the shout. She skidded backward, polishing the wooden floor of the Shinto shrine with the seat of her pants as she retreated from the irate feline advancing on her, claws extended.

"Er, I kind of promised Mrs. Mizuno that we would do everything in our power to get Ami back," the blonde said with an embarrassed smile on her face. Luna twitched, while Rei's face gradually went redder and redder, until it matched the colour of the lower part of her shrine maiden robes.

"How could you just blow our secret like that, you meatball head?" Rei exploded. If her right arm hadn't been in a sling, she might have lunged for her friend's neck.

"Now wait a minute! I'm not that stupid! I went as Sailor Moon to talk with her, of course!" the blonde defended herself, giving the raven haired girl and her feline advisor pause.

"Well, I suppose that's fine then," the fierce-tempered shrine maiden deflated.

Luna sat down on the mat that her 'owner' had occupied a moment before. "Usagi, why did you go talk to her in the first place?"

"She called me on the phone because she knows I'm Ami's friend, and wanted to know if she had given any indication that she wanted to run away, or if I had any idea where she could be," the blonde explained. "She just sounded so sad and desperate, as if she had cried all night," Usagi sighed, eyes brimming with unshed tears.

"I admit that the situation must be hard on her," Luna conceded, anger evaporating, "especially with those missing person posters everywhere to remind her. What precisely did you tell her?"

"I told her that Ami had gone missing during one of the monster attacks, and that we Sailor Senshi were hard at work trying to get her back, and that she was fine, as far as we knew," Usagi gushed, turning her attention to the shrine maiden kneeling before the stone block upon which the sacred fire burned. "You'll find her, now that you are finally out of the hospital, right Rei?"

"I will certainly do my best," the black-haired girl agreed as she knelt down in front of the fire and closed her eyes in concentration, before reciting meditative words.

"Usagi," Luna kept her voice down in order to not disturb Rei, "while I don't think what you did was very cautious, I can't really disagree with it. Just leaving Ami's mother to worry about what happened to her daughter when we know seems cruel."

Within the dancing flames, a picture formed. It showed a square table in a dark room, easily recognisable as a bar by the foaming tankards resting on the stained and skewed wood. The figure with short, blue hair in the centre of the vision, staring down into the lone untouched tankard, elicited a happy gasp from the observers a world away.

"That's Ami!" Usagi stated needlessly. She inspected the picture a bit more closely, taking note of the tall blonde woman with a facial scar sitting to Ami's left, and of the shifty-looking man with wavy brown hair on her right. "Why is she wearing a bikini, and why is everyone except her wearing Sailor Mercury's uniform?"

Luna's perplexed look, very expressive for a cat face, demonstrated aptly that the diminutive advisor had no good answer for that. A moment later, the Ami in the transparent picture looked up, and suddenly, Luna was arching her back, fur standing on end, and flattening her ears to her skull. Even Usagi paled and leaned back, startled "Why are her eyes glowing? What has happened to Ami?"

"I can sense Evil, but it feels different than that of the Dark Kingdom," Rei provided an additional piece of information and clarifyed nothing.

The blonde leaned forward again, chewing on the fingers of her right hand when a hunchbacked, knobbly-nosed creature that could only be a youma approached the table in the vision. Do something, Ami! Why was nobody reacting to its approach?

Rei frowned when droplets of sweat began to gather in her eyebrows, and the picture started to waver. Now, Ami said something, and her empty hand suddenly held a gold coin, which she presented to the green creature on her open palm. The youma nodded once and took the offered gold with lumpish fingers, then shimmered and disappeared into thin air.

"Can't hold the vision any longer," Rei groaned, and the unnaturally calm flames returned to their normal motion even as the flickering picture disappeared. The two girls and one cat looked at each other in silence while they considered what they had seen, and then the shrine erupted with the noise of questions and wild speculation.

"That's the smith," Jered said, ticking off one item of the list. "I hope the quality of his work is better than that of the ale here."

Ami peered into the tavern's haze, suppressing a groan at the sight of the next applicants. There was black leather shining like wet slime in the dim light, clinging to voluptuous bodies and leaving nothing to the imagination. "Not more of them," the young Keeper whispered, sounding tired.

"Why hello there, you must be Keeper Mercury. I must say, I have heard intriguing things about you," the woman, for the outfit left no doubt about that, breathed throatily. "I hear you are hiring. I'm looking forward to serving under you." She leaned forward, resting both of her palms on the table. If Ami had been distracted by the jiggling mounds straining against form-fitting black leather (she was not), then the sight of the razor-sharp claws attached to the job applicant's gloves cutting narrow furrows into the weathered wood would have snapped her out of it. Jered, however, seemed hypnotised by the displayed cleavage, much to the annoyance of Cathy, who sent him a death glare that went entirely unnoticed.

"I'm afraid I'm looking for a very specific skill set," Ami shrank away into her chair as the woman seemed to undress her with her eyes and licked her lips.

"I just bet you are," the dark mistress winked underneath the mask that enveloped the top half of her head. "I assure you that my skills are extensive. You could even say that I know the human body inside-out." She slid closer by sitting down on the table, incidentally toppling Cathy's tankard, which emptied its contents into the blonde's lap. "Why you..."

Ignoring the swordswoman, Ami held up her hands, palms facing outward in defence "I'm afraid you really aren't what I'm looking for, sorry."

The woman's lips narrowed into a pout, but then she shrugged and leaned so close that Ami could feel the hot breath on her skin. "Ah well. That won't stop us from comparing past experiences, will i- Ahgh!"

Something dragged the black-clad seductress backward with irresistible force, away from the blue-haired Keeper and off the table. The woman bumped her chin on the edge before dropping out of sight. Ami heard a pleased little moan instead of the expected grunt of pain, but nevertheless leaned forward to get a look into the blind angle that the woman had disappeared down into. "Um, are you all right?" To her left, Cathy's chair screeched over the ground loudly as she pushed it away from something that Ami couldn't see, teeth clenched together in a grimace that looked half-frightened, half-disgusted.

"Go away you useless tart! Clearly, this Keeper is looking for something more exotic!"

The words seemed to form directly in Ami's head, and she blinked in surprise and looked around for the origin. "Excuse me? Where exactly are you?"

"Right here. Let me just get up on the chair." There was some shuffling under the table, followed by slurping sounds that didn't inspire any confidence in Ami. With slithering noises, a handful of worm-like pseudopods rose into her field of vision from below the table's edge, wiggling, glistening wetly, and confirming her misgivings. "I'm sure you will find me very - useful."

Ami stared with wide eyes at the green tentacles pointing into the air like beanstalks, and felt like pounding her head on the table. Instead, she simply buried her face in her palms and let out a soft whimper.

"I must confess that I am a bit taken aback by Mercury's choice of hirelings," Snyder said as he inspected the row of new minions waiting in the Reaper's old room, standing lined up next to each other, facing the throne. Ami didn't manage to fill out the large, intricately carved stone seat, and its marble felt cold and hard against her bare skin. However, these new minions were straight from the Underworld, and she figured that projecting the right image would go a long way in keeping them in line. Thus, she looked down on them from her elevated position with a severe expression on her face as she gave them an introduction to her dungeon, and to the tasks she expected them to perform.

"It is sad when the trolls look the most confidence-inspiring of the bunch," Jered agreed quietly. Mostly, he seemed glad to be back in pants and a green shirt as he stood next to the acolyte.

The redhead let his gaze wander over the new henchmen. The soot-covered troll with a leather apron, bulging muscles, and huge protruding tusks made sense to him. He had the look of a blacksmith. The slightly smaller, knobbly-nosed creature standing to the right of the first seemed to be a female of the troll species, possibly the first one's mate?

"Tailor," Cathy clarified, having followed Snyder's gaze.

The next three figures in the row were clearly magic users. The leftmost of the men was bald except for an unkempt white moustache and tufts of wild hair of the same colour that stood out from his temples. The stained coat he was wearing might have been the colour of bleached bone once, but currently, it looked as if the old geezer had fallen on a painter's palette at some point. In addition, the garment's lapels were singed, and odd smells emanated from it. The second of the trio was the shortest and fattest of the whole bunch, and the one made Snyder the most uncomfortable. He looked like a monk of indeterminate age, with black hair in a tonsure and a clean-shaven face. His habit, however, was no simple sack-cloth affair. Rich blue silk covered all over with blasphemous symbols in gold thread contained the man's flabby form, and the cord half-hidden by the bulging belly glittered with silver. If his clothing hadn't been so tattered, Snyder might have been impressed. No, what disturbed him most were the solid yellow eyes of the man.

The third magic user looked like a generic evil wizard to the young acolyte. He was tall, haggard enough to look underfed, wore a black robe with high collar, and had slicked down hair and a long, cascading beard. Nothing unusu- wait a minute. Snyder took a closer look at the beard. Yes. It was fake! Upon closer inspection, he also noted the unusually smooth skin and youthful features that the brown bristles were hiding. "Why did Mercury hire these... people?" the priest-in-training asked, turning to Jered.

The man's wavy hair shook as he shrugged. "They were the only ones who weren't either trying to molest her, or afraid she'd molest them."

Snyder's mouth opened as if to phrase a question, but instead he just pointed mutely at the final new minion. The green mound of rolled-up tentacles quivered, and a green pseudopod rose from the main mass and gave a friendly wave in the redhead's direction.

"Anti-bimbo defence measure," Cathy answered the unasked question, pretending not to hear Jered's sour grumble, "long story. Anyway, they won't go near it."

"I wouldn't go near it," Snyder said, giving the strange creature another glance. Was that eyestalk winking at him?

"Well, it also doesn't want much pay," the blonde added. Privately, she agreed with the acolyte.

"... and so I hope you will all -" Mercury suddenly stopped talking and got a faraway look in her eyes, before turning to address the trio of adventurers. "The frog just transformed back."

Previous chapter: Next chapter:
Chapter 24: City Expedition, Second Attempt Chapter 26: Production Model



Attached comments:

  • She does not act like a genius in the series, that is correct. Unless maybe the Mercury computer is a lot less impressive than it looks like and getting as much use out as she does actually requires being IQ 300, as she's rumoured to be in-universe.
    On the gun issue: there are some reasons why she isn't making them.
    To start with, the pragmatic ones:

    First, Making guns is not the solution to the problem: "I need more underlings."

    Second, primitive guns do have issues like long reload times that make them rather less effective than one would expect, especially in a short-range environment like a dungeon.

    Third, she doesn't have minions she could trust with the guns. The goblins are morons and likely to set themselves on fire with the gunpowder, and the imps can't handle the recoil.

    Moreover, she also has moral problems with introducing guns. Guns kill rather easily, and that's something she'd like to avoid if at all possible when fighting innocents. Plus, arming the forces of Evil with superior equipment is a bad idea in the long run. They might not figure out how to make gunpowder(unlikely), but they could substitute magic.

    Lastly, and this is more an OOC reason than an IC one, guns wouldn't really be all that fearsome in the DK universe. There's spells that deflect incoming projectiles, homing arrows exist, and so do lightning bolts, exploding fireballs, teleportation directly to the gunners, and spells that can just topple an entire firing line with a burst of wind while the attackers close. Last but not least, trolls already use explosive grenades, and cannons exist as traps.
  • Forgot: Ami's genius pretty much seems to only manifest itself when she's playing computer games. She tends to win even at games she has never touched before, and also won some kind of tournament with an unfamiliar game once, if I remember right. Haven't watched Stars for a while.
  • So in clonclusion, I think guns done properly would have a lethality unmatched by anything else we've ever seen in the DK world.
    Well, sure, if you assume that guns work like in the real world and everything else works more according to game mechanics. I have a hard time seeing how a gun would be more lethal than a fireball that bursts into a corridor-filling explosion, or a grenade thrown by a troll that does the same. And that's not even going into Keeper magic.
    Besides, magic in the DK universe is common as dirt. Even the classes that are traditionally non-magical in other RPGs commonly use it. (knights, thieves, archers) For knights, this includes the heal spell, so better aim well. It might actually be better to use something that stays in the wound.