Ami sat on the bed in her cell, with a steaming bowl of soup on a tablet that rested on her thighs. The viscous pulp of mashed beans and sausage tasted very differently from what she was used to, and while it wasn't bad, its spiciness brought tears to her eyes. Nevertheless, she had been getting sick of chicken, and so it was a welcome change. Putting the spoon down, she couldn't help but feel like an animal on display in the zoo. Curious townsfolk was milling about outside the guardhouse, trying to peek in through the window, and it was hard to keep one's appetite while being gawked at.

From time to time, Ami could overhear some snippets of conversation.

"... heard they exchanged blows so powerful that a missed one dislodged the huge temple bell!"

Just great, the rumour mill was already distorting the events of the night beyond all recognition. At least this was somewhat flattering.

", I heard ... was there ... exploited secret weakness by taking off all her clothes..."

Ami choked on her soup, blushed, and hid her face in her hands. That wasn't what had happened at all! She resisted turning around to see who had said that. Looking at the bright side, she wasn't planning to stick around for long, so any damage to her reputation was somewhat meaningless.

"...grandpa says... staged ... was a hero you know... couldn't have defeated the reaper ... evil plot ..."

Shaking her head in disbelief, Ami finished off her meal. She didn't understand how anyone could reach that conclusion, or how they'd even gotten the idea that she'd gain anything from a convoluted plan like that. At least those crazies were just a tiny minority, the general tone of the murmuring outside sounded more like awed curiosity.

Her thoughts went back to the horned reaper and to her own precarious situation. She could probably destroy him for good, if she got him into the temple. However, she needed answers from him first. How was he tracking her even when he couldn't see her? Were the dark gods feeding him information directly, or was there something else she was missing? She needed to get him back to her dungeon to get some intelligence on his employers out of him. What would they try next, now that their assassination attempt had failed? The girl sighed and put away the tablet and empty dish. For all she knew, her mere presence endangered everyone in this town. It would have been so nice to spend some time among normal folk again, too, but she just couldn't risk staying around for too long.

"Sailor Mercury? The Mayor and other officials are here," the young, freckled guard appeared at the cell door, and she heard keys rattle. The rarely-used gate opened with a squeak, and she could see the three watchmen who had questioned her earlier standing in the open frame. The female one stepped forward, holding up some chains and looking apologetic. A golden medal, mirroring the magic-sucking ward on the ground, jingled on the restraints.

"Sorry about this, but it's the law," the woman looked slightly embarrassed.

Ami just held up her wrists resignedly. It wasn't as if she couldn't simply turn into a shadow and possess the ice golem hidden outside of the city if she needed to get away. "So, what's going to happen now?" she asked while walking down the corridor between the armoured figures, taking note that all other cells were empty.

"Oh, it's just a formality," the heavily-built oldest guard replied with a dismissive wave of his hand, "just a hearing to make sure you mean no harm to the city, and then you'll be free to go." His steps sounded hollow on the wooden stairs. "Though we would appreciate it if you did something about that demon. The ice's thawing something fierce in the morning sun."

Before she could inquire how the proceedings were going to work, the door at the top of the stairs opened, and she was led into what looked like a large courtroom. Behind the high wooden podium in the middle sat a wrinkly man who could only be the judge. Powder was trickling down from his white, curly wig onto the hammer resting before him as he leaned forward, looking Ami up and down. The scribe sitting at a low desk to his left paused sharpening his quill and did the same. Ami stopped to look around. The wooden benches lined up for the public were thankfully empty, and there weren't many guards. Only two standing with halberds at the door, looking sharp in their purple and white armour, and the three who had escorted her in from the cell block. On the right side of the room, directly against the wall, stood a row of large and more comfortable chairs, most likely reserved for dignitaries. Such as the large, portly man talking animatedly to one of the temple priests sitting next to him. That must be the Mayor, Ami figured from the heavy gold chain around his neck, the ermine pelt collar, and the magenta silk jacket. With his thick, round glasses and the near-absence of a neck, he reminded her of an owl. The official's opulent outfit contrasted starkly with the drab grey dress she was wearing. She looked down at herself. At least its baggy, sack-like cut was about as modest as you could get, so she would be spared further embarrassment.

The guard behind her gave her a gentle shove. "Step forward onto the magical circle in front of the bench, please." She ordered, tone all business now that they were in the presence of superiors.

Ami looked at the strange design on the ground that took up the middle of the free area in front of the judge. Its white lines formed a many-pointed star, but the exact details seemed to slip away whenever she tried to get a good look at it. Her visor would have been really useful now. Warily, she stopped before her sandals touched the tip of the closest line. "Excuse me, what does this do? Is it safe?"

"Perfectly so," the priest answered from the right side of the room. "Its holy pattern does nothing but evaluate the truthfulness of the speaker. Seeing the reluctance on her face, he stood up and walked over it, his long robes with the golden seams obscuring part of the lines. "See? Completely harmless." The design pulsed once in a green tone after his statement. "This magic is a gift from the Light, so I doubt you would know it from the Underworld."

Ami shook her head and waited for the man to return to his place. The arcane star in front of her faintly radiated the power she had encountered in the temple. A truth detector? Well, she didn't have anything to hide, aside from being a Keeper, and they'd have to ask her about that flat out to catch her in a lie. She might as well humour them. She had enough enemies already without being overly confrontational. As she stepped in the centre of the design, she idly wondered whether Snyder would be able to make something like that for her dungeon. A quick mental check revealed that he was still fast asleep somewhere.

"Ah, you must be Sailor Mercury," the well-dressed man who could only be the Mayor said loudly, prompting the hushed conversations in the room to die down as people focused their attention on either the prisoner or the speaker. He paused for a moment as he looked the girl over. "You defeated the horned reaper? I had expected someone taller. Or at least older."

"I did." Ami inclined her head lightly, which incidentally gave her a good view of the lines underneath her feet flashing green, confirming what she had said.

"Great!" the Mayor took a moment to read the scroll lying on top of his desk. His eyebrows went up as he got toward the end, and the naturally red colour of his cheeks deepened slightly. "Ahem. Let's get straight to the point. Can you safely get rid of that frozen demon for us?"

Ami nodded quickly. "Yes. I will do so as soon as possible."

Seeing the green glow on the ground, the large man smiled. "Good, good. If you do, we will drop all the charges against you. Provided we can verify now that you mean no harm to anyone here, of course. Does that sound acceptable to you?"

Not a bad offer at all for something she had intended to do anyway, even if none of the battle damage had been her intention in the first place. "Perfectly so, thank you."

"Very well, then let us get the formalities out of the way. Honoured Judge, she's all yours."

Ami turned to face the bench. In the polished wood, she could see a faint reflection of her red-glowing eyes before she met the gaze of the large-nosed man, who was sitting up straighter and clearing his throat, one dainty fist held in front of his mouth. "Sailor Mercury. Are you plotting or involved in a plot that would bring harm against this city, or anybody in it?"

The girl shook her head. "No, I am not." The lines on the ground flashed red, prompting some furrowed brows and whispered exchanges from the attenders. Ami paled a little, startled. If the truth magic was malfunctioning, then- her eyes widened in realisation. Hastily she added "With the exception of the Reaper, of course!"

The tension drained from the room when the network of lines changed from red to green. "Noted," the wig-wearing judge confirmed, before continuing "Are you responsible for any unresolved crimes within this city?"


The judge checked off another item on his list. "For what reason did you come to here, sneaking in at night?"

"I wanted to ask the Light gods for help, and was afraid my appearance would cause undue attention. I have had that problem before. I meant no harm." Ami replied, with the magic confirming her truthfulness."

"Did you omit anything from that answer?" the questioning continued. After Ami denied this, the man looked at his list again, apparently deciding to ask one that was not on it. "Why do you look like this, anyway? Is this your true form?"

Was this her true form? Not really, she was still transformed into Sailor Mercury, but how to phrase that without alarming everyone? "Not exactly, but I'm human, and my true form looks nearly the same as this." She hoped that wouldn't cause any more difficulties.

As expected, there was some murmuring at the answer. This time, the Mayor asked "Why are you hiding your identity, then?"

"It is an inbuilt feature of the enchantments I use, but I had nothing to do with creating the disguise function." Ami quickly tried to assuage his worries.

"Disguise function? What was your role in the Underworld, anyway?" the answer seemed to have had the opposite reaction.

Oh dear, this was quickly going into a direction she wanted to avoid. "Look, you already know I mean no harm. Does it really matter what I did before?"

"It does when it is a potential danger to my city! Now answer the question!" the Mayor had to push his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose after his outburst had nearly shaken them off.

Ami wondered what she should do. The people here had been relatively nice and easy-going so far, even in light of her supposed demonic heritage, but she doubted they would take the revelation that she was a Dungeon Keeper well. With a sigh, she hung her head before answering. "Sorry, but I refuse. Please keep in mind that I really have no ill intentions, and that you still want me to remove a horned reaper from the temple's premises."

Unhappy grumbling filled the room after . Ami could hear quick footsteps behind her and turned to see the largest of the guards walk to the Mayor, pointing first at the list of charges, then at her as he had a hushed discussion with the official. She could see the man's eyebrows rise again during the course of the discussion, and his eyes widened a bit, as if understanding something. Finally, he looked to the patiently waiting girl. "Fine. Answer this question instead. Have you ever been, possessed by a demon?"

What brought that- oh, that must be related to that ridiculous 'bestiality' charge. Safe territory, as the Reaper had been possessing her body for a time. "Yes". The lines went red. Oh. Her body. She hadn't actually been in at at the time, so she technically hadn't been possessed. My, this magic was finicky.

Ami opened her mouth to correct her answer, but the Mayor was already speaking, blushing furiously. So were the guards who had first interrogated her. "Right. To spare the girl further embarrassment, I shall retract my previous question."

What? What kind of conclusions had they jumped to now? Oh. A memory flash from Malleus provided an explanation, as it listed some of the more common female occupations in the Underworld. Ami went red at the implication. Interestingly, this memory had been less disconcerting than the ones she was used to, as if it was faded and blurred with age. Cautiously, as if probing an open wound, she tried to consciously focus on it. Yes, there it was, existing, but without most of the emotional impact that she had expected. Experimentally, she looked for one of the other more hurtful scenes. To her surprise, she could barely remember it, except in a very general sense. Other stress-inducing foreign memories seemed similarly dulled, which was an extremely convenient discovery, but it raised the question about how it had happened. It was too fast for the mind's self-healing capabilities, wasn't it? In any case, the townsfolk were getting the entirely wrong impression! Ami nearly blurted out a protest, but what could she say without inciting further questioning, which could only lead to the revelation that she was a Keeper? So Ami swallowed, looked at the floor and softly answered "Thank you."

The room fell silent for an awkward moment, before the judge cleared his throat once again. "Very well. In light of recent information, I deem this girl to not be a threat to the city. Bailiff, remove her chains!"

The morning sun stood hung low over the city wall as Ami walked through the streets of the city, toward the temple. The earlier she got the demon out of the city, the better. Dirty children were playing in the street, laughing and running about, but stopping to gape or point when they noticed her red-glowing eyes. The decidedly medieval smell of the city itself was offensive to her nose, and she noted with some concern that sanitation was poor, with people just dumping their waste into the streets from the windows of their framework houses. Despite this obvious lack of hygiene, all the people she met looked healthy and well-fed, maybe even more so than the people of Tokyo. She inquired about that to the priest accompanying her, and got a long-winded sermon about holy magic and the gifts of the gods to good people.

Putting a few things together, she asked "Can they also heal damaged minds?" during a pause in the man's well-meaning, but repetitive exposition.

"Certainly. They can cure mental deficiencies and correct aberrant behaviour, be they inborn or acquired through an accident. They can also soothe the pain caused by certain unpleasant experiences." The bearded man looked down at the blue-haired girl walking to his right, his tone becoming more gentle. "Are you in need of such assistance?" he asked, having of course heard the embarrassing rumours that were even now spreading through the city like a wildfire. One of the attendees of the hearing must not have been able to keep his mouth shut.

Ami shook her head. "I think they might already have helped me with that when I was in the temple earlier," she said. She really should pay for the damages to the building, she thought. It would be ungrateful not to.

High above the temple's tower, the horned reaper was trapped in ice like a fly in amber. The icy prison was swinging slowly in the breeze, clanging against the metal pole it was suspended from as it glittered in the sunlight. Standing at the base of the empty bell tower, Ami eyed the small trickle of melt water running down the roof critically. "Shabon Spray Freezing!" The azure stream of freezing bubbles shot forward, applying a fresh layer to the monster's prison. "That will hold him for a while," she said. On the ground, a group of priests and citizens was observing at her every move. "Everyone, keep away from the monster, please! I will need some time for the next step!" She couldn't see anyone on the roof aside from herself, but felt that the warning was nevertheless necessary. Better safe than sorry. She stepped into the damaged structure where the large bell had been, out of sight, and turned into a speedy bolt of blackness that shot toward the ice golem patiently waiting submerged in a brook outside the city. Returning the possessed statue that looked just like her to the dungeon was a matter of minutes.

Ami appeared in a remote and deserted corners of her dungeon, and started to quickly construct a high security prison in, complete with the usual enchantments to prevent magic from being used inside. Watching the structure take shape as she funnelled gold and magic through the dungeon heart, she considered her handiwork with satisfaction. She had little doubt that the Reaper could break through the bars with enough time and effort, but she didn't intend to allow him that much freedom. Iron manacles, attached to chains that were as thick as her upper arms, hung from the wall, one for each limb, and a fifth held a collar for the neck. He wasn't getting away this time. She just hoped that she could convince him to part with the information about the dark gods that she needed. Maybe she should interrogate her own minions first. But first, she had to get the monster actually here. By now, she had some practice with the long-range teleportation spell, but it was the first time that she was using it on an unwilling target. Nevertheless, that shouldn't pose a problem as long as it remained still for the few minutes that casting the spell would take. And the Reaper didn't exactly have much choice in the matter right now, she thought with a vicious grin. Taking a solid, wide legged-stance, she spread her arms and started to intone the chant of the spell, grey dress flapping around her legs when an ethereal wind started to blow from the magical circles appearing on the ground in front of her.

A guard of ice golems was flanking the block containing the Reaper, while a group of imps pushed it into the cell. Cautiously, they used their picks to first uncover a wrist. A manacle snapped shut around it, despite the struggles of the red-scaled hand to brush its captors away. The second hand was secured in the same way. Once the feet were freed, cracks started to spread through the ice, and from one moment to the other, the transparent shell shattered and clattered to the ground. The Reaper, hanging from his wrists, pulled up his legs and kicked out at an ice golem standing in front of him. The large hooves struck true, sending a spray of water and sharp-edged ice shards toward Ami, who barely managed to throw herself out of the way. Drenched to the skin and lying in a pool of ice water, Ami shouted "Tighten those chains! Right now!" which prompted her workers to turn the pulleys behind the wall. With creaks and rattles, the demon's arms were spread wider and wider. Even the bulging muscles straining under his skin were unable to resist the force exerted by Ami's minions working in concert, their strength twice-multiplied by both the pulleys and the hydraulics in their limbs.

"Mercury! What do you think you are doing?" the monster growled through bared teeth, legs kicking wildly as they tried to find purchase on the ground. He was out of luck, because the tightening chains were lifting him bodily off the ground.

"Making sure that you are not going to get in my way again in the future," Ami answered as she stood up, shivering and wrapping her arms around herself for warmth as the wet and itchy cloth clung to her skin. "Shabon Spray Freezing!"

Putting the restraints on the beast was much easier when he was frozen, and the young senshi only waited for the last chains to go taut and the cell door to slam shut with an air of finality before teleporting to her own quarters with the Reaper's scythe in her arms. She was cold and needed to change.

Ami sneezed, dropped the weapon, and started to pull her cold, damp dress over her head. Then the smell hit her, and she nearly gagged. With a quick jerk, she finished taking the garment off, and frantically looked around to see what was stinking up the room. Had something crept in here and died? Her inspection did not reveal any corpses, but the wide-eyed Jered, who was sitting in one of the armchairs, staring at her scantily clad form. "Mercury! You are back! Finally! It's terrible-"

"Could you turn around, please!?" Ami shouted, hastily holding the recently-discarded dress in front of herself as if it was a towel. "What are you doing in my room?"

The brown-haired man turned away, coughing as he did so. Ami hastily conjured a black bathrobe and slipped into it. While she tied its belt, Jered continued talking. "Everyone's ill! Even the demons and the dragon! There's vomit all over the place, and everyone is getting sicker by the minute!"

Having recovered from the surprise, the senshi looked at him. His face was pale, perspiration gleamed on his forehead, and ugly greenish-purple sores, as big as her thumbnail, dotted his skin. She noted the blood around his lips. She rushed to his side, already summoning her computer. What was that? A plague?! Could she risk touching him? On the other hand, if everyone had caught it, it must be air-transmissible, and she was already infected anyway. "How are you feeling? Are you in pain? When did this disease outbreak start?"

Jered coughed wetly. "About half an hour after you disappeared. You have to look after Cathy, she's in the next room! She collapsed a few minutes later, and her uniform dissolved. She's caught the disease even worse than any of us others, and I don't know how long she will last," he said, trying hard to hide the tears in his eyes.

Ami wasted no time and entered the next room, while the weasel-featured man shuffled after her. On the bed lay Cathy, her blonde hair spread out on the pillow like a wreath. The blanket covering her was rising and falling very slowly and shallowly, and her face showed the same pallor and sores as Jered's. Ami stepped closer and put her hand on the woman's forehead. It felt extremely hot, indicating a high fever. "From the timing, I think this might be the work of the dark gods," Ami guessed, "they weren't pleases with what I attempted to do, and even sent the Reaper after me. I'm sorry, I didn't want to put you in danger." Her consciousness flitted through the halls of her dungeon. Wherever the mental sight went, the scenes were the same. Moaning creatures sat around or lay on the floor, covered in boils and looking tired and unhealthy. "Darn it! Why did they have to get you involved? That was between me and them!"

"I don't think they are concerned with fairness," Cathy whispered, her eyelids opening as hazy blue eyes turned toward Ami.

"I- I'll do whatever I can to save you!" the Ami promised and summoned her visor. The display made the invisible links connecting all of her employees, as well as herself, to the dungeon heart stand out in stark relief. Immediately, the senshi could see that something was wrong. Black corruption crept across the lines, seeping out of the beating artefact itself. On closer inspection, the invisible miasma permeated every surface of the dungeon, lashing out at any creature that came close, herself included. Yes, this definitely had to be a plague sent by the dark gods. Was she already developing a fever? But what could she do to stop it? Ami took a deep breath to calm herself. Slow down. Think about this logically. Like it or not, everyone in this dungeon is depending on you for survival, so get to work!

Ami did not know any spells to cure diseases. Her necromancy could knit flesh and bone back together, but that wouldn't fix the root of the problem. Still, if she undid the organ damage caused by the illness, that would buy her more time to look into a solution. Concentrating briefly, she did just that, and greenish energy danced over her fingers and into the resting blonde. The sores did not close entirely, but Cathy's cheeks took on a rosier colour, and her breathing strengthened. "That's only a temporary measure at best," Ami apologised, "and it didn't even work as well as I hoped. There are still poisons in your blood that I don't know how to remove, but at least we have gained some time." She approached the wavy-haired man and did the same for him. "Wait here, I need to invigorate the other underlings too."

Ami walked down the line of patients she had dropped gently into the long, straight corridor, stopping briefly at each one to use her necromantic healing spell. This was taking a long time, as there were still close to a hundred minions, even after her assault on the dungeon. Guiltily, she confessed to herself that she really hadn't given them enough thought or care. With horror, she realised that Malleus hadn't bothered to heal them up after her assault, and some were still blind or deaf until she got around to patching them up. She had really been neglecting her duties, even if she had other things on her mind at the time. Getting all the different types of underlings healed was proving to be a challenge, too. Humans, she knew how to handle. The warlocks and dominatrices in black leather had not been a problem. Even if the latter's outfit made her uncomfortable, she was professional enough to ignore them. The light gods mustn't have realised that there were also some pleasant memories to dim.

The trolls and orcs were pretty close to human, which should have made things easier. Instead, Ami was slightly confused about what their organ layout should be like, and it took her longer for the first two or three of their race. Now the bile demons... Ami grimaced. The stench was bad enough, but those things were filthy! Didn't they ever wash? It took her real effort to reach out and touch a spot on their flabby rolls of fat so she could work her magic. The last patient was the young dragon, who filled half the corridor on its own. In contrast with the other creatures, it looked awake and not too weakened by the disease. Its tail was twitching like that of an angry cat, and the slitted pupils were fixating the approaching girl with a half-lidded stare.

"That won't help me," it rumbled, much to Ami's surprise. She hadn't believed that long, fanged snout to be able of forming human words, even if the beast was able to understand the language. "Already did it to myself. Better fix the cause of this, Keeper. I can put one and one together, and I'm sure the other creatures will figure it out sooner or later too. We don't intend to die for your mistake."

"Um, I'll do my best," Ami promised, backing away slightly. Those were some large teeth, seen from this close. It was sound advice, in any case.

Ami's stomach hurt, and her throat felt sore. She was already developing symptoms of the disease. At least Snyder was still healthy, protected within the temple of the Light gods, although apparently the citizens were now starting to ask him uncomfortable questions after she had disappeared without a trace, taking the Reaper along. Unfortunately, she didn't really have time to spare for him right now, and he was safer where he was anyway. She returned her attention to the vial full of blood on the desk before her. She didn't have a microscope, but it turned out that one could zoom in surprisingly far with a crystal ball. The spherical device to her right was showing a teeming mess of red blood cells, with larger, evil-looking bacteria crawling among them. The young senshi still didn't know a spell to cure disease, and neither did her necromancy books. It seemed that the dark art was only good for reanimating and enslaving the dead, knitting flesh and bone, and killing things. Coincidentally, modern medicine was also good at killing things. The trick was to only eliminate the intended target.

Ami had spent the last few hours fine tuning the spell. She couldn't just kill all micro-organisms in the body. Most of them were required to stay healthy, and their absence could be just as lethal as any illness. With a pipette, she carefully put a drop of blood on a glass cube containing a live spider, then extended a hand over the contraption. A black ray shot down from her palm, washing over the blood and the trapped insect. On the crystal ball, the disease bacteria shuddered and then broke up into little parts, while the other cells seemed unaffected. The confined spider continued scratching at the transparent walls of its prison in a panic, scared but unharmed.

This was it! Ami smiled a bright, relieved smile. This was the cure! Take, that, dark gods! Of course, she still needed to try it out. The ethical implication of using the untested and potentially lethal magic on her employees were worrisome, but they would die without it anyway, so that made it all right. Right? Sighing and with her heart beating quickly, Ami selected the weakest of her creatures, which happened to be a particularly small troll, and transported it to her laboratory. The creature was breathing laboriously, its normally green skin was pale yellow, and the open sores on its surface were beginning to blend together. The teenager stepped over the pitiful minion and let the black-coloured magic stream from her palms, moving it up and down like a shower. She then knelt next to the prone creature and applied the healing spell. The sores closed entirely. Victory! Ami felt like dancing a jig, but decided to double-check the results, just to be sure. With her visor and the crystal ball, she took a good look at the troll's blood. Her jaw dropped, and she hit the table's surface with her fist, making the equipment jump and clatter. "Darn it!" Within the scrying device, the evil bacteria had disappeared, only to be replaced by a multitude of others, too many types for Ami to count, much less develop a cure for.

Breathing heavily and coughing, she leaned on her desk, blue bangs hanging down from her inclined head. Tears of frustration glittered in the corners of her eyes. If the dark gods could undo her efforts this easily, what chance did she stand? Even if she brought in light priests from outside and somehow managed to convince them to help, each curing spell would just lead to re-infections. She couldn't even dismiss her creatures and send them away, as that wouldn't get rid of the disease, only of the means of re-infection. She could maybe save Cathy, herself, and a few others by transporting them to a Light temple, but how should she choose who lived and died? And even if she did that, her dungeon heart would remain here, unprotected. Gulping, she balled her hands into fists. It looked as if she truly had no choice.

"Oh, it's you. Feeling a little unwell?" the Reaper mocked as he caught sight of Ami, who had appeared in front of his cell. The girl's face was showing the first large, painful sores, and she hid a cough behind her hand. "You should have let me kill you. Died with dignity. It's not too late yet," he leered at her neck, already considering the best cutting regions.

"Be quiet! Tell me how to stop this! How can I protect myself from the dark gods, or at least placate them?" Ami's eyes flashed red with anger at the humiliation of being reduced to this.

The demon let out a roaring laugh, leaning back his head. "You are asking me for help? Hah! What makes you think that I would even consider that?"

Ami smiled humourlessly at him. "Maybe the fact that if I die, you will be spending the rest of eternity in this cell, after I collapse the dungeon on it out of sheer spite? " The horned reaper's smile became a frown of irritation. "Or maybe," the girl continued cheerfully, "I should just send you back to your gods. They can't be too pleased at your failure. Malleus had a big temple I could toss you into," seeing the Reaper's sour face, she added "wearing the miniskirt you like so much."

The chained creature let out an angry snort. "Fine. Sacrifices. Show them that you have seen the error of your ways."

Ami had been expecting something like that, but it still felt like an ice-cold bucket of water being emptied out over her. "What kind of sacrifices? Valuables? Gold?"

"The temple is no wishing well, you dolt! I'm sure you can figure out what they desire by yourself!"

"Lives." Ami replied in a very thin voice, Malleus' knowledge coming to her aid. It wasn't any help.

"If you already knew, why bother me?" the Reaper growled, rattling his chains.

It did come down to deciding who lived and died, then, Ami sighed. Unless... with a sudden flare of hope, she looked into the caged monster's yellow eyes. "Does it have to be whole lives?"

"Whole lives? What other kind is there? Have you gone even more crazy now? Right, disappear while I'm talking to you. Insufferable brat."

"Why should we still work for you? You brought the wrath of the dark gods down on us!" one of the sickly warlocks accused, pointing his staff at Ami.

She had no time for insubordination. "You know what's required to placate them, don't you? Are you volunteering?"

The short-bearded man seemed to fold in on himself "N-no, Keeper. What are your orders?"

"Sit around this crystal ball and watch, please." She was speaking loudly to be heard over the sneezes and coughs. Her palmtop opened, replaying recordings of people being drained of energy. The crystal ball served as a larger monitor so that everyone could see what was going on. Ami hit a few buttons, overlaying the scenes with all the information she had been able to gather on Dark Kingdom methodologies. "The objects you see in this crystal ball were enchanted to drain the life force out of their users and collect it. I want you to help me figure out a spell that can do this. Don't dawdle, your lives depend on it."

"You heard the Keeper," the Alchemist stood up, then sneezed into his sleeve. "Such an interesting project too. To work!"

Hating herself, Ami hovered over the centre of her dungeon heart, bathing in the mana flow. She coughed once, feeling the metallic taste of blood in her throat. Closing her eyes, she concentrated. The lights in the room seemed to go out as she grasped for the strands of magic that connected the slowly beating device to all of her minions. She could feel her underlings collapse, one after the other, while a glowing ball of energy grew between her palms. This was so distasteful, she thought while a tear trickling down her sore-covered cheek. Weakening those who were already sick. Was she any better than a youma? How was she ever going to explain this to her friends when she got back? No, she was doing this for the right reasons! She had to try to save everyone, and wouldn't give anyone she was responsible for! What kind of doctor would she be if she did?

Ami disappeared, flashing back into existence inside the large, ornate hall that had been Malleus' temple. Had she still been suffering from the full brunt of the late Keeper's memories, she would probably have fled screaming, or fainted from the mass of horrifying memories. Instead, she looked at the thin, pearly pillars framing a large basin in the centre of the room, trying desperately not to think about the victims who had perished painfully in this place. Flickering purple lights burned inside of bowls that looked like the open maws of large-bellied demons. Their light paled in comparison to the swirling ball of energy she was carrying. As she approached the arches surrounding the water, the ever-present whispers in the room surged in intensity, hovering just beyond the edge of understanding. Ami felt a shiver go through her that had nothing to do with the temperature. In front of her, the pool frothed and bubbled, looking at the same time clear as the purest mountain spring and inky black like a bottomless abyss. The patterns dancing across its surface were hypnotic, and the blue-haired girl had to forcefully tear her gaze away. She knew that nothing that dipped below the surface of this particular basin ever returned.

Ami took another step forward before falling to her knees, steeling herself for what came next. In a perverse way, the knowledge that she was already damned felt oddly liberating. But enough procrastination. "Hear me, Dark Gods! You have shown that I am powerless before you, and that my actions were thoughtless and ill-advised. Please accept this gift as an apology for my misconduct and grant me forgiveness!" If eating crow was what it took to save those who depended on her, then that she would do. The globe of gathered life-force drifted forward, hovering for a moment above the dark waters, and then shot down to become one with its reflection.

Previous chapter: Next chapter:
Chapter 34: Reaper Battle, Take Two Chapter 36: Ultimatum



Attached comments:

  • Again Ami does the 'quick fix' crap and ignores the longer term solutions.
    Without the 'quick fix' crap, she won't be around to invent any long term solutions ;)

    cutting off their power from the dungeon heart
    Wich kills her.

    connecting it to her planet
    Already the case, it's where her boosted mana regeneration rate comes from.

    briefly turning off the dungeon heart
    Which kills her.

    considering Ami did not pick one to worship such punishment would mean they are ALL against her
    Or it could mean that any single one of them can do whatever he wants to her without the others complaining, as she's not claimed by anyone.

    Seems like Ami giving one concession over another 'to save a few people or not hurt poor innocents'
    Sadly, Ami doesn't seem to have a source of magical devices that allow her to elegantly side-step any moral issues that crop up, like someone else ~cough~ Sailor Moon ~cough~. The poor girl has to work with what she has got.

    Another few months and constant stream of problems Ami be nothing more then common evil keeper.
    She didn't actually promise the dark gods anything, you know. Only offered a bribe and told them that she was properly intimidated.

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