An uneasy silence reigned in the dungeon as Ami and Jadeite stared at each other, arms crossed over their chests. Neither was sure what to make of the other, and they regarded each other, evaluating how much information they were willing to part with.
Jadeite was the first one to speak. "Could you remove your... pet, please? It is drooling on my head." Despite the sudden angry growl from directly behind him, he managed to keep his face impassive. His long service to Queen Beryl had made him intensely familiar with the possibility of injury and death during audiences with the ruler. In a way, this was just like home. Dark power quivered invisibly within his fingertips, ready to be used against the overgrown lizard should he need to.
Ami nodded slightly in agreement, and the dragon towering behind the dark general disappeared abruptly.
Intriguing. He hadn't even seen her cast a spell. Underestimating the little sailor senshi would be a big mistake, especially when he didn't know what was going on. "I appreciate the gesture." Without the monster breathing down his neck, he dared move around to look at his surroundings more closely. He seemed to be in a prison, with all the dreary paraphernalia, such as chains, iron bars, and water dripping from the damp ceiling that went along with it. With its strange violet lighting coming from crystals set into the bricked walls, it didn't look very much like Tokyo, which would have been his first guess as to where the sailor senshi would have brought him. "Sailor Mercury. If you don't mind me asking, where is this place?"
"You don't know?" A hint of disappointment showed on the blue-haired girl's face, which was quickly replaced by a frown. "It is my base of operations, in a different world than my own. It is your fault that I'm here, you know."
"Hmm? I was not even aware that you had survived the sub-dimensional collapse," Jadeite said, uncrossing his arms. "In any case, your own meddling caused you to end up here. Which doesn't explain what I am doing here."
"Before I answer that, I want to know how you ended up in that crystal in the first place." Ami was staring at him with curiosity.
"Queen Beryl overreacted to a perceived failure and sentenced me to Eternal Sleep, dropping me into the deepest darkness to never return," the blond stated coldly, barely hiding his resentment.
"I would say that I'm sorry to hear that, but I'm mostly relieved that you can't harm my friends any more," Ami answered honestly. "This failure, it wouldn't have to do anything with the scratches on your face? They are still bleeding." She took a step forward and reached out with her right hand, as if to touch Jadeite's cheek.
Startled, the man took a step back and caught the slender hand in his much larger, white-gloved one, stopping it cold. His steel-blue eyes narrowed angrily. "And just what are you trying to do?"
Ami shrank back at his outburst, her hand still trapped in the vice-like grip. "I was just going to heal you!"
"What? Why would you do that?" Jadeite maintained his glare. While he had the girl's fingers in a crushing hold, she would be unable to dodge. All it would take was a short blast of dark energy to her stomach, and he could report back to Beryl and- wait, the bitch had discarded him without a second thought. Upon further consideration, showing up with the corpse of the senshi he had claimed to have killed already wouldn't gain him any favour. To his confusion, his mind shied away from the notion of seeing her dead.
"Because you are my employee and hurt," Ami explained, as if it was the most logical thing in the world.
"What? You were serious about that? Have you forgotten that you are a sailor senshi and I am a dark general?" He let go of her hand, noting how she pulled it away and massaged it with the other.
"You are not a dark general any more. You just told me that you got yourself fired."
Jadeite gaped. That had not really occurred to him yet. The whole time he had been trapped in the crystal, he had taken it as a given that his only options were either slowly going insane, or being rescued by Beryl and serving her once more. That he could be free, or at least serve a different master, had never crossed his mind. With a start, he realised that he had no plans for the future. Being a general of the Dark Kingdom was as high as one could rise under Beryl, and a dead-end position with few perspectives for improvement.
Taking advantage of his silence, Ami continued, and the red light in her eyes brightened as she spread her arms, palms facing outward, in a gesture that encompassed herself, the prison, and the minions in the room. "And does any of this look like something a typical sailor senshi would be up to? Do I still look like a sailor senshi to you?"
Jadeite conceded that out of uniform and with glowing red eyes, he wouldn't have batted an eye if he had seen her in the Dark Kingdom and mistaken her for a very humanoid youma.
"Besides, you agreed to the job, binding yourself magically to me. I wouldn't have been able to get you out of the crystal if it hadn't worked, so..." Ami trailed off, hoping he would get the idea.
Jadeite frowned. He was feeling strangely reluctant to attack her, at that. "I see. I would have thought you would be more interested in punishing me, rather than hiring me." Reminding her about their history might not have been the smartest idea, but the entire situation was so surreal that he couldn't help himself. Mercury had been able to magically move and hold him, so she could probably do grievous bodily harm too if she so desired.
"Well," Ami sighed deeply, "during my time here, I have come to the conclusion that you aren't that bad." At the blond's incredulous expression, she elaborated "While I was here, I have seen things that make your draining operations look tame in comparison." not to mentioned engaged in some of them myself, she thought guiltily. The picture of Malleus's lifeless body rolling down the golden stairs of his pyramid like a doll with its strings cut came to her mind unbidden. "So I'm willing to let bygones be bygones. Besides, I would be really pleased to have your skills and abilities on board."
"Naturally." Jadeite said in a deadpan tone of voice. "However, I still don't understand why I am here instead of drifting somewhere in the darkness between worlds?" He watched with fascination as the girl's face rapidly changed colour, first paling, then blushing slightly at the question.
"T-the dark gods sent you to me after I sacrificed some energy to them," the teenager blurted out after a moment of hesitation, embarrassed at having to admit this to the former dark general.
As expected, both his eyebrows shot up in surprise, but then he leaned his head back and broke into laughter "Oh, that's rich! I wonder what the other senshi would think about that!"
"I had good reasons!" Ami shouted, sounding upset. "Stop laughing!"
Jadeite sobered and quieted. Forgetting that the slip of a girl was potentially as dangerous to him as Queen Beryl was inviting disaster. "I apologise. From what you told me, I surmise that the energy somehow reached our Great Ruler, Queen Metallia. She must have nudged me your way so I can assist you in collecting more energy, rather than letting Beryl squander my talents. Very well then," Jadeite sank to one knee, bowing formally. "I am yours to command, Lady Mercury." The magic made the gesture feel inexplicably right.
Oh, he had managed to fluster the girl again. There she was, blinking, blushing, and covering her mouth with her hand. He might have to serve her, but this had the potential to be at least amusing. It might even be fun to work for a ruler who appreciated his abilities and wouldn't punish him at the slightest provocation. His smile became more shark-like, hidden by his low bow. Who knew, if she had Metallia's favour, maybe he would even be able to get revenge on Beryl. He should try to discreetly steer her in the right direction.
"R-rise Jadeite," Ami said, put off-balance when the man in the grey uniform with red trimming suddenly knelt in front of her, "and just Mercury is fine!" Queen Metallia? Was the Dark Kingdom backed by a dark god? What did this mean for her world? Could she convince the Light gods to get her home in light of that new information?
"As you wish." Jadeite got up, towering once more before the short-haired girl, a small smirk still playing around his lips.
Ami and her close companions used what had once been Keeper Malleus' inner sanctum as their living and working quarters. The complex of opulent chambers and hallways was segregated from the main bulk of the dungeon by design, having only a few entrances that were locked to the all but a few minions. It was a place where the adventurers and reluctant Keeper could relax without feeling the constant need to watch their backs. Ami had had her reservations about bringing Jadeite here, but given that he could teleport on his own, keeping him out was impossible short of locking him up in a prison cell indefinitely. He did not seem the type who would be put into a more cooperative mood by that, though, and she could use all the help she could get. It was better she kept him around where she could keep an eye on him. Ami intellectually knew that she personally was safe from him as long as he was bound by the dungeon heart's magic, but having him sit on one of the bright leather couches, not three steps away from her, was still making her uneasy. Her companions had no such protection, and she had made it vehemently clear that she would not tolerate him trying anything with them.
Currently, the grey-uniformed man was sitting stiffly and with his arms crossed, staring demonstratively away from her and at the wall, so she could only see his pouting, slightly reddening face in profile.
"You- you got defeated by Luna?" Ami did her best to suppress a snicker, but eventually gave up and hid her giggle behind one hand, prompting Jadeite to scowl. "I am sorry," she apologised, "but you have to admit, it is somewhat humorous."
"What is a 'Luna'?" Snyder asked as he stepped into the room, having only caught the tail end of the conversation. He glanced around, noticing the a blond man in a strange but formal-looking outfit, and recognising him as the person who had been trapped in the crystal Mercury had received from the dark gods. With that origin, Snyder was inclined to distrust this new addition to the dungeon on principle.
"Luna is a cat," Ami explained, still smiling as she turned toward the redhead, holding her hands apart to leave no doubt about the size of the animal. The smile slipped when she saw the acolyte's soot-covered face.
"Is that so?" Snyder shifted his attention back to the uniformed man, looking him up and down. For someone who lost a fight to a house cat, the security precautions Mercury had taken seemed somewhat incongruous. An ice golem stood vigilant in each corner of the square room, where before no guards had been necessary. Focusing on his reason for showing up, he addressed the blue-haired girl again. "Ahem. In any case, I am here to inform you that sadly, the new warding scheme had a minor but deep-seated malfunction. I'm afraid that it will be inevitable to restart its development process at the very beginning."
Ami's expression darkened at the news. From the corner of her eyes, she could see that Jadeite was watching the exchange attentively. "That is unacceptable. Please put up the old one instead as fast possible, I am not willing to let more time pass idly. Jered, please pass along the news that entering the Dungeon Heart Chamber will be forbidden for the foreseeable future, due to chaotic magic contamination."
The two employees nodded and left through the intricately carved wooden door, the sound of their footsteps swallowed by the thick carpet.
Ami turned back to Jadeite. "Well then. I haven't assigned you quarters yet, did I? Please come along, I will show you around while you continue telling me about the Dark Kingdom."
Walking through the recently-conquered palace with her former enemy felt decidedly odd. The hair on the back of Ami's neck never settled down completely, as if she was still instinctively considering the dark general a threat. Two weeks ago, she couldn't have conceived of showing Jadeite around the brightly-lit halls of her own palace, all the while having a pleasant, if tense, chat with the man. Her familiarity with the place through memories not her own only increased the cognitive dissonance, making her feel as if she was living through a disturbing dream. To Jadeite's credit, he was being impeccably polite now that he wasn't trying to kill her. It made sense if he had spent a lot of time at a royal court. She just never had thought about him having a life outside of enacting evil plots before.
A few hours later, Cathy strode into the common room, holding a stack of annotated maps against the bow of her recently reapplied senshi uniform. "Mercury. I have the latest information on our target right here."
"Another sailor senshi?" an unknown male voice asked from the left. The blonde woman in the white-and blue fuku stopped, eyeing up the stranger standing next to the square table holding the world map, which was a more elaborate version of the one Mercury had had at her initial dungeon. Curly blond hair, a strange grey uniform, and cold eyes stood out as a first impression.
"No," Ami, who was standing with her computer across from him on the other side of the table, shook her head, "she's just using my transformation."
Jadeite's eyes rounded at that. "You have actually found a way to produce more sailor senshi? Metallia help us all." He seemed disgusted by the notion.
Cathy paid no attention to the byplay, and put her papers on the table, shoving them in Ami's direction. "Who's the new guy?" she asked, addressing Mercury, rather than the stranger.
"I am general Jadeite of the Dark Kingdom," he introduced himself, narrowing her eyes at the faux-senshi. Disliking her was a conditioned reflex, triggered by the uniform, even before she had had the gall to ignore him.
"General?" Cathy commented, unimpressed by his frown. "You look barely eighteen. I can't think of a military where one could rise to that position at that age," she hesitated for the merest moment before adding thoughtfully "aside from maybe ours. Hey, did I miss out on a promotion?"
Jered cleared his throat. "Observe how he is floating a finger's breadth above the ground. Maybe he is some kind of magical creature, such as a vampire. For all we know, he could be older than dirt."
The long-haired blonde shrugged, and faced Ami with a mischievous smile "Also, 'Dark Kingdom'? Do you want us to call you 'Queen' now, Mercury?" Cathy teased.
Ami looked startled, then quickly shook her head "No. Jadeite is from a place called the 'Dark Kingdom'. He just hasn't gotten used to his new situation yet."
The dark general in question harrumphed, but didn't protest.
"Well, then, 'general', do you have some valuable strategic advice for the mission?" Cathy asked, with a challenge in her voice.
"I might, if someone saw it fit to update me on the situation. In fact, you haven't even told me what you are up to, Mercury."
Ami realised that he had a point. "Well, right now, we are planning to destroy a neophyte Dungeon Keeper and seize his dungeon heart, because it is close to the coast and- "
"Dungeon Keeper?" Jadeite asked, unfamiliar with the term.
"That's what the rulers of the Underworld are called in this world," Ami briskly informed him, "in any case, seizing this dungeon heart means we can ship it to a place called the Avatar Islands and deploy it, thus gaining a base of operations from which we can conduct the search for a bit of missing lore I need to produce additional dungeon hearts, which I need in order to defeat the other Dungeon Keepers in this world," she took a long breath after the run-on sentence. Before she could
"Steal a magical artefact, then conquer the world. Got it." Jadeite summarised, then smirked when he saw Mercury wince at the way he had worded it. "I must say, this sounds familiar, except for less energy-harvesting being involved."
"The major difference," Mercury said sharply, glaring at him, "is that our targets are not innocents! Never forget that!"
Jadeite inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement, breaking eye contact, but the muscles around his lips twitched in hidden disapproval. "Of course. I would not have expected such an aggressive agenda from a good girl like you, though."
"What I want to do and what I am forced to do are, unfortunately, very different things. I wish I could just find a way home and forget all about this dungeon keeper business, but," Ami looked at the ground, clenching her fists, "there are so many complications that I need to sort out first." Not the least of which was somehow surviving another fight with the Reaper, without the benefit of long range attacks. Ami felt like creeping into a small hole and never coming out again when she only thought about it. However, there was a glimmer of hope for getting home, at least. "Jadeite. Can you still open a portal to the Dark Kingdom?"
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