"I don't see why not," Jadeite confirmed, and Ami could feel her heartbeat speed up in anticipation. She leaned forward over the table when the grey-clad man sauntered toward the middle of the room, where he had more space. A jolt when through her, banishing her cheerful daydream of walking up the sun-lit stairs to Rei's shrine where Usagi, the black-haired shrine-maiden, and Luna were already waiting for her, all smiling.
"Jadeite, wait!" the cry came from her throat before she had even realised it, prompting a questioningly raised eyebrow from the curly-haired blond. His arm stopped half-way through the motion of opening a gate. Feeling like a child who had just denied herself a tasty treat, Ami explained."Don't open the portal here. I don't want a portal to the Dark Kingdom anywhere near my dungeon, just in case there is someone on the other side who can track the origin!"
The dark general inclined his head in a shallow bow. "A prudent precaution, but likely unnecessary."
"We shall try this somewhere else," Ami declared. Her outline blurred as she turned into a smoke-like black shadow that whooshed past Jadeite, who ducked in surprise and let out a startled hiss, eyes wide. The black lighting struck one of the motionless golem guards, crackling over the ice rings constituting its armour for the time it took him to blink.
The eye sockets of the statue lit up with crimson light, and she spoke in a watery voice whose speech patterns were identical to Mercury's. "Follow me," she demanded, already yanking the general through space and to the desert above the dungeon. Instead of dropping to the ground and losing his balance, as most of the creatures that Ami transported did, he just stood on thin air. While giving him time to catch is bearing, she wondered whether she would be able to learn that trick. Being able to fly like the clouds had to be wonderful. She watched for a moment as Jadeite floated higher, looking down at the loose sands with disgust, and blinking in the sudden brightness. His eyes rose to meet hers, but he averted them halfway through the motion, discouraged by the blinding glare of the sun reflecting off of every part of her ice body. Now certain that he was aware of her, she disappeared, re-appearing on top of one of the ashen dunes a few kilometres away. Even with the veil of flowing dust wafting within the valleys between the sand hills, the frozen golem body flared up like diamonds in the sunlight. The dark speck in the distance that was Jadeite turned into a bundle of vertical lines that shot upward and vanished, and the dark general faded back into existence in front of Mercury.
"This way," Ami gestured, pointing with a transparent hand over her shoulder. Ice made grinding noises with the movement, but the sound abruptly stopped when the water-filled simulacrum disappeared, leaving only a near-inaudible popping sound of inrushing air. Having displaced herself the same distance as before, she waited for the blond general to catch up. He appeared with what sounded like an irritated harrumph. "Twenty more jumps like this in the same direction," she said, sounding apologetic.
"Feh. I'll be waiting for you," Jadeite answered, glowing and disappearing with an effect that looked like blurry lines leaping at the sky. Ami's eyes narrowed at the ill-concealed disdain in his voice. Without further ado, she teleported herself after him, cutting down on the total number of hops required by moving herself nearly the maximum distance that her Keeper powers allowed. She just hoped she wouldn't miss the dark general, whose uniform made him blend in with the grey tones of the desert. She needn't have worried. His floating form was a clearly visible black blot against the backdrop of the poisonously green sky, whose colour was an illusion produced by the faint yellow taint of the atmosphere over the corrupted desert. With a last hop, Ami landed in front of the dark general, artificial feet sinking into the hot, shifting sand. Losing the outermost layer of the skin to melting was a decidedly odd, prickly sensation. She was glad that this body wasn't ticklish, or she would have made a decidedly incompetent impression. She bent her neck to look up at the hovering figure, who was descending slowly toward the surface, smirking smugly down at her. Right, so he could teleport better than her. No need to rub it in. Expertly suppressing a spark of irritation, she said. "Good, you are here. This place should be fine. Go ahead whenever you are ready, please." There was nothing but empty sand for hundreds of kilometres around, so even if the Dark Kingdom managed to track the portal activation back to the origin, they wouldn't find anything useful in the vicinity, she hoped.
Jadeite gave a silent nod to the ice statue that was surrounded with thin streams of fog. Little droplets of water were condensing out of the air and covering Ami's skin, as if the ice itself was sweating. The man raised his right hand to his left shoulder and then made a downward-sweeping gesture that started with a flick of his wrist. When his extended arm came to a rest, it was parallel to the ground, and a black oval opened like a hole in the fabric of space - which was exactly what it was. Ami had no heart that could skip a beat, but the burst of happiness she experienced upon seeing the way home open was nearly enough to run over to Jadeite and give him a hug. Not that she thought he would appreciate it, even if she wasn't a cold and wet ice statue right now. A second later, the gate fully stabilised, and Jadeite's eyes went round. With a roar, a pillar of bright orange lava sprang from the portal and would have clipped the dark general if he hadn't dodged out of its path with a startled and undignified squawk. So narrow was his escape that the white glove on the palm extended toward the portal burst into flame before Jadeite could retract it, and he thrust the limb deep into the sand while skidding down the side of the dune in order to extinguish it. With his concentration broken, the portal disappeared, cutting off the flow of ejecta that was shooting out of it like water from a gardening hose.
Ami stared unblinking and unmoving at the spot where the portal had just been. This did not look like the result that Jadeite had been expecting, as she could hear him hiss in pain from the bottom of the dune. With a well-practiced twist of her mind, the Mercury mini-computer appeared within her hands. Frozen fingers clattered over the tiny keyboard at a breakneck pace while lines of code raced over the display. Heedless of the danger posed by the lava, which was spreading out over the top of the dune like lethal icing on a cake, she continued typing. Soon, the computer let out a beep, indicating that it had found a match. Ami's hopes came crashing down when she read the line, the disappointment all the more bitter because of her raised expectations. The lava she was analysing, and which by now was nearly touching her feet, had come from the Underworld. Only when the outer layer of her shell started deforming like melting wax from the radiated heat did Ami get a grip on her emotions, and she put some distance between herself and the coating of molten stone.
"Jadeite!" the statue-girl shouted, her voice cold like the hope quenched by the recent development.
"My Queen?" the curly-haired general genuflected on pure reflex upon noting the anger directed at him. It took him a moment to realise that this was not Queen Beryl he was dealing with, but at that point, his knee had already touched the clingy sand. With as much dignity as he could muster, he rose to his feet, brushing the dust off his trousers as he did so, and looked up.
"That portal did not go to the Dark Kingdom, but to the Underworld! I take it that this was not intentional. Can you fix it?" Ami paused when the blond's eyes went wide and his cheeks turned a light pink.
Turning his head aside and picking at his charred glove instead of looking at the animated senshi statue, Jadeite answered "I did everything as usual, so I would have to look into the causes of this first." His lips quivered, as if he was trying to fight down a smirk, and he continued in a carefully neutral tone of voice "Also, it appears that your armour has melted away."
Ami looked down at herself, finding to her great displeasure that the icy chainmail she should have been wearing had - unsurprisingly - not survived the proximity to glowing lava, and of course, the golem had only regenerated her skin, not her clothing. "Eeep!" She had been flashing Jadeite! This wasn't her real body, but it was shaped just like it! Despite having been in this situation before, being seen naked by someone she knew made the embarrassment much, much worse. What would he be thinking of her now? He didn't even know that there was a good reason for her ice simulacrums to look just like her! Oh, this was so embarrassing. She wished she could sink into the ground, but had to settle for the next best thing, and teleported away. This was so stupid! She should have possessed one of the golems in a nurse uniform instead! The more logical part of her pointed out that the fabric would have caught fire, but she wasn't inclined to listen. Fixing the issue of the golems looking like her down to the smallest detail had just increased in priority. Hidden behind a large dune of sand, Ami slumped her shoulders and sighed. She closed her eyes in concentration, focusing on the mental image of baggy pants and a shirt, and pushed her magic into it. With a rustle, the cloth wrapped around her, conforming to her vision.
"So we are done here then?" Jadeite asked bemusedly, standing all alone in the desert. The senshi-possessed automaton re-appeared in front of him, dressed in blue garb that convinced the dark general that whatever else Sailor Mercury was, a talented tailor she was not. "I see you have sorted out your wardrobe malfunction," he commented. Beryl would have punished him severely for a jibe like that, but the statue just stiffened uncomfortably and otherwise ignored it. Oh yes, he could get used to this.
"It seems you are stuck here in this world then, same as me?" Ami asked, getting over her mortification. At least she couldn't blush in this colourless body.
Jadeite shrugged indifferently. "For the time being."
"You sound very nonchalant about the news," Ami shifted her weight, looking at the blond general with interest. "Don't you have anyone at home whom you will miss?"
Was there anyone he would miss? Beryl? He let out an involuntary snort at the very concept, surprising the girl watching him. Seeing that his reaction would require some explanation, he pre-empted the inevitable questions. "Who should I be missing? Beryl? Life is safer without her. The other generals? Nephrite is a rival who envies me my position, Zoisite is a treacherous snake, and Kunzite isn't much better. The youmas?" Jadeite made a dismissive hand movement to communicate just how ridiculous that notion was.
"It sounds like a sad and lonely existence," Mercury answered after a while, her posture shifting to a more sympathetic one.
Jadeite's laughed. "Lonely? Who cares, I don't need others!" Noting the statue's pitying gaze, he scowled. "I wouldn't expect a little girl like you to understand. Now, was there anything else?"
Ami shook her head, and with a wistful look over her shoulder at the cooling lava where the failed portal had been, she ordered "Let's go back."
Keeper Malleus had owned a command centre of sorts that had allowed him to project his presence to far away dungeons. That way, he could lead operations from the comfortable safety of his home, reclining on the heap of soft, velvet cushions taking up the centre of the small chamber. Ami had no remote base of operations, and so she had no use for the room. Even if she did, she wouldn't have enjoyed staying in a place that reminded her of all the meticulously planned and executed atrocities that the late Keeper had been master-minding from the small, tomb-like shrine. While the Light gods had helped ease the burden of the foreign memories, there were limits to how many reminders Ami was willing to subject herself to. The opulent den where Malleus had plotted his evil deeds was far beyond these limits. However, Ami recognised that the concept of a command centre was sound, and instructed her imps to dig out a new, square room below the deepest reaches of her dungeon.
The blue-haired senshi stood at the entrance to the spacious cavern, letting her eyes wander over the make-shift arrangement of equipment and furniture. Somemismatch was unavoidable, as none of the pre-existing patterns for rooms addressed her requirements precisely. She had started out with a library, which certainly had nothing to do with her love of books. Really. In contrast with most other standard dungeon rooms, libraries were brightly lit to allow for an easy reading experience. The short-haired girl's gaze wandered upwards, towards the lamps. In each of the four corners of the room stood a pedestal that nearly reached the vaulting ceiling. On each rested a Mercury symbol as large as the young Keeper's head, blazing with white light and banishing the shadows from the room. Ami found it a vast improvement over the crystal skulls that the old library used, even if the proud display of her ownership clashed with her self-effacing nature. Under her feet, the thick orange carpet that had come with the library muffled the sound of her footsteps. Keeping the noise level down was another advantage, albeit a minor one. Any shelves and books had been removed from the chamber, leaving it bare to make room for more useful furniture, such as the enormous glass tank that formed the looming centrepiece of the chamber.
Ami approached the water-filled cube that had roughly the same dimensions as a room in a modern apartment. Jadeite was gazing into the depths of the aquarium-like structure, studying its contents. The young Keeper had finally found a use for her fully liquid golems. Their sad tendency to dissolve into flat and useless puddles did not exist within an aquatic environment, where they could stay coherent and survive as shape-shifting blobs. She had created a large number of them from various dyes, and now a stylised, three dimensional map of the target dungeon floated within the container's confines, formed by transparent brown box shapes and cylinders that signified rooms and hallways. A large number of finger-sized fluid golems in red, green, and blue tones covered the bottom of the tank, waiting for the moment when they would be called upon to symbolise the location of allied and enemy units on the map.
"It is a rather inefficient design", Jadeite said, turning to Ami when she approached. "If you wanted an easily-updated map, you should use illusions."
"I will keep that in mind for when I have time to learn some illusion spells," the girl answered, not letting her upbeat mood be ruined. "Cathy, are there any problems?" She turned to the long-haired blonde, who was sitting behind a semi-circular desk which was covered in more traditional maps. From the woman's elevated position on a dais resting against the back wall, and from which she could oversee the rest of the room, it was clear that she was occupying the command chair. As if to underline her prominent rank, long blue drapes with the Mercury symbol in white hung from the ceiling to her left and right. Ami hadn't specified those when she had designed the room, but apparently, her magic had deemed them appropriate. To her, they looked like the kind of decoration one would have found in Nazi Germany, except in the wrong colour and with the wrong symbol. It really said a lot about what she thought about her new occupation.
"Nothing that should put us off schedule," Cathy answered. "The map corresponds to the latest divined intelligence. The warlocks could have used more rest after their illness, but this won't be strenuous work, so they should not pass out on us."
Ami followed the swordswoman's gaze toward the line of dark magicians standing against the right wall, each one next to a single, melon-sized eye on an organic-looking stalk that grew from the floor. The odd contraptions looked alive, twisting and turning randomly while staring at things only they could see. Ami shuddered upon spotting the unsightly things. She had no idea how they worked, but knew that they were used to send corruptive dreams and whispers to prospective recruits in order to entice them into joining the Keeper's side. Ami figured that, if they could do that, they could also serve as send-only radios, enabling the six wizards to transmit instructions to golems in the field, effectively remote-controlling them. This would hopefully work out better than her having to split her attention between fighting, analysing things, staying alive, and giving the soldiers vague instructions that they would then interpret with their imp-sized intellects.
"Snyder also assures me that those mana batteries he designed are good for at least a hundred scrying spells," Cathy continued, her tone indicating just how low her opinion of the redhead's promises was. The acolyte was currently darting about along the benches on the left side of the room, adjusting lumpy, rune-covered objects that emitted sparks from time to time. A gaggle of cables ran from the storage devices toward a row of six crystal balls resting on the long bench close to the glass cube, manned by a warlock each. Metal stands holding the two largest scrying devices stood separate from the others, one to each side of the aquarium. Two coiled sculpture resembling Eastern dragons loomed behind them, their gaping maws pointed directly at the orbs. Glaring light shot from their mouths, projecting the image shown by the spheres onto the white surface of the far wall. The images were somewhat distorted by the curvature of the crystal balls and the uneven light produced by the ersatz diascopes, but they were certainly detailed enough to give the warlocks in charge of tele-operating the golems a clear idea of the situation. Ami nodded in satisfaction. Everything seemed to be in order.
"Anyway, why does Sailor Fake get overall command for this operation? I have prior experience!" Jadeite complained, shooting a sour look toward the other blonde.
Ami suppressed a sigh. "You have a task that makes use of your more unique talents," she explained. "Once I start the attack, the enemy Keeper will react by moving his troops to intercept mine, which will allow me to discern his location. I will call out the map cube he is in and one of the warlocks will scry it." This was a bit harder than it sounded. She wondered if no previous dungeon keeper had felt the need to assault a location far away from their dungeon, or if this was a weakness unique to Malleus. The lack of a spell that allowed the Keeper to communicate with his minions from neutral territory was one of the glaring holes in the powerset she had inherited. In any case, an imp with a slate, chalk, and Jered to keep an eye on the creature would serve as workaround until she could find an appropriate spell. The imp would know what Ami wanted it to write, and the wavy haired man could read it aloud. She returned her attention to Jadeite.
"I want you to look at the picture in the crystal ball, identify the Keeper, and then teleport over and destroy him." Her voice became more insistent. "Please, just show up, attack, and immediately return here, regardless of the outcome. I can't stress enough how dangerous Keepers are and how important it is that you don't give him time to react. No introductions, no grandiose gestures - just pop in and fire away. The slightest delay means that he will teleport away and counter-attack. So take no chances!"
With growing irritation, Ami noted that Jadeite looked unconvinced. "I think you are rather underestimating my abilities. I was a general of the Dark Kingdom, after all."
The blue-haired girl opened her mouth to protest, but closed it again as she decided to save her breath. Maybe a demonstration would be more helpful here. Without a warning, the curly-haired blond found himself in the pressing heat of the desert. He glanced around, seeing nothing interesting through the heat flickers. Suddenly, the dune next to him exploded as if a bomb had gone off inside. He could see white-hot spears of fire shoot from cracks opening in the sandy hillside as it bulged outward like a bursting balloon. A wall of sand surfed the shockwave preceding the firestorm blossoming outward from the epicentre of the explosion, barrelling down on the dark general. Reflexively, he raised his arm to protect his face, and was suddenly back within the command centre, staring wide-eyed at Mercury.
"That was a spell the Keeper I seized this dungeon from was fond of," Ami explained with an amused smile at the sand-covered state of Jadeite's uniform. "It's not something one can use in quick succession, but it is an example of what Keepers can throw at you on their own territory. Thus, it is best for you to use hit and run tactics." The dark general was looking at her as if she had grown a second head, his face ashen, and not from the sand trickling out of his hair.
"Very well," he gulped. "I shall follow your instructions to the letter." And work on my shields. The attack was nothing to sneeze at, but he thought he could fend it off if it didn't go off right in his face, which it had the potential to do, unfortunately.
"Good," Ami nodded. "Please keep up the pressure even if the first attack fails. If the Keeper has to worry about his own survival, he won't be able to effectively fight off me and the troops when we go after the dungeon heart." She walked up the stairs to Cathy's seat, and addressed all her employees at once in a loud voice, drawing all gazes in the room, which in turn prompted a short battle with her shyness. Shyness won handily, and the motivational speech she had prepared was abandoned in favour of a quick mission statement "I will travel to the enemy dungeon now. Stand ready to support the attack as soon I give the signal!"
With these words, she turned into coils of black energy that shot upward through the ceiling, seeking out the closest golem.
Once Ami was gone, Snyder made his way over to Cathy's seat. "Well, well. Now we wait. Actually, how comes that you are wearing that indecent outfit again? My ward on the dungeon heart should prevent the uniforms from forming, and I refuse to believe that it failed so quickly!"
The swordswoman-turned-commander swivelled her chair around, narrowing her eyes at the acolyte. "Such confidence in your abilities. Nevertheless, the ward holds for now. This is an old uniform that I put on after Mercury re-applied the enchantments."
Snyder looked baffled. "But why? I thought you hated the embarrassing thing."
"It has grown on me. Besides, Jered likes it," she snapped with a slight blush. "And it is a layer of protection for my normal identity. You remember how these enchantments make the uninitiated think that they are looking at a different person? I figure that that wouldn't work so well if I wore the same garb in both forms."
"But, you know, everyone here is calling you by name, so..." the acolyte pointed out a glaring flaw with that plan.
"Obviously. I'm not trying to keep my identity secret from anyone here. I simply don't want to cause any more grief to my family by becoming known as a high-ranking servant of a dungeon keeper, just in case someone uses divination magic on this place. That is bound to happen once Mercury becomes more infamous, and the disguise is going to work just fine against that." She glared at the acolyte, as if daring him to contradict her. The redhead wisely remained silent, maybe detecting the hints of sadness in her blue eyes.
Ami's journey toward the west coast of the continent took longer than the one to the desert had taken, because she was teleport-hopping across more densely-settled territory. After leaving the desolate region around her dungeon, the land became a beautiful patchwork of green forests and lush meadows, interspersed with farms, towns, and cities. Ami didn't have time to properly admire the landscape, as she was transporting herself from cover to cover, keeping the sparkly ice body she was inhabiting out of sight of the population. It would be inconsiderate to worry and startle the people, even if there was nothing they could do about her, and so Ami only appeared in deep shadows behind rocks and trees, keeping to the less inhabited areas. After more line-of-sight jumps than she bothered to count, she appeared on top of a sparsely forested hill that provided a good view of the rolling ocean in the distance. The countryside sloped downward slowly, forming a shallow valley through which a wide stream meandered. Ami's gaze followed the white-sailed trading ships that travelled down the river toward the large coastal city that it split into two parts. Though calling the white-walled settlement a city was not doing it justice. With the many ramparts and towers crowning the four-storey high walls it was more of a fearsome citadel. Warships shared the bustling port with large-bellied galleons, while sea gulls cried in the air.
Ami consulted the maps within her dungeon remotely, confirming that the area looked familiar for a reason. The city was the one that Cathy's intelligence-gathering efforts had revealed in the crystal ball, situated about eight kilometres downstream from the enemy Keeper's dungeon. She knew that the underground fortifications of the well-fortified citadel matched or even exceeded those above ground, but it was the only major settlement in the area, which had to make it the enemy's target. Jered speculated that the fiend was still building his army, which consisted mostly of goblins. They were training day and night with a fervour that Ami had never managed to instil in the green rabble that had served her. This was utterly unsurprising, as his methods made the senshi feel physically ill. Each day, he was holding a fighting tournament where the large-eared little critters displayed their skills. Those who came last were thrown into the prison and left to starve, slowly building the Keeper's army of skeletons and motivating the rest to do even better. Despite the stomach-turning methods, his approach was producing results. From short glances in the crystal ball, Ami had drawn the unflattering conclusions that the very best of the tiny green monsters could most likely mop the floor with her in close combat. This reminded her that she would have to fight the Reaper again in the near future, but she didn't want to dwell on those bleak perspectives right now.
Regardless of the fighting prowess of the goblins, Ami suspected that the key to the enemy's plan were the undead, which already outnumbered his living troops. They needed neither food nor sleep nor payment, but most importantly, they did not need to breathe. If Ami was plotting an assault on the city, which she most emphatically was not, she would simply walk the skeletons along the bottom of the river, bypassing the cities' fortifications and causing havoc before its defenders would know what hit them. The heavy grate that blocked the stream after twilight was intended to stop boats trying to sneak into the city in the dead of night, and skeletons were slim enough to pass through its gaps. So were goblins, even if they would have to squeeze through with some effort. However, as an avenue of attack, the river could be used both ways.
Ami teleported across the landscape, toward the location of the enemy dungeon, and plunged into the river. Water sparkled in the sunlight when her slender body pierced the stream's surface. Surrounded by air bubbles, her golem body sank slowly deeper, and she had to summon her visor to remain able to see in the dimming light. Among hair-like swaying algae, she concentrated. Back in her dungeon, the existing golems turned into inert ice sculptures as she withdrew the magic that sustained them. She would need it all to to create the new ones. With a muttered spell that sounded weird in the aquatic medium, the first of her simulacrums appeared before her, immediately making swimming motions to maintain position within the flowing water. She repeated the process thirteen times, bringing the number of animated statues to fifteen, including the one she was possessing. This, experimentation had revealed, was the largest number she could sustain while also maintaining five senshi forms - herself, Cathy, and soon three of the golems. Three flashes of blue light momentarily lit the murky depths of the river, frightening the fishes away. During the short bursts of brightness, Ami could see that the surrounding flora had been overcome by foulness and was rotting away into brown and yellowish remains. The corruption of the enemy dungeon heart was somehow being channelled into the waters, it seemed, which carried it out into the ocean. That's one way to keep the base hidden, Ami thought, worrying about what the contaminated waters would do to the citizens. It was long past time that she dealt with this Keeper.
A scratching noise made Jered look up. The imp in charge of communication was writing on its slate. "Everyone! Mercury is in position!"
The room started bristling with activity at the announcement. Long-robed warlocks hurried to their position, and crystal balls flared up with bright light. Within the large aquarium, green dots moved up from its bottom; amoeba-like miniature golems taking position on the map squares to indicate the position of Ami's troops. Three groups of five were moving across the stylized rooms, each one led by a larger green dot representing an empowered statue in senshi form.
"Group at grid cube three-three-five onto left screen, the group at grid cube eight-zero-two on the right one!" Cathy shouted. "The Keeper is leading the third group herself. Get to work!" She glowered at the warlocks gripping the strange eye-things by their stalks, and they began instructing their charges. On the screens, golems rushed through freshly-hewn gaps in the dungeon's walls, concealed by a thick but selective fog. Of the three incursions, Mercury's own had started at the lowest level, breaking in from the river. As Cathy watched the map, a group of red dots that had been observing the crystal balls detached themselves from the glass and floated upward to form a veritable forest of red in one of the Chambers in the young Keeper's path. "Inform Mercury that there's a clump of hostiles waiting for her in the next room, advise that the route to the left appears to be lightly defended," she shouted to the closest warlock, who nodded and started mumbling into his beard. Strange whispers emanated from the twitching eyeball in his hands while it relayed the message. On the screens, the animated statues were meeting resistance when goblins started to appear from thin air, surrounding them.
"Instruction from Mercury: Enemy Keeper at seven-seven-three," Jered's voice echoed loudly through the hall as he read the imp's slate.
"Scan it with crystal ball three. Jadeite, he's all yours!" Cathy instructed, still observing the map, where activity was becoming more hectic. She could see the red dots that obstructed Mercury's path clump up near a door, but unable to pass, while the green spots representing her squad were moving along the alternate route. She must have buried the doors under ice, Cathy figured. Movement from above distracted her momentarily as the dark general floated over to the indicated scrying device and bowed over it, gazing into its depths before disappearing from the room altogether. On the right screen, a golem disintegrated under a lightning bolt from out of nowhere, spraying jets of superheated vapour from its bursting joints.
A blond figure clad in a grey uniform with red trimming shimmered into existence in a practical, but well-decorated chamber within the coastal dungeon. Jadeite appeared with a sphere of blackness already hovering above his hand. Sensing the danger somehow, his green-skinned, long-eared quarry turned its head, red eye-slits widening as it spotted the hovering figure. The black comet was already streaking toward the surprised Keeper, and Jadeite smirked when the figure messily burst apart under the impact. Piece of cake. His amusement died down when a thread of darkness wafted from the smoking corpse, glared at him from the red pinpricks that were its eyes, and darted away through a wall. Remembering Mercury's warning, he teleported out, turning into black vertical lines split-seconds before angry arcs of electricity arced down through the space he had just occupied and scoured deep gouges into the floor tiles.
Ami was pressing herself against the wall left of a closed door with two wings. A large block of ice containing four frozen-in skeletons was screeching down the corridor, propelled by three of her golems that were pushing against it. The transparent bodies were leaning into the work so hard that they were nearly parallel to the floor as their legs pumped furiously. The large, sliding mass gained speed. Waiting for the right moment, Ami pulled the door open, taking one of the steel wings while a second golem opened the other. Their concerted effort cleared the path for the speeding ice block, which barrelled onward and into a group of would-be ambushers, sending skeletons and bones flying like bowling pins. Having advanced warning was coming in useful. Ami was about to give the order to move on when a ghost-like image of Jadeite appeared in her field of vision. "Problems, Mercury," the wavering picture spoke with a heavily-distorted voice, "the Keeper refused to properly die when I killed him."
Ami listened to his description of what happened, and frowned. "He must be possessing creatures. Just keep hunting him. He should be..." her fingers raced over the keyboard of the palmtop computer suddenly in her hands, " ... in section eight-eight-seven. Get to it!"
"Very well," with a token bow, the projection disappeared, leaving Ami to her own devices.
"Jadeite, go get the Keeper in nine-sev- no, dammit, he disappeared." Cathy stared at the map
"Keeper at, eh, three-four-three?" a male voice shouted from the left, where a warlock looked up from his crystal ball, his face a network of shadowy lines in its unfavourable light. "At least, some red-eyed skeleton just popped into my image, and-"
"Noted. Jadeite, you heard him," the scarred blonde's hair whipped around as she returned her attention to the map, not even watching the dark general teleport out once more. "Mercury's team seems to have reached the dungeon heart. Get me an image of it on the - " she paused. The second squad was down to two surviving Mercury statues. "- left screen, right now!"
At her order, the scene on the wall changed to an overhead view of the enemy's dungeon heart chamber. All of its entrances were frozen shut, which neatly locked out most of the defenders. Naturally, the Keeper was still throwing minions in, but that allowed Mercury to get a bead on his location, and between freezing the in-dropping enemies, she was calling in the Keeper's new coordinates at a breakneck pace. By now, Jadeite wasn't even bothering to return to the command centre. He appeared from time to time in one of the crystal balls, sweating and firing bolts of dark energy at his target as he chased the enemy commander around.
Meanwhile, Ami was holding her position next to the beating dungeon heart of the enemy, defending the imps she had summoned from attack. She spared a nervous glance at the three holes in the floor that indicated where the bug-eyed minions had slowly made their way downward into the rock. The distraction nearly cost her, and she lost her left hand to the hacking sabre of a swift and muscular goblin before one of her servants fired a salvo of frozen fingers into its back, stunning it long enough for her to kick it aside. Even though domes of ice protected the entrance leading down to the imps, the enemy Keeper could have destroyed the small servants undermining his dungeon heart with little effort. Fortunately, Jadeite was distracting him. While the arm stump regenerated, Ami watched the imps' progress. The ground underneath her feet crumbled away from a pick strike, and her ice body dropped to the cavern that the little demonic servants were excavating below the active artefact. A wide cylinder protruding from the ceiling denoted the pit that contained the beating heart. "Shabon Spray Freezing!" Ami looked at her handiwork. A thick layer of ice was now supporting the dungeon heart from below, separating it from the rocky ground. "Good! Excavate a trench around it! Disconnect it completely from the surrounding rock!" Her visor was giving her the newest location of the enemy, which she faithfully transmitted to the command centre. Soon now... Yes! The last piece of ceiling connecting the beating heart of the enemy to his territory crumbled away, completing the circular ditch around it. Now the entire construct was only resting on the pedestal of ice she had created, severing its connection with the rest of the dungeon. She could already see the lights fade as their power source was disconnected. More importantly, the enemy Keeper could no longer teleport at will anywhere but into this room, unless he possessed an imp which - darn it! - he just had. It was not logical for a Keeper to leave his sole remaining dungeon heart undefended and in the hands of an enemy, but apparently, this one had figured that if she hadn't destroyed it yet, she was not going to any time soon. What was she supposed to do now?
"Enemy minions are retreating toward the portal," a hoarse voice echoed in her mind.
"Let them, but cordon off all routes to the dungeon heart. Chase any enemies you can find through the portal, or destroy them. None must remain." the imp back in the command centre scribbled on his slate, "and send me Jadeite over here."
Getting rid of all enemy minions was an unfortunate necessity. She knew from her stolen memories that the possession spell did not work across different realms of existence, and thus all minions within the Underworld would no longer be valid emergency refuges for the Keeper she was fighting. Besides, she wasn't keen on leaving them to their own devices within densely-settled territory.
Moments later, the former dark general appeared, panting lightly from the exertion of the chase. He looked questioningly over the ice golems until his gaze came to rest on the one whose eyes glowed red. "Mercury," he greeted.
"Change of plans," Ami informed him, while typing away furiously on her palmtop while scanning the dungeon heart. "The enemy Keeper is fleeing in an imp body. Maybe he thinks he can create a new heart before I decide to destroy this one. I can track the invisible link binding him to this artefact, but he can teleport as far as I can in one hop, so I can't catch up to him."
Jadeite scratched his chin. "I see where you are going with this, but I can't track him on my own. Can your staff in the command centre?"
Ami shook her head, making the water within gurgle. "I'm afraid not. You will have to carry me", she continued, her entire body language speaking of the misgivings she had about that course of action.
High in the sky, an indistinct blurry lump appeared, solidifying into two distinct shapes clinging to each other.
"Yow! Get that ice away from my neck!" Jadeite complained, grimacing and shivering.
"I'd like to, but I can't move! I can't even look in the right direction! Wait, let me shift my weight." Ami was draped over the blond's shoulders in a fireman's carry and not at all happy with the situation, if the way her legs were kicking was any indication. "Ah! I'm sliding off!"
"It was your genius idea to hold onto me while still in a body made of ice! Hold still!"
"I can't! Eeek! Catch me!"
One barely avoided accident and much struggling later, Ami was awkwardly pressed to Jadeite's chest while being carried bridal style. Studiously ignoring the feeling of his arms holding her, she turned her head, scanning the landscape through her visor, and said "Much better."
"Maybe for you," Jadeite grumbled, "I'm still freezing over here. Let's get this over with."
"Yes," Ami nodded, "See that lake on the horizon? He's around there."
The duo disappeared, only to reappear hovering over the large body of water. The ice girl consulted her computer again. "He is hiding in that copse of trees. I don't think he is aware that I can track him."
"Close to the centre, about half-way on the line between the meadow and the higher pines," Ami indicated, holding the monitor of her computer so that Jadeite could see it.
The dark general bared his teeth in an unfriendly grin. "Understood. Hold on tight."
Ami nearly let out a startled squeak when the arm supporting her back disappeared, and wrapped her arms around the taller man's chest on pure reflex. He extended his free hand towards a large, flat boulder not far from the copse, and bands of white lightning leapt from his fingers, fading somewhere in mid-air before they reached their target. While Ami wondered what that was supposed to accomplish, the rock shuddered and rose into the air slowly, raining down crumbs of dirt and soil. Jadeite moved his arm in an arc, and the boulder followed the motion, until it was hovering high above the target location. Its shadow was out on the waters of the lake, a dark spot where the waves did not glitter in the sunlight. The dark general opened his hand, and gravity took over. A cacophony of splintering noises produced by trees being squished preceded the thundering thumping noise by a mere instant. A ripple went through the treetops from the tremor caused by the impact, which Jadeite commented with a sardonic "Splat."
"Enemy dungeon heart has gone inert," the distorted voice of a warlock informed Ami.
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|Chapter 38: The Newest Recruit||Chapter 40: Shipping Preparations|
- Jadeite's too power hungry for his own good
He strikes me as the least rebellious of the four generals. Nephrite? Talked back to the Queen and ended up deserting. Zoisite? Is not beyond ignoring orders if he thinks Beryl can't find out. Kunzite? Refuses some things outright, such as working with Endymion. In contrast, Jadeite has always tried to do what he was told. He might just have been the most brain-washed though, I don't remember the other generals bowing and kneeling and sucking up to Beryl quite that much.
If she had wanted to return home, she should have collected all the portal gems and taken Harmonia.
The portal gems do indeed open a portal. It is a very fancy, ornate, and most of all sturdy one. However, that's all they are: an unnecessarily complicated key for an unnecessarily complicated door.
- Another thought: Ami seems to be going around conquering other keepers; do we have a Dark God of Warfare who might think this is cool?
There might be one. However, conquering each other or the surface lands is pretty much what Keepers do all the time anyway, so Ami hasn't done much to gain notoriety yet.