The subterranean chamber housing the inert dungeon heart should have been pitch-black. It would have been, were it not for the white orb floating above the wide circle of runes decorating the inert heart's stone cover. The faint light crept over the surface of the wall, giving the dark-coloured stone a slimy, lichen-covered appearance. Two shadows, cast by a tall and a shorter figure standing next to each other, formed elongated darker blots in the wetly gleaming patterns. The larger shadow was more solid, as if the person casting the smaller one was lacking substance. The given impression was wrong, even if Ami's golem body contained more liquid than solid matter and was lacking in the opacity department. The young Keeper was not paying attention to the intricate refraction patterns that the light reflecting within the icy curves of her borrowed form was tracing; instead her crimson gaze was locked onto the black depths of the uneven, circular trench that disconnected the conquered dungeon heart from its surroundings. A faint smile of satisfaction played around her lips at the sight, as it proved that she was one small step closer to her goals, and, more importantly, that there was one dungeon keeper less who would hurt innocents. Her eyes darted to one of the prone forms lying motionless in the corner for a moment, and her fingers twitched, as if they were trying to clench into fists. The loss of life was regrettable, even if the enemies were reprehensible creatures. However, this was war, and she had never lost any sleep over the fate of the youmas that had battled the other sailor senshi and her, so she would not start now. Ami just hoped her conscience thought so, too.

"So this is what we fought for," Jadeite said loudly to make himself heard over the clamour of picks striking rock in the unlit ditch below. The dark general's eyes were shadowed by his curly blond bangs, but Ami was sure that they were fixing the room-sized cylinder that contained the unclaimed dungeon heart. "I was expecting something less bulky. What are you planning to do with it?"

"It needs to be moved to a new location," Ami stated, deep in thought while watching her imps smooth the wheel-shaped magical object. She abruptly turned her head to stare directly up at Jadeite with red-glowing eyes. "I remember you teleporting away entire buses to somewhere else. Could you move this to its destination the same way?"

The dark general's posture shifted subtlety, his confidently thrust-out chest retracting even as he shook his head. "Actually, that was the youma's work, and she was simply moving the vehicle through a pre-existing portal into extra-dimensional space that was still in the same relative location." He glanced over at the semi-transparent body of the senshi, already resigning himself to now having to explain complex arcano-physical concepts to a schoolgirl. He was pleasantly surprised to see her nod instead, touching her chin with her right hand as she thought it over. "I could lift it, but taking something that massive along on a teleport is out of the question."

"It can't be helped, then. I will have to use my original plan." The ice senshi returned her gaze to the innocent-looking dungeon heart. "Lift it, you say? That will help already." Reassessing her designs for a moment, she turned back to Jadeite and smiled at him. "You have my thanks for your good work during the assault. This would have been a lot more difficult without you."

The blond man stood a bit straighter, unused to being the recipient of praise from superiors, even if the one giving it was just a little girl. An arrogant smirk appeared on his face as he inclined his head and put his right hand on his uniformed chest in a shallow bow. "I am glad someone appreciates my talents, at last."

Feeling a bit uneasy at his gesture, Ami returned her attention to the task of moving the large stone cylinder to the beach somehow. A brief touch of a finger to her left ear caused her visor to appear, shifting the red light from her eyes more into the violet spectrum. "Now, you can see this gap in the western wall that my imps are digging? The plan is to..."

Transporting a massive dungeon heart was a daunting undertaking, but Ami had quickly realised that there was a way to reduce the amount of work required enormously with the application of a simple trick. Well, simple if one had a convenient dark general at hand who could levitate the huge stone cylinder, rotate it in mid-air, and put it cautiously down on its edge. She suspected that she might not have found the trick quite as simple if she had been forced to rely on imps, ramps, and carefully added and removed portions of gravel. Nevertheless, once the inert dungeon heart stood vertically on its edge instead of resting horizontally on the ground, she had taken advantage of its smooth round shape and rolled it into a freshly hewn-out slit in the dungeon wall, similar to inserting it into an oversized coin slot. The narrow walls prevented it from toppling, and the interaction of gravity with the mild incline of the tunnel ensured that the massive artefact pretty much moved itself. Whenever the imps removed the last bit of rock impeding the huge millstone-shaped device's progress, it rumbled forward through the shower of debris, grinding what little rock remained in the wake of the bug-eyed minions into dust.

Ami looked up at the ceiling, which was gleaming with wetness. Now and then, she heard the unmistakable noise of a droplet of water dripping down and striking the ground. Was she too far already? If one dug a downward-leading tunnel toward the coast, one would eventually end up underneath the ocean. Her calculations showed that the rock here should still be thick enough to bear the pressure of the salty tides weighting on it, but she found it hard to argue with the hairline cracks forming above. Putting her Mercury computer away, she transported herself straight upward, appearing slightly higher above the calm sea than she had planned. While plummeting toward the waters, she could see that by now, the moon was hanging in the sky, casting a long, white reflection onto the waves and making her feel a pang of homesickness. Just before the greenish waters closed above her head with a splash, she caught a glimpse of the citadel-like city on the shore, distant, but not as distant as she would have liked. Her tunnel must have been by a degree or so off, she estimated while sinking deeper among the dancing bubbles. It was dark, and the lanterns and cooking fires burning in the harbours and on the decks of the anchored ships should have ruined any potential observers' night vision, so she felt that she was taking no additional risk by going ahead with her project despite the inconvenience.

Making swimming motions, Ami worked her way slowly deeper toward the bottom of the ocean, which was not so far away yet this close to the coast. Her body consisted of sweet water and ice, both of which were lighter than the surrounding salt water, and so she had to fight against her own buoyancy. At least until she remembered that her own body counted as her territory, as far as the Keeper powers were concerned, and teleported some stones inside the fluid-filled cavity that constituted most of the golem. Having those foreign objects roll around within her shell was a decidedly strange feeling, especially as she had been diving head-first, and the rocks naturally gravitated toward the lowest point. It gave an entire new meaning to the word 'top-heavy'. After sorting out those initial troubles, the weights finally rested in her feet where they belonged, and she was drifting slowly into the near-lightless depths that no human had seen before. It did not take very long at all for her to reach the ground and sink up to the ankles into the brown sludge. Ami turned slowly in a circle to survey her surroundings through her visor. She appeared to be standing on a drab mud-coloured plain that sloped slightly toward the deeper ocean to the vest. The inactive dungeon heart in the underground below was around twenty metres further to the left instead of directly underneath, which could be explained by a current in the water that had displaced her to the right while she descended. Everything seemed to be in order.

It was time to start the next phase of her plan. Ami didn't know whether the artefact could survive the force of pressurised sea water suddenly rushing into its tunnel, and she was not about to find this out through experimentation. She flipped her mental view to the corridor below her feet, where her imps were patiently waiting in the darkness for new instructions. She moved her remaining golems to the little bug-eyed servants. With great enthusiasm, the animated ice statues tore the magical picks from the smaller minions' grasps, heedless of their squealed protests. Ami frowned in distaste. It seemed that even her own creations enjoyed bullying their smaller cousins. Unimportant in the great scheme of things as this was, it still reminded her that she was working with the tools of the bad guys. Not that the imps themselves would behave any better if they had half a chance, of course. They only suffered from the disadvantage of constituting the very bottom rank of the dungeon's pecking order.

Letting out a sigh that freed a few pearly bubbles into the surrounding sea, Ami summoned the now tool-wielding golems to her side and gave her instructions. Under her watchful gaze, the constructs swam further ahead into the same direction that the underground tunnel was leading, their transparent bodies nearly invisible in the murky darkness. When they had passed the end of the tunnel by around fifty metres, they let themselves sink toward the muck and started swinging their picks, looking as if they were moving in slow motion due to the water resistance. Clouds of dirt fountained upward from the deepening hole, drifting in the slow current like a curtain. Ami had her minions excavate a cone-shaped cavern, wide at the bottom, narrow at the top, before she went to work herself, using the Shabon Spray Freezing spell over and over again to gradually turn the contents of the new cave into ice. It floated upwards as soon as it formed, but Ami had already taken this behaviour into account and corrected for it with the shape of the place. The rising ice got stuck within the narrower top part of the tapering room and could not escape to the surface. Slowly but surly, the cone of ice grew until no seawater remained within the confines of the chamber, and Ami was enclosed within a tiny liquid-filled bubble at its deepest point.

The young Keeper teleported herself back into the corridor containing the inert dungeon heart and looked up at the waiting stone cylinder. At her command, the imps resumed their work, extending the tunnel into the direction of the cone of ice. Standing in a puddle of salty water, Ami watched the inactive dungeon heart slowly roll forward, hot on the heels of the diggers. All of a sudden, the hard clangs of metal striking rock changed in quality, becoming more muffled when the picks struck ice instead of stone. Some leftover cold liquid remained in pockets between ice and underground and trickled down into the new opening, pooling up until the imps were wading through knee-high water. The little workers grunted and panted with exertion as they pushed the dungeon heart until it was firmly embedded in the centre of the ice. Happy with their progress, Ami removed them from the room before using her magic to seal the artefact in under yet more ice. Above, her golems were already digging away the ceiling that was keeping the ice from ascending. A shudder went through the enormous block as the ground confining it crumbled away, and then the Ami felt a moment of instinctive terror at the sight of a wall of seawater thundering towards her when the icy plug ascended out of the way. She quickly teleported before the torrent could smash her borrowed body into pieces, blinking from place to place as she kept pace with the ascending hill of ice. It burst through the surface of the sea like a cork bobbing up from the depths, sending roaring waves outward as it plunged back downwards. Ami tumbled uncontrollably in the turbulences, spinning around in the frothing waters until she managed to teleport to a safer distance. It took some time for the bobbing motions of the enormous mass to subside, and Ami dearly hoped that nobody on the shore was noticing the commotion. Finally, the miniature iceberg was drifting still in the water, the tip of its cone pointing downward like a huge icicle. Only a shallow plateau of ice protruded above the surface.

Ami moved herself on top of the swimming platform, happy that she could stop treading water. With a few quick movements of her arms, she summoned her signature fog spell, and the banks of mist rolled outwards, hiding the drifting patch of ice from prying eyes. The hardest part was over now, Ami felt. On her behest, an imp appeared and started digging its way down into the heart of the iceberg, towards the entombed dungeon heart. The young Keeper followed the creature inside, making sure not to slip on the wet ice, like the greenish brown minion before her just had. It was rolling down the spiralling staircase it had just hewn, and Ami deftly caught her servant before it could bash its skull in on one of the sharp edges. Another quick Shabon Spray Freezing sealed the passage behind her, then she and continued her descent until she reached the dungeon heart itself, resting in a bubble-like grotto deep within the ice.

There was a flash of black lightning, and for a moment, a tar-like pillar stood in front of the icy simulacrum before the darkness resolved itself into Ami's real body, and colour slowly returned to her form. Immediately, she felt the touch of cold air on her cheeks, its frosty embrace seeping through the fabric of her clothes. It was a discomfort she hadn't had to deal with as an ice golem. Unfortunately, this step of the procedure required her physical presence, and so she knelt down in front of the rune-covered circular stone plate, looking down at it through a cloud of her condensing breath. Wincing at the pain, she rubbed the knuckles of her left hand over the surface with a quick and jerky motion, then smeared the emerging droplets of blood onto the cover. Seeing that the circle of sigils carved around the edge of the flared with green light, she hurriedly retreated into the narrow passage that led into the chamber. Not a moment too soon, as the plate was blasted into the air violently, striking the ceiling and bursting into a number of shards that went flying through the chamber. As if melting in reverse, the three slender pillars that formed an active dungeon heart's superstructure grew from the floor, blossoming out into interconnected arches at their tops that were decorated with statues of snake-like eastern dragons wrapping their meandering bodies around them. A deep, rumbling heartbeat started up from below, mixing with the constant sound of waves crashing against the drifting ice.

Ami dared poke her head around the bend when the danger seemed over, and was momentarily dazzled by the interplay of green light and reflective ice surfaces. The pillar of greenish mana swirling above the dungeon heart's pit shone brightly, banishing all shadows from this room. It was beautiful despite its origin, Ami found, as if the entire place was carved from emerald. She could barely imagine what it would look like once her imps smoothed the walls properly. Realising that she was gaping, she closed her mouth and concentrated on the important matter of getting this swimming dungeon out of local waters. A brief moment of concentration was all that was required to transfer the remaining gold from the now unclaimed treasury of the conquered dungeon to her location. It rattled to the ground and formed a nice, gleaming pile at her feet. There wasn't much, but it would suffice for her purposes. All that remained to do was making the vessel more streamlined by adding ice in some places and removing it in others, and, of course, adding propulsion. Sails were out of the question. For one, she had never gone sailing and did not know how to use them, and for the other, she did not want to be dependent on the vagaries of the wind. Besides, sails were visible from a long distance, and the dungeon heart was putting out sufficient power for a much better alternative: the marine screw propeller. While she didn't know any spell that would allow her to spin the devices directly, magic could be converted into electricity quite easily and independently of her own presence, as the lightning traps within Malleus' dungeon demonstrated. She also had enough wire and metal parts to construct several coils and primitive electric motors, which would work well enough until she got around to developing magical means of propulsion. This would free up her golems to guard the place and man the rudder, and she would be free to do other things while waiting for the ship to arrive at its destination. She looked down at the map on the screen of her palmtop, where her current position was a red 'x' right off the west coast of the largest continent. Her destination, the Avatar Isles, were all the way off the east coast though, so the journey would take - a few keystrokes summoned a dotted line around the southern edge of the continent, indicating the shortest possible route - around two to three weeks. Well, it looked as if she had some free time on her hands.

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Chapter 39: Seizing Heart Number 3 Chapter 41: Out-of-Dungeon Experiences



Attached comments:

  • Can Ami use the slot/coin idea to roll her first heart towards a new position?
    There's no technical reason why that wouldn't work. It would be slow, though.

    And if Ami wants to be really mean, she should see what happens if you connect two hearts with their bottoms togeter, possible subspended in ice. :D
    Uh... -ponders- The simplest answer is that you get two dungeon hearts glued to each other and to nothing else, basically wasting both and getting double the corruption. Then again, it's unlikely that they are designed to play nice with each other. The results could be anything. In any case, grossly misusing artefacts that somehow keep you alive while your soul is not in your body like that sounds unwise.
  • In this story, I use "underground" for dungeon locations and "Underworld" for the realm reachable through portals where monsters come from.

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