Ami could travel between her active dungeon hearts as easily as stepping into one end of a tunnel and walking out the other, so the blue-haired girl appeared back in her main base only moments after putting the finishing touches on her ice ship. As she hovered in the updraft of green mana flowing up from the beating membrane in the pit below and slowly drifted toward solid ground, she hoped that the golem crew she had left in charge of the vessel would be able to do its job. In particular, she was worried about whether they could handle the singular pumpkin-sized eyeball on a stalk that served as improvised communication device. The disturbingly undulating orb wasn't delicate, but it was an eye, and the animated statues had fingers made of ice, so there was a very real danger that they could get stuck to freezing tear liquid, not unlike the way tongues could get stuck to cold metal poles. Oh well, she would deal with that problem if it actually happened. Ami looked down, as if she could see the command centre through the multiple layers of rock and stone. She was able to, of course, but only with her Keeper powers, not her eyes. It was just an unconscious gesture while she pondered what she should tell her employees when she moved herself over there. Congratulations on the successful mission were in order, of course.
Without tarrying any longer, she teleported to her destination, where her sudden arrival caused a burst of hurried activity as bored-looking warlocks jumped to their feet and attempted to look busy. Ami pretended not to see one of the evil wizards tug at his beard, which was stuck in the cable tangle powering the crystal balls. The left cheek of another displayed a pattern that matched the grain of the wood of the desk he had been using as a pillow. The short-haired girl scratched her head. Maybe she should have dismissed everyone when the main fighting was over? Over in the elevated command chair, Cathy stretched, but at least she looked unabashed about having relaxed for a while. Ami waited for the shuffling and adjusting of chairs to subside, glancing over at the huge aquarium that served as a map. Its contents had changed from the 3D map of the now destroyed enemy dungeon to a world map, and one of the green liquid golems within the tank now marked the current location of her new dungeon-ship with an 'X' on the blue background of the ocean.
Ami took position on the dais in front of the blonde adventuress's semi-circular desk, aware that all eyes in the room were now tracking her. Her confidence bolstered by the recent victory, she smiled as she spoke. "At ease. Good work, everyone. I am very satisfied with your performance and the results of this operation, and consider the test of the new equipment a full success. Please feel free to go get some well-deserved rest now." Some reluctant cheers answered her proclamation, and the short-haired girl turned to Cathy when the other minions started to file out of the vast chamber. "I really meant that," Ami smiled at the older woman, "you did very well. With you here coordinating the other golem teams and providing warning, this fight went really smoothly. You too, Jadeite - " the senshi let her gaze sweep over the now abandoned rows of crystal balls and mysterious eye-stalks "- Jadeite? Is he around?"
"He mumbled something about being bored and going to bed," Jered answered the question from where he was sitting in front of the scribe-imp, who was still holding a slate and chalk.
Ami concentrated briefly on the quarters she had assigned to the dark general. The picture that formed in her Keeper vision was that of a spacious bedroom, with a grey uniform draped over a convenient chair, and the man in question peacefully asleep in his bed. Ami could make out a bare arm and a shoulder not covered by the charcoal-coloured blankets, and realised that she was invading his privacy. Her cheeks turned pinker than usual, and her eyes lost their faraway expression when she re-focused on the people in the room. "Oh. All that teleporting must have tired him out. Say, Cathy, were there any technical problems during the operation?"
"Well, the pictures on the big screens were somewhat distorted, and three of Snyder's mana storage batteries went flat faster than expected, but on the whole, everything worked as intended."
"That's good to hear," Ami nodded, then stifled a yawn. "Very well. Seeing how we are all tired, I suggest we turn in for the night and have a proper debriefing tomorrow." There were no objections from the adventurers looking at her with dark-rimmed eyes.
The discussion of the previous day's conquest of a rival Keeper had been brief and had not brought to light anything more important than a few stream-lining suggestions for command centre procedure. The five people involved in the meeting were still sitting around the round table, helping themselves to the bread and slices of roast chicken resting on plates amidst the notes and maps strewn about the table. Ami discretely glanced at Jadeite, who was sitting opposite from her at the table. The former dark general's face showed a bemused expression as he tried to imitate the others' behaviour without giving the impression that he did. She couldn't tell whether it was the informality of the meeting, the fact that he had been included, that he was having breakfast with a sailor senshi and some humans, or the food itself that had him feeling most out of his depth. At first, the blue-haired girl had felt some reluctance about adding him to her circle of closest advisers, which were the three adventurers who were digging into the food with gusto, but he was just too useful to exclude, especially as she did not know the full width of his abilities.
"So then, Mercury. Have you made any plans for what do to while waiting for the ship to arrive?" Snyder asked during a pause in the idle chatter, when everyone else was chewing.
Ami put down her sandwich, and nodded. "Of course. There are several important issues that need to be addressed, the most threatening of which is the dark god Azzathra's challenge."
"Hmm?" Jadeite raised an eyebrow questioningly, feeling the urge to participate in the chitchat for the first time.
"She must best a horned reaper in close combat before a certain date in a couple of months, or he'll unleash another magical plague on us," Jered explained.
The curly-haired blond's stared blankly. "Horned reaper?"
"A kind of demon. Very strong, tough, fast, armed with a scythe, most lethal in melee, but can also channel fire magic through his weapon. As you can see, there's clearly no reason to be worried," Cathy quipped drily, then took a long sip from her tankard of water.
"Mercury has beaten him before, but never easily, and never by staying close enough for him to actually reach her. I can show him to you later, he is currently locked up in the dungeon," the brown-haired man sitting next to the swordswoman offered.
Jadeite nodded, half-closing his eyes in thought.
"In any case, it seems prudent to get Mercury into better shape. Don't think I have forgotten your abysmal performance doing our earlier sparring sessions. I already have plans for a training regimen." Cathy turned to Ami, teeth gleaming white in her wide smile, and blue eyes sparkling with amusement that promised painful things to come.
Predictably, the girl in question raised both of her hands, palms facing outward, and leaned away. "Thanks, but I think we had better find out the rules governing this battle first. I don't intend to fight it if at all possible. The dark gods could just keep yanking my chain in the future, so I'd much rather find a way to stop them from messing with me. Jered," she turned to the weasel-featured man, "could you please go to the Underworld and find me a priest of the dark gods, or at least someone who knows how to build a temple dedicated to them?"
"What!? Why would you want to build something like that? That one deal you had with them was bad enough!" Cathy stood up abruptly, slamming her hands down on the wood of the table to steady herself while leaning forward. Ami's eyes widened at the sudden explosion, and she cringed.
"It's not hat I want to deal with them!" Ami blurted out, "I need to research them, but Azzathra wrecked the existing temple. Malleus only studied how to build one dedicated to the dead Devourer, and that's not going to help! If I want to defeat them, I need to know the enemy! And a temple is the only access point I know of," she continued, watching with some relief that Cathy's ire was abating as fast as it had been ignited. She didn't notice Jadeite narrow his eyes as he followed the exchange. "In addition, it could be a way home. Jadeite came from one, so it stands to reason that it could be used as a gate to the Dark Kingdom in the right circumstances."
"Just- just be careful, all right? They are the dark gods, and I don't believe anything good can come from this," the scar-faced blonde conceded, sitting back down.
"Well, I am inclined to agree," Snyder added his take on the situation. "On the other hand, the creatures here in the dungeon will appreciate having a place of worship, and it might keep down dissent in the ranks."
"That's a good point, thank you Snyder," Ami agreed with the red-and-white robed acolyte. "Oh, and could you continue working on a better anti-transformation ward for the dungeon heart, please? I would really like to be able to use my transformation freely again." At the young man's nod, she turned back to Jered. "All right then. You can go to the Underworld and take whoever you want as bodyguards, while I - "
"Actually, I want you to accompany me," the wavy-haired man interrupted. "You have neglected dealing with your other underlings so far, but there is some grumbling and other issues that you need to address. In short, you will need to hold court, and you will need a suitable wardrobe. That just won't do."
Ami looked down at the ensemble of blue trousers and long-sleeved shirt she had conjured. They looked perfectly workable to her, even if her inexperience showed in both design and execution. "I don't see why I should have to impress my own employees. Isn't it enough that I have demonstrated my power?"
"That's not it. Evil creatures are not that picky. They will follow an eccentric Keeper. They will even follow a personally weak Keeper," Jered said while cleaning his individual fingers with a napkin, "but they won't follow an impoverished Keeper. And your obviously self-made outfit doesn't exactly give the appearance of wealth."
"I concur that it is embarrassing to serve under someone dressed so shabbily," Jadeite said with a smirk.
"I, well..." Ami hesitated. There were so many other things she had to, but her companions seemed quite insistent. She wasn't that bad a dresser, right? Her mother had always approved of her choices.
"Besides, you can go safely in a golem body. They have exactly the same measurements you do, so it shouldn't be a problem. It would do you a world of good to just relax for a bit and have some fun shopping, like a normal girl your age. All that worrying can't be good for you."
Ami nodded once, yielding to the pressure. "All right. I will come along. Maybe I can even learn some things while I'm there, or find some more books on magic. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I like it," she pondered, getting more enthusiastic about the plan.
The dungeon's portal had lain in ruins since Keeper Malleus had destroyed it when Ami invaded his domain, effectively keeping his creatures from deserting. The four massive monoliths that had once stood at the corners of the mystical site lay strewn across the chamber, dwarfing Ami even in their shattered and horizontal state. Magic flowed through her as the dungeon heart yielded to her will and mixed mana and gold to affect changes on the broken remnants. Before her eyes, cracks and breaks in the fallen pillars mended, glowing faintly from within before sealing over. This was the easy part, the one she could have done at any time. Ami took a few steps back to avoid the cloud of stirred-up dust spiralling around the construction site. Getting the pieces that were currently piled atop each other like fallen dominos back into position was the time-consuming part that had made her put off the task in favour of more pressing ones. Each of the magically charged menhirs had to weigh nearly as much as a dungeon heart, and without them, the portal location was useless.
"Keeper, I can oversee the construction of the scaffolding, as I am quite experienced with architectural projects, and it would please me to use my skills on your behalf," an overeager warlock stepped out of the shadows, the peaks of his collar jutting outward like horns as he approached Ami's group. His long purple robe reached to the floor and gave the impression that the short-bearded man was gliding forward.
"That won't be necessary, but it was a nice try at currying favour," a male voice interrupted before Ami could reply to the dark magician, whose appearance reminded her uncomfortably of the torturer from Arachne's dungeon. Jadeite pushed his way through the crowd of waiting orcs, shoving the armoured, pinkish-red creatures out of his way with apparent ease, despite them being of a far more muscular build.
"Get lost newbie, " the offended warlock snarled, eyes flashing. "Just because you damn vampires are marginally useful due to your teleporting ability doesn't mean I'll just let you get in my way!" a sizeable fireball was forming at the top of his staff, crackling in the cool air.
"Vampire?" the dark general chuckled in amusement, his arrogant smirk widening. He found himself in a suddenly widening circle as the orcs hastily got out of the expected blast radius. "Am I supposed to be impressed by that little firecracker? Observe!" Jadeite thrust a white-gloved hand outward, toward the pile of fallen monoliths. With a loud rumble, the topmost of the toppled standing stones shifted, quivering for a moment before it slowly swung into upright position and slid to its former position, where it landed with a thud that shook the ground. The curly-haired blonde enjoyed his opponent's eyes bugging out at the sight. "How is that for scaffolding?" The bright orange light from the fireball faded out as the intimidated warlock beat a hasty retreat. "And let that be a lesson to all who would challenge a dark general!" he gloated. The looks he was getting from the grey-haired orcs were a lot more respectful than before.
"Very good, oh great and mighty 'general', but there are three more pillars that need moving," Cathy interrupted his ego stroking, casually pointing over her shoulder with a thumb at the remaining menhirs.
"Very well, 'commander'," Jadeite replied after a sidewards glance at Ami, who was frowning at everyone's childish behaviour. His voice indicated that his use of Cathy's title was meant exactly as sincerely as hers of his.
With the grey-uniformed man's telekinetic powers replacing the time-consuming work of pulleys as well as large teams of workers, the portal was back in working condition in a matter of minutes, rather than days. Ami found that the dark general was quickly making himself indispensable, and feared that this was exactly what he was planning. Well, 'fear' was a bit too strong of a word, but it would put her in a weaker position if he started to make demands of his own. Except for the imps, she couldn't force any of her employees to obey her orders. They couldn't harm her, but they were under no compulsion to follow her every command, and their obedience stemmed from the fact that, as the Keeper, she could do whatever she wished to them. And from the generous wages she paid them, as Jered had pointed out earlier. She shouldn't forget that Jadeite was potentially as dangerous and uncontrollable a minion as the Reaper, but at least he seemed less headstrong. She wondered what it would take to secure his loyalty, and if it was possible at all.
Putting the issue of her most powerful underling aside for the moment, Ami stepped up to the portal and placed her hand on one of the softly-humming monoliths. The rough stone felt warm to the touch, and Ami could feel the space-warping potential sleeping just beneath the rock, waiting for a mind to prod it into activity. The portals, she now knew, could only be constructed in very specific locations, and had two basic settings. On the first, it would act as a beacon, allowing creatures at other portals within the Underworld to enter her dungeon and seek employment. The second, which she was intending to use, would create a two-way connection with another portal of her choice. The selection of possible candidates was swirling through her mind, with little to indicate their distance or relative location. Images of the portals' surroundings flickered through her mindscape like fleeting visions, showing her in quick succession pictures of grandiose lava-filled caves, dark abysses, strange fungus-filled caverns, and curious mixes of the former. One of the options she identified as the Underworld city she had already visited. She rejected that one almost as soon as she recognised it. It had been rather provincial, all things considered, and there was no need to expose her new minions to the nasty rumours about herself. Realising that she didn't know enough about the possible destinations to make a well-informed choice, she focused on one that had a large settlement, a low amount of fire, and a large proportion of human or near-human denizens. She had seen the trolls' and orcs' ideas of clothes, and they were very minimalist.
As soon as she had made the decision, the air between the monoliths started to stir and flicker, as if under great heat, and an amber-tinted panorama of the alien landscape beyond appeared. With a satisfied nod, Ami faced a waiting golem and turned into a light-devouring shadow that filled the animated statue, one of the empowered survivors of her recent raid. Her colourless eyes filled with a reddish glow as she started moving, turning toward her travelling companions with the grinding of moving ice. "Okay, the portal is ready. Did we forget anything?"
The retinue of six burly orcs remained silent or shrugged their shoulders. The large-nosed brutes looked very similar in build and facial structure to their smaller trollish cousins, but the big difference in skin colour, and the fact that the orcs grew hair on their scalps effectively prevented mix-ups. As a whole, the pinkish-red beings were more war-like and disciplined than most of Ami's other servants, as the clean polish of their breastplates and spiked maces attested to. In her opinion, they were the closest to professional soldiers that she had, and so it made sense to select the best of them as bodyguards for Jered during this expedition into the unknown. The brown-haired, lanky man shook his head in the negative, having nothing to add.
"Why aren't you using a glamour to go out there? It would make colour-coordinating your new outfit easier if you weren't completely transparent." Jadeite asked unexpectedly.
"A glamour?" Ami wasn't quite sure what the dark general meant.
"Yes. You know, what Sailor Moon or the youmas use when they disguise themselves?"
"Oh. I don't have that power," Ami admitted. He did have a good point, though. When she got home, she would have to ask Usagi to lend her the disguise pen so she could hide her glowing eyes and fit into normal society.
"Is that so? May I cast the spell for you, then?" Jadeite offered smoothly, looking rather smug.
Ami considered this briefly, then brought her visor into existence and nodded. It couldn't hurt, and if she could learn something from it, all the better. The dark general briefly tapped her on her frozen shoulder, and she felt a tingling sensation while specks of purplish power wrapped around her, and then retreated. She looked at her hands, and saw natural skin tones. With some surprise, she could now feel how scratchy the fabric of the golem's short, linen shirt and trousers was. She was lucky that she had taken to equipping all of her active golems with conjured clothing after some melting-related incidents. Chilly ice armour would have been greatly uncomfortable, not to mention embarrassing, like this. "This isn't just an illusion?" she asked, looking up at Jadeite while poking at the palm of her left hand with a finger and encountering yielding flesh, rather than the expected hardness of ice.
"It is a very advanced form of illusion," the dark general corrected, "how do you think my disguised youmas would be able to interact with the world in an unsuspicious way if all I did was put a false image over them?"
"I thought they just shifted shape," Ami replied. "Thanks for the assistance, though. See you all later!" With that, she stepped up to the portal, her form fading away more with each step she took toward its centre. Jered followed behind her, flanked on both sides by a trio of orcs that looked as if they meant business.
The two blondes remaining in the room after the procession had disappeared looked at each other. The long-haired one was the first to speak. With an amused smile playing around her lips, Cathy raised an eyebrow. "Colour-coordination? Your Dark Kingdom is certainly teaching interesting things to its generals."
Unlike Ami's first trip through a portal, the atmosphere that greeted her was not one of oppressive heat. The air was still warm, but like a pleasant summer day, rather than a desert at noon. Instead, what struck her was the sheer size of the cavern she found herself in. The domed arc of the ceiling had to be at least a kilometre above her head, and rose even higher toward the centre of the roughly circular grotto, until it came to an apex at nearly three kilometres. Below the tooth-like stalactites hanging from the dome stood a mind-bogglingly huge mushroom, whose flat hat nearly touched the lowest-hanging of the dripping stones. The deep valleys between its lamellas flared with the blue bioluminescence of its spores, which also coated most surfaces within the cavern like lichen. As a result, the entire region was glowing faintly, its earthen and grey tones shifted toward blue and green, as if the entire area was underwater.
"Eww. It stinks," Jered commented immediately after stumbling out of the active portal. "Whoa, that's one big mushroom. Looks poisonous?"
"It's edible, but not to human tastes,"Ami muttered after a glance at the readouts of her visor. Zooming in closer on the brownish growth, she managed to distinguished people climbing across its stem, walking on platforms spiralling around the entire circumference of the fungus. The citizens seemed to be harvested liquid seeping from pores in its surface.
"I'll take your word for it," the wavy-haired man replied, already turning his attention toward the bottom of the mushroom's stem, around which the centre of the local city huddled. On closer inspection, it seemed that the local dwelling was more of a network of several villages all clustered within a wall formed by miniature version of the large growth. Ami had half expected the buildings beyond the palisade to also follow a mushroom theme, but they were quite sensibly constructed from rock, rather than wet, slimy fungus flesh. Jered sneezed when a few of the luminescent spores drifted over to their location. "Oh, great. At least this time, there's no welcoming committee around."
"They don't need to," the largest of the orcs grunted, "they got the whole waylaying business institutionalised." His crooked index finger pointed down the path toward the single large gate leading into the city, or, more precisely, at the toll booth at its left. "Bloody dark elves."
Ami found that 'dark elf' was a bit of a misnomer for the creatures who populated the city. While they were lithe and had pointy ears, their skin was snow-white and they were completely bald. They also seemed to have exchanged the traditional elven weapon of bow and arrows for crossbows. "It's their city, they can do what they want," she said.
"Of course, Keeper." the orc grumbled, falling into lock-step with his companions as they marched toward the dwelling, while the sentries on watch towers positioned around the palisades kept their crossbows trailed on them.
"Stop! The entrance fee is ten gold per person. What's the purpose of your visit?" a bored-sounding elf asked condescendingly from within the guardhouse. She was female, a fact that was not hidden by the skimpy leather breastplate she was wearing. How could she even breathe in that thing, Ami wondered briefly, lifting her gaze to the woman's eyes quickly. They were red, but the natural crimson of albinism, not the hellfire glow of a dark magic user.
Jered's eyebrow twitched. "Ten gold just for getting in? That's an outrage! Just what-"
"Per person. You can pay, you can leave, or you can try to enter without paying. Go ahead, I could use the entertainment!" the elf's lips split into a grin, displaying the teeth of a carnivore.
"We will pay," Ami interrupted before Jered could bog them down further by attempting to haggle.
"Smart. Boring but smart." the woman looked Ami up and down, scrunching her nose at the sight. "So you are in command of this bunch? Who thought that was a good idea?"
A mace smashed down on the board right next to her hand, cracking the ancient wood and sending splinters flying. "You will address Keeper Mercury with respect, worm!" the lead orc bellowed, glowering down at the dark elf, whose eyebrows narrowed as she glared right back. "Back off, you filthy piece of dung, unless you like to end up as a pincushion. She gestured toward the street, where several soldiers holding crossbows had appeared on elevated platforms. With a growl, the orc ripped his mace out of the wood, some of which stuck to the barbed spikes lining the weapon.
"So you are Keeper Mercury," the elf woman turned her attention back on Ami, seemingly unperturbed. "the one who offed Malleus, some schmuck on the west coast, and played a pivotal role in the defeat of Keeper Arachne. Rumoured to have done all that without a dungeon heart in the vicinity. You are making some people very worried, my dear," she grinned like a shark, "but I must say your choice in bodies to possess is abysmal. And those glasses! Couldn't you have found something less scrawny and more developed among your minions? Or is that another of your kinky games?"
Ami blushed and nearly throw the entry fee on the dented counter. "None of your business! Now let us through already!"
"Whatever." The elf brushed the gold coins into a drawer in front of her. "The rules are simple. Leave the visitor area, you die. Make a nuisance out of yourself, you die. I bet you can figure out what the penalty for stealing is by yourself."
"How rude." Ami stomped away, leaving the haughty woman behind.
Jered suppressed a chuckle. "Rude but well-informed. You'll never live those rumours about you and the Reaper down, it seems."
One of the orc bodyguards grumbled. "Arrogant pointy-ears. We should return in force and put them into their place!"
"Let's focus on doing what we came here for," Ami headed off further bloodthirsty comments. She was looking at the area with wide eyes, less interested in the unremarkable architecture than in the readouts of her visor. In particular, she was watching the invisible links that connected her minions to the dungeon heart. It was logical to assume that they would shoot off toward the portal, but they did nothing of the sort. Instead, they were angling upward and to the left, curving slightly. A simple triangulation came up with the result that her dungeon heart should be located around seventy metres above the ground and half a kilometre to the east, which made no sense at all. Something weird was going on with space here, and if she wanted to find out where this place was in relation to her dungeon, she would need to run more analyses on her computer. She stopped, swivelling her head left and right as she surveyed the market area. A few trolls and giant lizards were moving about, clearly visitors to the area too. And they had arcane connections to another dungeon heart, Ami realised with a start. Despite the glamour, she did not have a heart that could beat faster, but she thought she could hear the water inside her gurgle with excitement when it occurred to her that, once she had figured out exactly how the Underworld/normal world transition twisted space, she could use this knowledge to localise enemy dungeon hearts just by observing minions! That could be an invaluable tactical advantage!
"Mercury? What are you staring at?" Jered asked, following her gaze to a particular troll, who noticed their scrutiny and flipped them the bird.
"I'll tell you later, when we are away from prying ears. Have you found a tailor yet?"
"There's an upscale one over there, at the corner," the weasel-featured man pointed out. The establishment was decorated with engraved spider webs praising the quality of the silk used in its products. He thanked the Light that the market did not seem to have slave trading stands, as he could vividly imagine Mercury's reaction to seeing some of those. He rather liked his skin unpierced by poisoned bolts, thank you very much. Instead, it was an exchange point for rare valuables and ores, exotic scrolls, looted weapons, and the likes. "I don't think you'll want me around when trying on some clothes, so I'll go explore some more on my own if that's fine with you," he said.
"Okay. I can find you when I'm done," Ami answered, already walking toward the shop. "Stay with Jered," she ordered the orc soldiers, "I can defend myself."
Once the creaking door closed behind her, Ami was surprised at how little resemblance the clothing store bore to the ones at home. There were no shelves with clothes just waiting to be tried on, only several samples of the tailor's skill on display along the walls. The severe-looking dark elf himself sat behind the counter, giving her a measuring stare and scoffed at her outfit. "I can see that you are in dire need of my services, but you don't look like you'd be able to afford my prices."
"A good morning to you too," Ami replied, taken aback by his abrasiveness. A handful of coins appeared in her hand, jingling enticingly. "I am Keeper Mercury, and I assure you that my current appearance is completely unrelated to my ability to pay." Forcing a confidence into her voice that did not come natural to her, she avoided eye contact by pretending to be interested in the samples of his craft. She had a sinking feeling when she took in the details. Most of the garments could be described with adjectives such as 'slinky', 'tight-fitting', and 'scanty'.
"Of course, Keeper. Forgive me for not recognising you at once from the descriptions." Now all business, the tailor unfolded his surprisingly tall form as he stood up and walked out from behind his counter, with measuring bands draped across his arms.
Ami observed that the man's own wardrobe was decorated with very fine stitches. The little of which there was, anyway. What was it was it with Underworlders and leather? Colouring slightly, she turned her gaze away from his maggoty-pale pectorals, and decided that a tailor would be just the person to have an answer to that question. "Excuse me, but I'm not originally from the Underworld, so how comes that nearly everything in here is leather?"
The albino seemed taken aback for a moment, then smiled, revealing at least four gold teeth. "The simple answer is that people like the style. The complicated answer is 'fucking warlocks'. You know how them frockwearers are always finding new ways to use magic to make people's lives miserable? Yeah, one of those wiseguys a few hundred years back got the bright idea that, hey, there had to be a way to see through fabric to the skin below. There was. 'Nuff said."
"Oh. OH!" Ami's blush deepened, and she hid the bottom of her face with both hands, to the secret amusement of the tailor. Leather was nothing but processed skin, after all.
"Shall we get to work, then? Please follow me to the back room and stand on the round pedestal."
The blue-haired girl walked onto the indicated platform, which was surrounded by full-length mirrors on three sides.
"Good. Now please take a seat." He indicated one of the comfortable-looking plush chairs arranged around the sides of the back room. Confused, Ami followed his instruction, and then noted that she was leaving a ghost-like effigy behind. "Very good. Now, why don't I demonstrate some of my more popular outfits on the mannequin, and you tell me what you want changed?"
"That sounds good," Ami nodded, "please proceed."
The dark elf intoned a spell, and the mannequin flickered and was suddenly dressed in one of the garments that she had seen outside, rather than the clothes she was currently wearing. Ami was suddenly glad that Jered had chosen not to accompany her inside. The garment did look nice on her body, and the golden inlays were a feast for the eyes, certainly, but she was pretty sure that the tailor had exaggerated her attributes in order to flatter her. In addition, she would only consider an outfit like that as beachwear. If it wasn't made from leather. Or black.
"I was looking for something with more fabric," she protested, blush returning in full force.
"A cape would go well with it," the man suggested.
"Not what I had in mind," Ami said quickly. To be fair, he probably wasn't trying to tease her. After all, he was wearing even less than her image. "I was thinking of something that more projected the image of a ruler. And that covered the arms and legs."
"Oh, why didn't you say so! I have just the thing!" A magical gesture, and the outfit changed.
Ami stared. "How am I supposed to move in that without pricking myself on the spikes?"
"Don't like it? How about this?"
"It's made of belts!"
"That's a no? What about this one?"
Ami coughed at the sight. "NO! Topless is completely out of the question! Isn't there something with full-body coverage?"
"Well, this one is very popular among dark mistress-"
"NO! Nothing with masks either," she added.
"You are hard to please," the tailor sighed. "All right. Why don't you describe more in detail what you want?"
Ami took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down before she had a stroke from acute embarrassment. "I was thinking something more along the lines of what surface nobility would be wearing."
The dark elf hummed disapprovingly. "Well, if you insist. How about this?"
Ami leaned forward. This was much better. A long, flowing dress with a decent neckline and a wasp-like waist. "Oh, now we are getting closer! I could use that one, if it wasn't black, but it is a bit impractical to wear all the time. Do you have a model with pants?"
"Pants? With a dress? I may not be up to the latest sodding surfacer's trends, but I'm sure that would look off."
"Not with a dress. With a blouse or jacket." Ami was starting to feel exasperated. "Kind of what I'm wearing now."
"But that's boys'- oh, I see!" the tailor tapped his forehead with the palm of his hand in sudden understanding, and a smile that showed off his pointed teeth appeared face. "You want to look like a prince, not a princess! I should have realised immediately, what with the short hair and the stories abou-"
"Just get to it!" Ami hung her head, silently gritting her teeth.
"Fine, fine," the tailor waved his fingers again, this time producing an outfit that was much more to the young girls' tastes. "You realise that the dark gods will frown upon you flaunting the dress code like that, right?"
Ami's head snapped upward "They what? They have a dress code?"
"Allegedly. It is common knowledge that servants of darkness who ignore the traditional attires in favour of less exciting garments suffer from frequent wardrobe malfunctions."
"You are kidding me." Ami massaged the bridge of her nose, feeling a headache coming. In light of her experiences, it made a distressing amount of sense. "Very well. Please let's finish adjusting this costume more to my tastes. I will have another look at your more," she sighed, "traditional dresses later."
"As you wish, Keeper. Will you also require matching undergarments?"
When a thoroughly mortified Ami left the shop two hours later with her purchases, the much enriched dark elf shook his head. Stupid humans. So gullible.
Clanking of chains and inarticulate roars echoed through the darkened hallways long before the two blonde figures reached the cell in the farthest recesses of Ami's dungeon.
"So that is a horned reaper," Jadeite said, staring through the bars at the hulking red figure chained spread-eagled to the wall. The arm-thick links of the restrains were taut enough that the heavy demon hung suspended, not touching the ground with his bulky hooves. "I must confess, I didn't think little goody-two-shoes Mercury would resort to keep an enemy locked up as uncomfortably as that."
"You don't know their mutual history," Cathy said. "Besides, it's pretty much the only way to keep the beast stashed away safely, and even then, his presence makes me uncomfortable." Her eyes wandered to the holes in the wall into which the Reaper's chains disappeared. Whenever his bulging muscles tightened for another jerk at his restraints, some fine-ground stone dust trickled out of the openings.
"I will kill her! I will destroy her! And all of you little worms serving her too!" the reaper howled, yellow eyes flashing in rage.
"Will you now?" Jadeite stepped closer to the bars, looking at the tied-up monster contemptuously. "You don't look so tough."
"Why don't you let me loose and say that again, girly-boy? Are you afraid I'm going to rip those earrings right out of their sockets and feed them to you?"
The dark general cocked his head and rested his chin on the fingers of his right hand, as if actually considering the idea.
"Jadeite! Don't do anything stupid!" Cathy shouted, "If the Reaper doesn't kill you, Mercury will!"
"Don't worry, 'commander'," he said as he turned away from the horned monster and faced her. "I'm not so easily goaded by petty insults. Though I wonder what Sailor Mercury did to get him so annoyed at her." He started walking away from the cell, and the sailor-suited woman quickly fell in step next to him.
"Well, let's see," the longer-haired blonde said, "She somehow forced him to serve her for a while. She also got him into that pretty outfit I'm wearing now." That prompted an amused snort from Jadeite and a roar of fury from the horned reaper, becoming more distant as they moved on. "She somehow exchanged bodies with him, and then involuntarily destroyed his reputation by making it appear as if she was doing unspeakable things to him. Then she beat him publicly twice. And threatened to transfer him permanently into a chicken body. Add to that that murderous rage is his base state of existence, and..." she waved her hands, encouraging Jadeite to draw his own conclusions.
"Indeed." The exiled dark general looked thoughtful. "And she will have to face him again, in melee combat no less? I could handle him, naturally, but I can see how it would be a problem for a weak girl like her."
"It is the problem we have to solve," Cathy sighed, inclining her head. "It's depressing, really. If I hadn't seen Baron Leopold do just that, I would have thought it impossible for a human to beat a reaper in a stand-up fight."
"Baron Leopold, you say? Tell me more about how he did it."
Ami descended the three flat steps out of the tailor's shop, stepping back into the spore-lit glow of the sparsely-frequented market place. She fidgeted with the collar of her new blouse - only the finest spider silk for a Keeper like her - and felt very self-conscious in her new ensemble. Not that it was revealing more skin than she was comfortable with, but she looked overdressed for the occasion. The tailor had started with a blouse, to be tucked into the high-waisted trousers, and a short-sleeved jacked of military cut that was long enough to be worn as a minidress on its own, should Ami be feeling adventurous. Working from that simple basis, he had started to make it more befitting of nobility. Ami had firmly vetoed the cape, but let him talk her into accepting the gold-fringed epaulettes on the shoulders. She had no objection to the addition of abstract designs in choice locations, again in gold, but had refused to budge on the issue of strategically-placed sheer sections, much to the tall albino's frustration. In a nod to tradition, the outfit was predominantly black, even though the blue-haired girl would have preferred aquamarine. At least the Mercury symbols on the epaulettes were still in that colour, and some of the less modest outfits she had bought had more cheerful tones, too. Now, should she take up the tailor's suggestion and look for a jeweller to round out her wardr- she felt a hard, piercing sensation at the back of her neck and stumbled forward.
The hooded figure had clung to the façade of the building that Ami had just left, its cloak blending in perfectly with the spore and lichen-covered masonry. It had dropped down behind the girl, who was oblivious to its presence up until it used the momentum of its descent to thrust the long stiletto in its hands straight through its target's spine at the base of the skull. The weapon went in to the heft with a sharp grinding noise, and the assassin grinned in satisfaction behind his mask. So much for Keeper Mercury. What a twit, not even defence spells - not that they would have stopped his enchanted blade. His master would reward him well for removing that potential problem.
"Ow! What the...?" his victim protested, stumbling forward instead of having the good sense of collapsing like a puppet with its strings cut. The assassin's eyes bugged out when Mercury whirled around to get a look at her assailant. However, he was a trained professional and immediately brought up his backup weapon. The startled girl's pupil's became little pinpricks when he thrust at her with his rapier, but she moved fiendishly fast and was already dodging out of the way. Just as planned. With a quick twist of his wrist, he exploited her falling for his feint and corrected the course of the weapon. There was a brief, unexpected resistance when its point broke her skin - he must have hit a rib - but then it went in, easily spearing the heart. Then the weapon was wrenched violently out of his grasp when the well-dressed girl twisted around and shifted her weight to lash out with a kick, quick as a snake. That was completely unfair, the hired murderer thought, gasping for breath despite the leather armour that had protected his stomach. Even vampires died when you stabbed them through the heart! As he staggered backward, he could hear the monster mutter in a tone of disbelief "...and I just bought this," while staring at the blade embedded in her chest. At that moment, he felt the familiar yank of transportation magic rip him through space and back to his Keeper, presumably to report on his failure. He shuddered.
Ami blinked at the empty spot that had only a moment before contained her attacker. An assassination attempt? On her? That was worrisome. Who could have sent him? Were there more? She summoned her visor and turned in a circle to survey the area, letting her gaze wander over the various groups of dark elves and other market visitors, who were all staring at her with round eyes. What were they- oh, right. She still had a long, slender blade stuck through her torso. It hurt a bit, but not more than a regular cut, as Jadeite's glamour was barely skin deep. There was very little blood, and the ice of the golem body was already re-freezing around the damage. Ami gripped the handle of the weapon and pulled hard. With a faint grinding noise, the weapon slid out of its position, revealing gleaming steel centimetre by centimetre. With a final wet squelch, the blade came free, and she held it in her hand, pondering what to do with it. Maybe she could keep it around and find out who had tried to take her life? She tried hard not to think about how she would be dead now if she had been in her real body. Once again, this event had highlighted just how deplorably bad her skills at close combat really were.
Ami grasped at the dagger-like weapon still lodged in the back of her neck. Its heft was short, and the angle awkward. She just couldn't get a proper grip on it, and despite her best efforts, it didn't budge. The blue-haired girl blushed when she realised that she must be making a fool out of herself, stumbling around while yanking furiously at the handle sticking out of the back of her neck. She looked around. As she had feared, onlookers were everywhere, staring at her with rapt attention. With a sigh, Ami pointed at the closest troll. "You! Can you please come over here?"
The singled-out green creature shrank back. "Me? What I do?"
"Just get over here and give me a hand," Ami ordered impatiently. She couldn't move her neck properly with the weapon stuck in it.
Walking like a condemned man, the troll approached, eyeing the smaller girl warily.
"Could you help me with that, please? I can't get it out on my own." Ami turned partly away from the creature while pointing her index finger at the handle protruding from what looked like a bloody wound in her neck. The troll's fingers approached the weapon cautiously, shaking all the while, as if the black handle was a poisonous snake that could turn to bite him at the slightest provocation. He touched it and immediately jerked his hand backward, surprised at the temperature of the ice-cooled metal. Gathering his courage, he tried again and freed the short blade with a yank that nearly ripped Ami of her feet. Immediately, he dropped the weapon and scampered back to his group.
"Thank you," Ami said, squatting down to gather up the discarded murder implement. A dull layer of condensation had formed on the its surface. She wanted to hand the troll a gold piece for his trouble, but she was no longer able to tell him apart from his compatriots. Already, she could hear them whispering. "...cold as death... " "... not human... " "...tell you, must be favoured by..."
The blue-haired girl shrugged. At least, this time around, the rumours wouldn't be horribly humiliating, but now she had better go and find Jered, just in case there were assassins after him, too.
The room was large, brightly lit by the late morning sun, and exuded an atmosphere of calm elegance that could not even be ruined by the rows upon rows of animal and more exotic heads mounted on the wall, each one annotated with a silver plaque that named a date. Despite the soothing tones of the hazelnut panelling, the meeting conducted underneath the sightless stare of the trophies was anything but calm.
"I don't want to hear it! Find her lair, you incompetent cretins!" Baron Leopold shouted, slamming his meaty fist down on the map on the table. The fine porcelain tableware rattled under the blow, spilling some of its contents on the embroidered purple napkin. The Baron didn't care, and turned to the cowering courtiers. "Do you understand me? I will not let Arachne challenge me again!" The courtiers assembled around the table glanced at each other.
"But your Lordship, the capital is safe from her, and the expenses-" One of the haggard old men interrupted, mumbling into his beard.
"Screw the stupid peasants in their border regions and let the spiders eat them, huh?" the ends of Leopold's moustache were quivering as the noble spoke, working up a fine rage.
"My Lord, I wasn't implying that-" the advisor paled. Most of the Baron's staff had perished during Arachne's devastating initial attack over two weeks ago, when poisonous spiders had emerged from water taps, sinks and toilets during the dead of night all over the richer parts of town, and he had only ascended to his position recently. It looked as if he was in danger of losing what he had come to think of as a cushy job in the very near future.
"Don't you try to talk your way out of it, you snake. I do not tolerate dishonest fools!" Leopold raised his cup of tea, gripping the delicate handle so hard that it burst. Liquid spilled on the large man's barrel-shaped chest, forming a darker spot on the burgundy cloth.
"Do calm yourself, Leopold," a wrinkly man with a long white beard, who was half-sunken into the deep cushions of his armchair, said. "Your behaviour is unseemly. And what about that other Keeper threatening our lands?"
Leopold took a deep, calming breath. "Valet! More tea!" Ignoring the approach of the young blond man in servant's garb who placed a fresh cup from his tablet in front of his liege before retreating discretely, he addressed the wizard's question. "Mercury? Last I heard, she was fooling around with her reaper in some place called 'Evercalm' in the neighbouring kingdom. No casualties, strangely enough."
There were hasty footsteps coming from the halls outside, and then the door flew open. Abbot Durval stood in the opening, holding his staff. The two fully armoured guards visible behind him saluted at the sight of their liege. The holy man came to the point at once. "Baron, I fear there is Evil amongst us!" His gaze swept over the room, coming to a stop on the curly-haired valet, whose steel-blue eyes suddenly seemed shadowed by his bangs even as a smirk appeared on his face.
Ami found her errant employees leaving a foreboding building, whose main entrance's door frame was formed by the improbably muscled arms of a sculpted demon. The knuckles of the stone limbs' hands were resting on the ground to the sides of the worn stairs leading up to the building. Above the entrance loomed the horned head of the sculpture, its gaping maw filled with bleached skulls. The construction had no markings, because the sense of pure, undiluted evil emanating from its interior was enough of a door sign. This was clearly a temple to the dark gods. She looked up at Jered, who was pale and nearly running from its grounds. The orcs flanking him seemed more relaxed, even happy, and easily kept pace with him as they descended the stairs.
The brown-haired man quirked an eyebrow up when he saw Ami, and she could see his eyes wander up and down her body, lingering a bit longer than absolutely necessary on her chest area. Crossing her arms, she addressed him. "Well, Jered? Did you find out anything?"
"Indeed. I must compliment you on your outfit, its cut is rather flattering," the wavy-haired man approached so he could lower his voice, and fell in step at Ami's side. "I'm afraid my information is sparse and not at all uplifting. The priesthood has a choke-hold on almost all information about the dark gods, and it took a sizeable donation to loosen a few tongues."
"Go on," Ami encouraged, falling into analytical mode with practised ease.
"First, Azzathra the Mighty Tyrant. He is the god of using strength, brute force, martial skill, and intimation in order to force your will on everyone weaker. He does not dispute the power of magic, but spurns those who use it or trickery in order to further their agendas, and takes great pleasure in humiliating them at every opportunity."
"Sounds like a god of schoolyard bullies," Ami commented after a moment of reflection.
Jered shrugged his shoulders. "They would meet his approval, I assume. In any case, he most favours the more brutish and physically inclined creatures of the Underworld, such as fallen knights, orcs, and," his voice became apologetic, "horned reapers."
"And the plot thickens," Ami sighed dejectedly. "Great, so he is biased. Did you also find out the rules for the duel?"
The brown-haired man nodded enthusiastically. "Actually, that was the easiest part. Apparently, duels of that sort happen fairly regularly in his honour, and are great public spectacles. Though I don't think a dungeon keeper has ever fought in them. The bad part is that Azzathra directly whisks away both combatants to an arena of his own choice, heals them both up to top condition, and then lets them have a go at each other. The inconvenient part is that magic used during the battle is mirrored. Beneficial enchantments are applied to each combatant. Aggressive spells hit both the target and the caster."
"The Reaper is immune to his own fireballs," Ami pointed out morosely. "Just wonderful. I'm no longer in the mood for exploration," she stated in a quiet voice and with hanging shoulders, "let's go back."
A melon-sized ball of blinding white brilliance shot through room, casting the prone human bodies strewn across it into sharp relief with its glare that leeched colour from its surroundings. Its target raised a white-gloved hand dismissively, and the holy projectile stopped. Abbot Durval dropped to one knee, exhausted and steadying himself on his staff. His mouth was agape as he stared in disbelief at his stopped attack.
"Nice try, old man," Jadeite quipped, his form a dark silhouette that blocked the light streaming into the room from the tall window behind him. The figure clad in a grey uniform with red trimming gestured upward, and the ball changed course and burned its way through the ceiling, leaving the smell of charred wood behind. The blond was hovering in the air, above the fallen forms of his enemies. The wizard, one of the few who hadn't collapsed where they stood from his dark magic, was struggling in vain against an animated bear skin rug that had recovered some of the ferocity it had in life. "Nice try, but foolish! No human could match the power of a general of the Dark Kingdom! Ha ha ha ha-" At this point, the Baron stopped playing possum, grabbed the table, and batted him out of the closed glass window, all in the same smooth move.
Ami brooded in the library. By all accounts, her excursion into the Underworld had been a complete success, but the information she had gleaned had sucked all the enjoyment out of it. What could she do to cheer herself up? An idea suddenly struck her. Why not check up on her friends?
With a brief moment of concentration, a crystal ball appeared in front of her, dropping down to the table with a thud. Eagerly, she forced magic into the scrying device, prompting it to bridge dimensions. It filled with haze until an aerial view of the Hikawa shrine in Tokyo formed inside the glass. Eagerly, Ami-leaned in closer, zooming in on the figures she could see walking on the sunlit stairs. With a smile, she recognised the short, bald figure of Rei's grandfather, gesticulating enthusiastically while talking to two businesswomen who were visiting his shrine. She zoomed in closer, searching for her friend, when she noticed the old man freeze suddenly. His bushy white eyebrows furrowed as he started to move his head around, as if searching the sky for something. Ami noticed that he was looking in her direction more often than not. Could he sense her presence? She watched the man clad in the white robes of a shinto priest dart into the building, only to return moments later carrying a stick with prayer strips attached, which he shook up and down in a purification ritual. Dumbfounded, she blinked when the image in her crystal ball started to flicker like a TV with bad reception. Alarmed, she channelled more magic into it, but to no avail. The view of the shrine dissolved back into featureless fog.
Ami frowned, and she could see two red reflections in the curved glass as her eyes glowed brighter. She liked grandpa Hino, but at the moment, she didn't have very charitable thoughts for him. Wait, she was being silly. At this time of the day, her friends would still be in school. Shaking her head at her own scatterbrainedness, she focused on the device once more.
"No damn warlock gets uppity in my city while I'm in it!" the Baron shouted into Jadeite's ear, grossing the vain general out with the spittle that splattered against his skin. The blond's croaked retort did not make it past Leopold's inordinately strong thumbs that were crushing Jadeite's windpipe. It took him most of his concentration to stay conscious, his face was already going purple, and his tongue felt dry. He had frankly no idea how the bear-like man had managed to get on his back, much less pin down his arms in the process, but the violent noble seemed intent on strangling the life out of Jadeite. Never mind the fact that both of them were floating high above the city and would both plummet to their deaths if he passed out. In the streets below, the humans were shouting and pointing up excitedly at the struggle. Wait, plummet. Maybe if he controlled the fall so he could crush the Baron between himself and the wall...
Seeing no other option, Jadeite cut the power to his hovering magic, using a last burst so the intertwined enemies were falling toward the castle's roof, rather than the paved yard much deeper below. Air whistled past before the impact, which was much harder than Jadeite had braced himself for. Amidst a cacophony of breaking roof shingles, both opponents suddenly found themselves in the castle's attic, coated in white dust. Loosened tiles and wood splinters were still raining down on them, but Jadeite could feel the bulk of the enemy below him, having cushioned the impact. Leopold' stranglehold had slackened, and the dark general greedily sucked air into his lungs. Then, he heard a growl nearby, and let out a gasp of pain when piercing pain shot through his shoulder. The bastard had bit him! He had actually bit him!
"Noooooo!" the heart-rending scream echoed through the smoothed corridors of Ami's dungeon, originating in the library. Cathy dropped what she was doing. That had been Mercury's voice! Pushing everything and anything out of her way, she didn't stop sprinting until she reached the blue-haired girl, who was kneeling in front of a crystal ball, shoulders drooping and looking as if her entire world had just collapsed. In passing, the swordswoman noted that the spherical device was showing a classroom.
"Mercury! What happened?" She put a comforting arm around the depressed girl's shoulder, wondering just what could have elicited that reaction.
Ami turned to her, tears quivering in the corners of her eyes, and stammered out miserably "I- I have fallen behind in my coursework!"
Cathy blinked mutely.
Ami was in a foul mood. First, she had learned that Azzathra's challenge was most likely a sham intended to humiliate and kill her, then grandpa Hino had unknowingly stymied her efforts to connect to her old life, and finally, Cathy had laughed at her for caring about her grades. The young Keeper's irritation was, however, giving her the required courage to do what Jered had called 'hold court', but what she now knew consisted of her sitting on Malleus' opulent, amethyst-studded throne while her minions took turns whining at her.
Well, maybe she was being a tiny bit unfair there, but some of them were just - argh! Like the four scandalously-clad women in black leather outfits that seemed purpose-built to mess with her still-confused libido. They were standing in respectful distance of the throne, kneeling on the purple-grained marble. However, it was not their overt sensuality, but their request that was filling Ami with disgust. "Absolutely not! I will not rebuild the torture chamber! Do not bring it up again!"
"But Keeper," the speaker of the group began, talking through her face-concealing black mask, "you can't deny the merits of-"
"I could make you join the Reaper in prison," Ami drawled dangerously, hoping that would make these sick, sick women back down.
"Oh, splendid idea, Keeper! Thank you!," one of them answered in a cheerful, husky voice, and bowed deeply. The razor-sharp blades attached to her gloves clicked together in anticipation.
Ami's hair stood on end as the quartet got up and turned to leave, rolling their hips as they walked. "That's not what I meant! Don't do anything physical!"
"Oh Keeper, you are too cruel-"
Her next petitioners were a delegation of bile demons. The bulky red blobs of fat dragged themselves forward on their arms, having no legs or feet to support their near spherical bodies. The other creatures gathered in the throne room made way for them, but whether it was out of respect or because of their body odour was hard to tell. Ami certainly feared for the scent receptors in her nose when the group stopped where the dark mistresses had just been.
"Keeper Mercury," the foremost of the red creatures said with a voice that sounded like flatulence, "when are you going to assign us new dwellings? You destroyed our old ones almost a day ago!"
Mercury leaned forward. She hadn't done anything of the sort. In any case, there were still some free housing areas, according to her mental map of the dungeon. "Could you be a bit more specific, please? I am not sure what you are talking about. All I did was having the disgustingly filthy sewers cleaned out."
"Those- those were NOT sewers," the lead demon grumbled, gritting his teeth.
Ami went green when understanding hit her. "You live in those disgusting pools of rotting muck?"
"Is there a problem with that?" the spherical demon asked, making the morning stars dangling from his horizontal horns swing in challenge.
"Most emphatically YES! Do you have any idea how unhygienic that is? And you are dragging the filth all over the dungeon! Go take a bath, right now!" Mercury looked ill when she gave the order, and backed away from the smelly creature as far as her throne would let her.
Appalled, the bile demon prostrated himself in front of the throne. "Keeper, I do not know how I displeased you, but please reconsider! We shall wait until you are ready, but you can't really demand that we," its flabs of fat shuddered in revulsion, "bathe."
"I can, and I do. In fact, don't come back until you are clean! Orcs, take them away!" The blue-haired girl watched as the more pinkish creatures approached the bile demons, flinching at the smell. Two of the humanoids grabbed one arm each and started dragging the fat minions toward the exit.
While the the bile demons were being removed from the room, Ami watched the ranks of creatures standing further in the back. There had been a lot more when she had just started the first audience, she thought. From the corner of her eye, she spotted some ,imions trying to move unobtrusively toward the exit. Maybe they were getting wise to the fact that today wasn't a good time to draw the Keeper's attention?
"Who is next?" she asked, sounding as if she was daring anyone to step up. To her chagrin, there were footsteps approaching. "Who- Jadeite! What happened to you?" Ami's eyes went wide as she surveyed the bedraggled-looking figure limping towards her throne. The dark general's uniform was ripped in places, his hair was white with dust, and he was sporting not one, but two black eyes, granting him a passing resemblance to a tanuki.
The curly-haired blond gave a court bow as he stopped in front of the throne, but his smile was somewhat strained. "I have been investigating how Baron Leopold, as a mere human, managed to defeat a horned reaper."
Oh, this was bad. Ami winced at the thought of how much damage the dark general had done to her prospective future diplomatic overtures if he had attacked the Baron. Still, she needed a solution, so if he had one... The red in her eyes brightened when she asked "And? Did you find out?"
"Ah, I thought you might want the pleasure for yourself." Like a circus director presenting his next act, he turned ninety degrees, holding his hand out toward the tall figure stepping through the alley between monsters. "Why don't you ask him yourself?"
Ami gasped when she recognised the tall, battered figure shuffling towards her with a blank stare, dressed in expensive silks and wearing a strange circlet on his head.
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|Chapter 40: Shipping Preparations||Chapter 42: A Solution to the Reaper Problem?|
- You know, since the Dark Mistresses are not allowed to physically hurt him, maybe they will try the psychological approach? Dark Psychologists?
Attach some ribbons maybe?
Jadeite, has just undone all of Ami's work to fake her death.
She faked a defeat, not her death (in order to save her real dungeon heart). Jadeite has done no damage in that regard.
AFAIK, she does not have to fight in her own body.
She has just found out that it's Azzathra who decides how she gets to the duel. Fat chance of him letting her possess someone.