Contrary to Ami's expectations, she had little trouble finding the vessel from which the fairies had come despite the onset of the night. She was in a golem body, transporting herself in the direction that her recent attackers had arrived from, and staying low enough that her feet skimmed the waves from time to time. If anything, it was easier to spot the large warship in the darkness, as the lights on its deck beckoned like beacons. The ship was cruising straight toward her iceberg, and so she was approaching the keel that loomed above the sea level like a black cliff directly from the front. This gave her a straight-on view of the wind filled-sails emblazoned with a symbol that consisted of three straight swords, which were arranged in such a way that the blades crossed each other in one central point. A wreath of green laurels encircled the six-pointed star formed by the downward-pointing weapon. Hmm, they are making good progress, even if the storm is at a bit off an angle to their current course. If I can take out their rudder long enough, they won't be able to catch up with me, Ami thought as she calculated the different angles and velocities in her head, hoping that there wasn't some part about sailing that she was missing because she was so unfamiliar with it.
Excited shouts carried by the wind drew the ice girl's attention back to the ship that was still barrelling down on her position. Angular silhouettes were leaning over the ceiling, peering into the darkness, and pointing. She could also make out the triangular cones of wizard hats between the occasional flashes of armour. So they can detect my approach, the swimming senshi thought. Golden shimmers rose from the ship and fanned out in a search pattern. Satisfied that the patrol ship knew that she was here, but not exactly where she was, Ami transported herself underwater, where the clear ice she was made of should be all but invisible. Then she waited. Soon enough, a shadow fell over her, and the clam-encrusted wood of the vessel's hull passed overhead so closely that she could reach out and touch it. A sudden feeling of revulsion shook her to the core, and she shied away, unconsciously raising an arm to shield her face as she did so. While unexpected, she recognised the power radiating from the hull from previous exposure. Holy magic! The entire ship is blessed! The rejection by the forces of Good stung, but she was more worried about what kind of protection it would imbue the enemy vessel with. Hopefully, nothing that would prevent her senshi magic from working properly.
The rearmost edge of the ship's wood passed overhead, and Ami could see the large wooden rudder protruding from its back. She just had to jam the oar blade with some ice so it couldn't move, and then she'd be able to outrun the enemy no problem! She raised her hands to her collarbone, then thrust them out forward, while three short spurts of bubbles escaped from her mouth. Shouting the incantation of the Shabon Spray Freezing did not work well and came out as some gargles, but this didn't seem to matter to the magic. Starting from Ami's fingertips, a fan of icicles sprang forward, growing in the targets direction and then enveloping it. The girl's red-glowing eyes widened in surprise when concentric circles of purple light raced outward from the point of impact, travelling across the wood like ripples across a pond, and she quickly swam backward, putting some distance between herself and the ship. Well, at least it didn't seem to do anything to actually free the rudder, so she should be fine - what was that moving in from above?
A thin line of bubbles shot into the ice statue's direction, and she struggled against the surrounding liquid's resistance in order to evade. It was no use. Guided by its bluish-glimmering tip, the projectile curved and tracked her unerringly. Ami felt a sharp jerk when something pierced her ice shell between her breasts and then went out through her back. Looking down, she saw a long, barbed rod of steel protruding from her chest. A chain looped through a ring at its end was ascending to the surface of the ocean. She had just been harpooned? While she fingered the metal rod bemusedly, the chain went taut, and she felt herself being reeled in like a fish on a hook. Having nowhere near the weight of a whale, she couldn't put up much resistance against the pull. While the planks of the hull passed her on her ascent, she spotted motion next to the rudder. A small, bearded form had appeared aside the block of ice and was hitting it with a pickaxe. To Ami's chagrin, the frozen water was giving way under its blows just as easily as rock crumbled under the ministrations of her imps. She couldn't allow that to happen!
She made another unpleasant discovery when her attempt to teleport off the harpoon produced no results. Was this some hero trickery, or was the dungeon heart considering her a prisoner? It looked as if she needed an alternative solution. With a quick mental command, she yanked two of her golems away from their post on the iceberg, and made them re-appear next to the dwarf. She could see his eyes go wide behind his goggles when the two female-looking ice shapes started paddling toward him, baring their teeth. With great haste, he tugged twice on a rope slung around his left leg. An instant later, he disappeared upwards, his beard trailing behind him like the tendrils of a sea anemone. Ami nodded in satisfaction before returning her attention to her own precarious situation. She could just possess one of her other creations here, but that didn't help with the rudder at all. The ice was no good if the crew could just chip it away, and there was nothing stopping them from harpooning any guards she left behind. What could she do? The turbulent surface of the ocean was approaching rapidly. Oh! Got it!
Ami's body counted as her territory for Keeper power purposes, and the steel embedded within would hopefully conduct electricity much better than the surrounding salt water. Concentrating hard, the possessed simulacrum sent Keeper lightning into the rod, toning it down as much as she could. She wanted to give whoever was on the other end a good scare, not injure them. Of course, some of the power went into her own structure, but it was nothing the golem's regeneration couldn't handle, especially immersed in water as it was here. The ploy worked. Immediately, she felt the chain go slack and swam back towards the rudder as fast as she could, icy arms and legs pumping furiously. Suddenly, she felt a strong current go through the line, and bubbles started forming along the length of the rod and the chain. The heroes were turning her own trick against her! She could vividly imagine some fairies up there throwing lightning bolts at the weapon's line. Gritting her teeth, Ami continued onward to her destination. Aside from the discomfort, this was actually helpful in a way. With each jolt, the harpoon slid out a bit further before the melted ice could refreeze around it.
When the senshi finally reached the rudder, she only had to melt a little bit of herself to get the last finger length of the weapon out of herself. It's a good things the golems aren't really able to feel pain, she thought while she shoved the harpoon through the narrow gap between the ship's hull and the rudder. On the other side, one of the other simulacrums took it and handed it back, going around the large piece of wood this time. Together, they managed to wrap the chain attached to the barbed piece of metal several times around the rudder before Ami secured it with a knot. Sadly, it didn't look as if her opponents were stupid enough to tug at the chain until this vital piece of their steering system came off. Well, they didn't have to. The senshi fired off another Shaboon Spray Freezing, aimed at the chain, which went taut once more when the large block of ice now attached to it tried to float to the surface, scraping the clams off of the ship's hull as it touched them on its ascent. It reached the end of its 'leash', and Ami rapidly fired off more freezing spells, increasing the nascent iceberg's volume. Soon its, its buoyancy was too much for the tormented wood of the rudder, which was ripped out of its mounting. Now free to continue its ascent, the large clump of ice did just that, jumping out of the sea's surface like a cork and giving the sailors up above a good scare. The young Keeper observing from below the waves winced at the deep thud that the lorry-sized mass made when it collided with the ship, but through the curtain of bubbles that surrounded the block as it dipped back down, she could see that the vessel had taken no damage, or at least none below the water line. Now convinced that her pursuers would be delayed for at least as long as she needed, she hurriedly moved herself back to her floating dungeon, taking the other two golems along.
The seven blanket-wrapped bundles lying next to each other on the frozen floor seemed worryingly still to Ami. Only close observation revealed that the chests of their occupants were slowly rising and falling in synch with their shallow breaths. The faces of the captured fairies looked deathly pale, but the young Keeper hoped that this was only a trick of the blue-tinted light shining through the ice forming the walls. She had stashed her unconscious prisoners close together like sardines in a can, allowing them to share body heat, and hoped this would stave off the worst hypothermia. Right now, she was kneeling down next to one of the fairies and putting her hand on the woman's clammy forehead. The fae's eyelid twitched once at the touch, but she did not react in any other way. Ami frowned in worry at feeling the temperature, which seemed low to her. Was this normal for their species, or couldn't they produce enough heat in their drained state? Well, she had better do something about this. At her command, a bunch of imps stormed into the room, staring in wonder with their orb-like black eyes. They cocked their heads in puzzlement before taking enthusiastically to their strange new assignment, letting out cheerful yelps and giggles as they climbed cautiously over the prone forms and then lay down on top of the covers and went still. Ami nodded, satisfied that they weren't pressing down dangerously on any fragile parts of the girls. This wasn't an optimal way of keeping her prisoners warm, but it was the best she could do at the moment.
Ami rose to her feet and stared at the young-looking faces lined up in front of her. They looked like cheerful, happy kind of people. Did they have friends worrying about them back on the ship? Loved ones that would miss them if they didn't return from their mission? Parents who would be waiting anxiously for any news about their disappearance? The blue-haired girl was reminded of her own mother, whom she hadn't seen in over a month now. She must be beside herself with worry by now. Would the other senshi have told her about her daughter's extracurricular activities, or was she still completely in the dark? Ami hung her head and felt a tear trickle down her cheek as she experienced a sudden bout of overwhelming homesickness. It was nearly enough to make her just let her captives go to spare others the same pain. She still didn't know what to do with the team of seven. Was preventing knowledge about the weakness of her golems worth robbing these well-meaning intruders of their freedom? Ami straightened suddenly. Actually, she didn't know. How common was that magic-dissolving water, anyway? With renewed hope for a more palatable solution, the senshi displaced herself to the beating dungeon heart and hopped into its pit, emerging back home at her main base.
"Gah!" Startled, Snyder twitched when the short-haired girl suddenly materialised in front of his workbench, and he bumped his knees against its wood because he nearly fell off his seat. The sleeves of his white and red robes swept some of his chisels off the table as he waved his arms to maintain his balance. "Please, Mercury, could you refrain from doing that? One of these days, you are going to give me a heart attack."
Ami, whose eyes had gone round at the sight, inclined her head apologetically, and used her powers to put the tools that had clattered to the ground back onto the table. "Sorry, I was in a bit of a hurry. I have a question about this magic-suppressing blessed water you have used a few times. How difficult is it to produce?"
The redhead straightened out his clothes and scratched his chin. "Unfortunately, it is not something that I could prepare here. The proper ceremonies require an experienced priest of considerable power working at a temple, which is nothing that I can emulate here."
"Thanks, but that wasn't why I was asking. If someone wanted to use large amounts of the stuff against me, would they be able to do so?" Ami clarified her question.
"Certainly. The preparations of the water are relatively inexpensive, and it is only uncommon due to its narrow applicability niche. The need to suppress or dissolve magical items is not a frequent one, and storing the water properly so it maintains its properties can be a bit of a hassle. Nevertheless, if someone was determined to deploy a vast quantity of it for some purpose or other, he could do so without running into insurmountable difficulties."
Ami let out a long, disappointed sigh, as she had been hoping for a different answer. "Thank you." Before Snyder could ask what was wrong, she had already disappeared again. It looked as if she would be forced to bring the fairies over here, where she could create a safer, and warmer, prison for them, after all. Walking through one of the more out-of-the way tunnels while she searched for an appropriate location, she passed a troll, who stopped upon recognising her, and gave her a thumbs up.
"That was a great show, Keeper," he congratulated, his wide grin displaying a sparse set of teeth. "You really played them fairies like fools. They looked as if they really thought they'd win! Hilarious!"
Ami paused in mid-step. "You saw that?" she asked with a sinking feeling.
"Oh yes," the troll nodded enthusiastically, "nearly all of it. Happened to be in the command centre at the time, and the warlocks had put the fight on one of the big screens for everyone to see. The best part was where you blew them all up with their own sealing technique! The expressions on their faces when they realised that they were in over their heads - priceless!" He laughed out loud again and slapped his knees. Being a troll, he didn't have to bend over to do so.
"Everyone saw that?" Ami asked in a small voice.
"Yup. Even that brooding general of yours was giggling all throughout the fight. Only the commander seemed unamused, but then, she only smiles when she's making someone's life miserable during training. Missed a career opportunity as a Dark Mistress, that one."
By now, the blue-haired girl was hiding her face in her palms. Jadeite saw that? But he would understand what was really going on! Why would he be laughing- oh. The sheer ludicrousness of her having to fight a group of magical girls hadn't really occurred to her yet. A short smile flitted over her face as she saw the humour in the situation, before her darker mood returned. Well, if Jadeite was already familiar with the situation, he could make himself useful by ferrying the seven prisoners over here.
Dandel woke with a groan, pleasantly surprised at the soft warmth surrounding her, as well as at the fact that she had woken up at all. Her eyes flew open as the full memories of the events before she lost consciousness hit her, and she sat up so fast that her covers slid off the bed. A bed? This wasn't her hammock! Where was she? The indigo-haired fairy's head turned left and right as she took in the details of her surroundings. She was in an elongated room, sitting on the second-to-the-left bed out of a row of seven. The other six were unoccupied, though except for one, they were unmade, as if someone had recently slept in them. Her sisters, she hoped. The tidy bed would of course belong to Cerasse, the neat freak. She continued her inspection of the surroundings. Candles on candlesticks attached to the smoothed sandstone walls lit the area - wait, walls? There weren't any buildings for several days of travel within the area in which the battle on the iceberg had taken place! Just how long had she been out? The architecture, with its vaulting ceilings, didn't look Imperial either. Clearly, someone had rescued them, but who, and for what reason? Suddenly worried, she looked down at herself, and was relieved that her familiar costume was still in place, even if was slashed in places and stained with coagulated blood. A few experimental stretches revealed that she was fine, except for some stiffness in her limbs and a lingering feeling of tiredness. A sneeze from the adjacent room, whose door was slightly ajar, drew her attention to the low muttering of familiar voices drifting over from there.
Driven by her curiosity and the urgent need to know whether her companions were fine or not, the fae slipped out of the bed, even if she was loathe to leave its warmth. Her opinion of the place went up a few notches when her bare feet sank into a thick carpet rather than encountering cold tiles. Their rescuer seemed to be concerned about their comfort, at least. She only hoped there wasn't a price that she wouldn't be willing to pay attached. The door's well-oiled hinges didn't let out a single squeak as she pulled on the handle. In the next room, she found her sisters. Roselle was sitting with the back towards her at a round table, twiddling a little carved white figurine that resembled a horse's head between her right thumb and index finger. Across the table from the orange-haired fae sat Cerasse and Anise, both sporting equally befuddled expressions as they put their violet and red heads together while staring at the pages of a book. Its cover featured a picture of the board game on the centre of the table, which seemed to consist of two sets of sixteen figurines facing each other on a chequered board.
The most likely originators of the sneeze were Melissa and Tilia, who were sitting in a corner, wrapped in blankets and warming their feet in a low vat filled with warm water. They had been the ones to take a plunge into the sea, so if runny noses were the worst they took away from that adventure, they should count themselves lucky. The first one to spot the indigo-haired fairy's entrance was the blonde reclining on the thick carpet in front of the heat-radiating fireplace, in which a smokeless flame burned.
"Dandel! You are finally awake!" like a bolt of bubbly lightning, the shortest of the fairies crossed the room and wrapped her arms around her eldest sister. This drew the attention of the others, and relieved smiles and joyous greetings were exchanged.
"You looked so tired, so we didn't want to wake you," Roselle explained, brushing orange strands out of her face.
"Yeah, that monster did a real number on you! How are you feeling?"
"Indeed, we were all worried about you! Does anything hurt?"
"Do you know how we got here?"
Dendel fended off the well-meaning stream of questions, finally asserting herself enough to restore a semblance of order. "All right, all right, I'm fine, really! Slow down!" she raised both of her hands, palms facing outward, to physically underline her statement. "First, can you fill me in where we are, how we got here, and who rescued us?"
The room went silent, except for the crackling of the fire. "We don't really know the answer to any of these questions," Camilla was the first to reply.
"Yes, we were hoping you could shed some light on this, because we haven't seen or heard anything from whoever brought us here. Suspicious, if you ask me," the red-headed Anise supplemented.
"At least they seem to be well-intentioned," Roselle ventured. "I mean, look at this place! It's a lot better than the army barracks. And they even provided a game so we wouldn't be bored. That's not exactly menacing behaviour."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Anise defended her position, "the thing sure is giving me a headache," she continued with a glare at the rulebook.
"Let us not forget the most obvious hint that something is wrong," Cerasse added, taking the book from her sister's hand and smoothing out a crease in the paper with near obsessive care. "We are locked in. There's only a hallway leading to the bathroom next door, with metal bars blocking the other exit. Also note the complete absence of our glitter. There must be magic draining wards worked into the masonry."
"That changes things," Dandel commented. "So we are prisoners, even if we are currently being treated more like guests. Hmm. A simply rescue would have been too good to be true. Everyone, stay on our guard."
"Oh, what do we have here? This must be my lucky day!"
The fairies looked at each other. "Who said that?"
"Don't worry, ladies, I will be with you soon!"
"Who are you? Show yourself!" Dandel shouted, taking a combat stance. Her sisters took position around her, so that the fairies stood back to back, forming an outward-facing circle. Their eyes went to the doorless exit when they heard a long, wet slurping noise from outside, which got slowly louder.
"That can't be good!"
The tip of something long, black and green wound its way into the room, pushing up the bottom of the heavy curtain blocking the entrance. "Eeeek! S-Snake!" Melissa's sapphire eyes went wide with fear, and she fluttered into the air, heedless of the ceiling, which, while high, offered nowhere near as much room as the free sky would have. "Oof!" With a bump on her head, the blue haired fairy crashed back down, only avoiding further injury by virtue of Anise jumping to catch her after her fall.
"That's not a snake. For one, they have scales, and for the other, they are not slimy like this thing," the violet-haired Cerasse listed calmly.
"Save the lecture! There's more of them!" Other black-and green ringed worm-like appendages pressed in through the opening, until the entire entrance was occupied by a forest of gleaming, wriggling pseudo pods.
"Not a snake. Just a tentacle monster." Tilia commented in a deadpan tone of voice.
Anise was biting her lower lip in disgust and gulped, which made the bruised skin on her throat bulge. "Tentacle monster! What kind of rescuer keeps a pet like that? Dammit, I wanted to meet a cute prince! Now I'm angry!"
"I strongly object to being called a pet, as I- OW! Hey, sto- OW! "
Valiantly, the redhead had dashed forward and stomped on the foremost probing tentacle, before whacking the main mass with a chair for good measure.
"Now wait a- YOW!" The entire rubber-like mass wobbled as the wooden furniture crashed down on it once again.
"CUT IT OUT ALREADY!" With a sudden flurry of activity, Anise felt something slimy wrap around her left ankle, and suddenly found herself suspended upside down in the air, prompting alarmed cries from her sisters. She gulped. This could end badly. She suddenly wished that their outfits offered some more coverage than swimsuits. On the bright side, however, she could make out a few eyes in the centre of the mass from her elevated vantage point, and she still had her chair...
"Much better. Now- OW!"
Back on the ice vessel and armed with the knowledge that the mainland was only about five kilometres away, Ami thought about how to best set foot on the Avatar Islands. With the blockade warship still on the prowl, she had to adjust her original plan for more security than just cruising around would provide. She would have to submerge the iceberg and start digging a tunnel to the continent proper from several hundred metres below sea level. Theoretically, this simply required filling the ship with stone or sand or other things heavier than ice. She glared at the dripping boulder resting in front of her in the corridor. In practice, she would have to move a few hundred more like it into the ship, and take care to not upset the balance of the vessel. Maybe she shouldn't have made it this big? While the dungeon heart was solidly anchored into the ice and wouldn't be hurt, the engines would do no good if they did no longer point in the right direction. An annoyingly monotonous task that would nevertheless keep her occupied for a while awaited the young Keeper. She wrinkled her nose at the smell originating from the rock. It stank of sulphur and decay, and wouldn't that be fun on a vessel that couldn't refresh its air supply while under water? Pinching her nose shut, she vowed to spend as little time here as possible as she commenced her work.
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|Chapter 48: Fairy Attack||Chapter 50: Writing Home|
- Why not just have the golems wear actual, nonconjured armor? That would both increase their resilience and minimize the area over which the holy-water attack could be effective. While the armor could be critically damaged in a fight, it would at least make it less likely that the weakness is rediscovered by someone else.
Strategic mobility. As long as they are made purely of magic, Ami can transport them over neutral territory as well as her own.