The white light of the dungeon heart penetrated deeply into the carved ice that formed the walls and vaulted ceiling of the chamber. With each pulse, the substance glowed greenish blue-from within and sparkled like a rainbow where edges and geometric patterns in the transparent material broke the light into its component colours. Despite the spectacular lightshow, none of the three occupants of the room had any eyes for its beauty. Cathy stood on the dungeon heart's dais, blocking out the shine of the brightening and dimming orb and casting a shadow on Jadeite, who was sitting on the ground. Both blondes focused their attention on the small, blue-headed teenager on his lap, who had her arms wrapped around him in a hug.

Cathy shifted her weight from one leg to the other to prevent both from falling asleep. She had been waiting for a while now, and it seemed as if Mercury was finally calming down. At least, she had stopped sobbing audibly, and her back underneath the dark general's arms was no longer trembling so much. At this point, the swordswoman couldn't tell whether the shivers were from fear or from the cold permeating the room. The younger girl's head still rested against Jadeite's shoulders, and nothing indicated that she was planning to move any time soon. Cathy wondered what the curly-haired blond thought about the situation. His steel-blue eyes were narrowed as if he was mulling something over while he looked past the girl in his arms.

The long-haired blonde squatted down next to the others, estimating that the short-haired girl was no longer too agitated for communication. "Mercury," she called, causing Jadeite's gaze to focus on her, "are you all right, Mercury?"

The schoolgirl slowly raised her head from Jadeite's chest, revealing a wet spot on the blanket where her face had rested, and turned to look at Cathy with puffy red eyes. "Ami," she breathed in a voice so low that the others had trouble hearing her.

"Sorry, what?" Cathy asked, leaning forward through the cloud of breath condensing in the air, closer toward the young Keeper.

"Ami. That's my name when I'm in this form," Ami explained "my real name." Being called by her civilian name was one little piece of normality she craved after her harrowing experiences in this world, and an attainable one at that. Besides, trying to maintain her secret identity when Jadeite had already seen her face already seemed silly. Especially when she was in his arms, holding on tight enough to feel his heartbeat through the layers of cloth between them. Her cheeks coloured faintly at being so close to the man she had a crush on, but she did not budge from her position. After Azzathra's torture, she was willing to indulge in all the comfort she could get, at least for the moment.

"What happened to you?" Cathy asked, keeping her voice warm and soothing. "That is, if you are willing to talk about it."

Ami grimaced unhappily, but nodded in agreement. Jadeite felt her tense up at the question and squeeze him tighter, as if he was some sort of oversized teddy-bear.

"After- " she paused until another shudder had passed, "after the vampires had destroyed my dungeon heart, I was drawn back to it and thrown into a world of complete darkness. Once I figured out the way out, Azzathra found me." She shivered once more and looked at the ground while Cathy gasped in surprise.

"Go on," the long-haired blonde encouraged gently.

"He seemed annoyed at first and hurt me for fun," Ami continued in a quiet voice, and felt a hand settle down on her shoulder in sympathy, "but then he did something to my dungeon hearts to prevent me from leaving, and found out he couldn't touch this one." Her eyes went to the nearby lamp-like sphere that beat in a regular rhythm. "That made him furious, and he started torturing me in earnest." Her eyes filled with tears . "I was thrown about and unable to think and couldn't find my way out, until I heard both of you. Thank you so much," she added, her voice breaking.

"We noticed that something was wrong with the dungeon heart," the swordswoman felt obliged to report, "all your imps died and the lights went dim."

Alarmed at the news, Ami spared a mental glance at her dungeon underneath the desert, and found to her relief that things were apparently back to normal now, except for the lack of imps that should have been scurrying through the corridors. "I- I see. The disruption seems to only have been temporarily, at least." She rested her cheek against Jadeite's chest again without consciously noticing what she was doing. "I was still lost, but then Jadeite did something and I felt enough of my magic return to attempt a teleport, which brought me close enough to my dungeon heart to escape."

"It's over now," Cathy comforted, seeing that the blue-haired girl was about to retreat back into her shell, but to the blonde's surprise, Ami shook her head vehemently, and a trace of anger, mixed with terror, marred her features.

"It's not," Ami whimpered, "it's not ever going to be over," she added in despair and finally let go of Jadeite to hide her face in her palms. The gesture brought the orange disc-and-open-circle mark on the back of her left hand into sight "Azzathra made sure of that." She could feel the insidious alien magic spread out from the sigil and creep through her body, permeating every cell and making it impossible to forget that her time was so very, very limited. She had about a night and a day, the magic told her, and then... "I don't want to go back!" she blurted out and broke into sobs again.

"Mer- Ami! AMI! Don't let yourself be discouraged," Cathy shouted. The schoolgirl peered over the tips of the fingers she had been covering her eyes with when the insisting hand shaking her shoulder wouldn't go away.

Cathy met her gaze head-on and replied sternly "You can't give up! We prepared long and hard for the duel, and you can do this! I believe in you! If you give in to despair, Azzathra will have already won! You'll show him that things won't always go his way! Remember your armour? Between it and Jadeite's magic, that Reaper won't know what hit him! And Jered has been working on something to make the fight easier, too!"

Ami brushed the tears away as she let the swordswoman's words sink in. "You really think so?" she asked with a sad, disbelieving smile.

The scar-faced woman nodded enthusiastically and kicked Jadeite in the shin, out of sight of the blue-haired teenager. The dark general, who had been content to remain quiet and let the female soldier deal with the sentimental stuff, understood what she wanted. "I agree, don't sell yourself short. You have become fairly competent," for a little girl he didn't add. Even if she didn't feel all that little right now.

Ami's face regained some of it's colour when she realised that she was still sitting on the man's lap, and that his arms were still encircling her. "M-Maybe you are right," she stuttered, pressing her lips together into a more determined line. Her resolve hardened. "I won't fail!" she added. The consequences of failure were too terrible to consider.

Jadeite nodded. "That's better. Do whatever it will take to win!" That, at least, was advice he considered sensible, not just emotional drivel.

Later, Ami was tossing and turning in her bed, but sleep wouldn't come after her ordeal. The experience had been tremendously painful, but it didn't have any physical effects on her body, as far as she could tell. None that weren't symptoms of psychological problems, anyway. Finding sleep was not possible with the way her thoughts kept circling back to the dark world she had been banished to. She had been lucky, she supposed. That change to more reddish tones at the deepest point of her fall had not boded well, and after dwelling on it for far too long, she was sure that the darkness was only a zone of transition, leading to whatever hellish abodes the dark gods chose to dwell in. If only she hadn't drawn Azzathra's attention. His foreign magic thumped through her hand, burdening her with the certainty that the duel with the Reaper would take place tomorrow evening. The anxiety she felt about that weighed heavily enough on her to make it hard to breathe. Covers rustled as Ami slipped out from underneath them. Bare feet poking out of yellow pyjama legs made contact with the rough carpet on the floor as the girl sat down on the edge of her mattress and rested her chin on her hands. With half-lidded eyes, she looked into the twilight of her room without really taking in any details.

If she couldn't sleep, then she could at least try to find a better solution for this problem. In her desperation, she even briefly considered amputating the hand that carried Azzathra's mark, but almost immediately discarded the notion. She could feel the evil magic adhere to her like an oily coating, and just getting rid of the visible manifestation shining forth from the back of her left hand would not get rid of the contamination. No, at the appointed time, she would be whisked away to a duel she really doubted she could win. And if she failed, she would be tormented by Azzathra forever, if the fiend managed to snatch up her soul when she died. Ami suppressed a renewed sob. There was one alternative she hadn't allowed herself to really think about. The Light gods had informed her that, if she took up worship of a dark god, her soul would go to that specific one, which would at least keep her safe from Azzathra. What the other dark gods would do with her, she didn't know, but imagined it wouldn't be pleasant. They weren't the gods of evil for nothing, and from what little she had managed to pick up about them, differed only in what kinds of torments they reserved for the dead. Well, and then there was Metallia, who seemed to be a complete unknown in this world.

As far as choices for a dark god to worship went, Ami could hardly do better. First, Metallia was as good as dead and in no shape to order her around, at least for a while. Second, the senshi knew where to physically find the dark goddess. Third, Metallia was not in that horrible place where Ami's powers didn't work. Her muscles clenched involuntarily at the memory of the pain she had experienced at the hands of Azzathra, and she clamped her teeth together to choke an involuntary whimper that was rising in her throat. Can't go back there! Can't risk ending up there forever! her mind screamed, and she panted in fear at the mere memory. With her arms wrapped around herself and her nails digging into her shoulders, Ami sat on her bed and shivered. The orange ring on the back of her hand had turned into an open half moon, reminding her of the merciless passage of time that was bringing the lethal Reaper duel closer with each passing second. It wasn't that she feared death, it was what came after that terrified her. If Azzathra collected her... No, she had to avoid that fate at all costs! Ami leaned back, steadying herself with her arms against the rumpled covers of her bed, and looked at the ceiling. She dreaded the cost of aligning herself with Metallia. What if I am no longer myself if I start worshipping her? What if she forces me to fight my friends? Usagi, Rei, Luna...

She closed her eyes, shutting out the dim light of the torches in the room, and for a fleeting moment, she believed herself back in the dark world. Her eyelids flew open, revealing pupils that had shrunk to the size of pinheads. Ami disappeared from her bed, making the springs in her mattress squeak as it jumped due to the sudden absence of her weight, and retching noises could be heard from the nearby bathroom. Leaning against the cold, white-tiled wall, Ami caught a glimpse of her reflection in the wall mirror. Her blue bangs hung limply and disorderly in front of her face, and she had dark rings under her eyes, accentuated by the pallor of her skin. I'm starting to look like a vampire myself. I can't go on like this. I just can't! Ami sucked in her breath and balled her fists as she decided on a course of action. She would have to do it. Her cheeks burned with shame as she looked at the ground. It was a selfish decision, but she was afraid, so terribly afraid. And if worst came to worst and Metallia awakened, she could at least leverage whatever influence she had to keep those she cared about safe.

"Mercury Power, Make Up!" blue light flared, cleansing the girl at least from the external signs of the previous day. She dressed quickly in her black and gold dungeon keeper garb and set out to put things into motion before her courage left her. There was one thing she had to do first, just in case she would not be able to later. The risk that worshipping Metallia would mess with her mind was one she was - barely - willing to take, given the situation, but she wouldn't spring something dangerous like that as a surprise on her unsuspecting friends. She stared unblinkingly at the crystal ball resting on the bench in front of her, inviting her to use it. With a gulp, she steeled herself and channelled her magic into the scrying device. The milky clouds swirling within cleared to reveal a darkened room with traditional paper walls. Ami could see a raven-haired girl sleeping peacefully with her usually long tresses bundled up for the night so they wouldn't get in the way. Please wake up Rei, Ami thought as she gazed at the picture of her friend. As if the shrine maiden had heard her plea, she opened her eyes and frowned into the darkness. Her hand instinctively went to where she normally kept her prayer strips, before she realised what was going on and blinked the sleep out of her eyes.

"Ami?" Rei formed the letters of the name soundlessly with her mouth as she sat up and searched for a pen and paper. She glanced sourly at the alarm clock on the bedside cabinet, whose hands indicated that it was well after midnight. Her scowl disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, making room for lines of worry.Ami wouldn't be trying to contact me in the middle of the night if it wasn't important. The longer the shrine maiden sat there and meticulously noted down the length of the intervals during which she could feel the presence of Ami's tainted magic, the more her unease intensified. As she translated the rows of dots and lines on the paper, illuminated by the yellowish light of her bedside lamp, her eyes widened in alarm, and she reached for her pen so fast that she flicked it to the ground. Grumbling, she fumbled for it under the bed and wrote down her reply in big, angry letters so that her misguided friend could read it easily. "Ami, you are smarter than that! Please reconsider! Don't join our enemies!"

A world away, the senshi in question read the words in her scrying ball and let out a long sigh before she sent her answer. The sphere in front of her flickered as she activated it in intervals to telegraph letters of the Morse alphabet across dimensions.

"Please believe me, Rei. I wouldn't consider aligning myself with Metallia if I had any better options left. This is perhaps the hardest decision I had to ever make, and I'm sorry that it had to come to this. I simply have no alternatives. I miss you, Usagi and Luna terribly. Please tell them that, in case I should no longer be able to. If everything goes well, I will contact you later today."

The next part of the message was the hardest to compose, and Ami's neck muscles visibly tightened as she swallowed. She could taste bile in the back of her throat as she sent the painful rest of what she needed to say "I can't be sure that I will still be in control of myself after what happens next, so please do not blindly trust any message I may send after this one." There. She had now severely damaged her friends' confidence and trust in her.

Rei was taking this better than Ami had expected, though. The raven-haired girl's face reddened as she ground her teeth together and scowled fiercely. Her reply on the paper was a single word, underlined three times, the last time so hard that the pen had pierced the sheet. "WHY?"

That at least was something that Ami didn't mind explaining, and she spent the next hour informing Rei about her miserable situation with Azzathra and the upcoming duel with the Reaper, promising to contact her again during the week following the duel, if she was able to. If she wasn't, she would be either dead or brainwashed. Both of these possible outcomes left the pyjama-clad shrine maiden looking nearly as sorrowful as Ami felt.

"Don't worry, Ami! You will pull through in the end! And if not, we won't give up until we find a way to save you, I promise!" Rei's last answer, while groundlessly optimistic, raised Mercury's spirits somewhat. While the blue-haired girl didn't entirely dare believe in it, as the memory of Azzathra's aura of power was still fresh in her mind, she knew that Rei did. It felt good to know that her friends wouldn't abandon her, even knowing what she was about to do. Sighing once again into the silence of the room, Ami slowly stood up and straightened her clothes. There was no more reason to delay this.

The sound of Ami knuckles banging against the door to Jadeite's room echoed through the deserted halls of the dungeon. To her, the noise sounded like thunder, loud enough to wake the dead. She glanced left and right furtively, as if afraid that Cathy, Snyder or Jered would walk around the bend at any moment now, attracted by the knocking. She didn't wish to explain her reasoning twice in the same night, as she had a feeling that her arguments would feel even flimsier and less convincing if she had to present them in person. Yes, she was avoiding confrontation, but she just couldn't bear any more of it. Not today. Not so soon after encountering Azzathra.

She heard rustling behind the door, which swung open with a faint creak. Her heart hammered in her chest when Jadeite face appeared in the gap, looking decidedly grumpy. His uniform looked rumpled, as if he had thrown it on in a hurry. Ami felt her cheeks grow hot as her thoughts strayed to how she had clung to him a while ago. Thankfully, he hadn't commented on it, or she felt she would have died from mortification. His steel-blue eyes widened nearly imperceptibly as he recognised his visitor, and his posture straightened.

"Mercury," he greeted, making it sound like a question.

Ami looked down, noting in passing that he wasn't wearing boots. He must have been sleeping. "Jadeite. Excuse me for disturbing you so late, but I have need of your knowledge."

"I am at your service," the dark general said. If he was annoyed at the disturbance, he didn't show it. Instead, he was measuring Ami with a calculating glance. "I see you have turned back into Sailor Mercury form. What do you require of me?"

The girl inclined her head even deeper. She looked up through her bangs as she spoke "I need protection from Azzathra," she began speaking haltingly. "I just can't bear the though of ending up with that monster again, and in light of tomorrow... " she trailed off, voice choking.

Going out on a limb, Jadeite copied one of the gestures he had seen Cathy use this afternoon, and put a hand on Mercury's shoulder. Startled at the unexpected touch, she jerked, but didn't pull away. In fact, her posture seemed more relaxed than before, even if she still wasn't looking directly at him. Hmm, promising. "So you need Queen Metallia's power," the dark general concluded. Nothing else he knew about would be relevant to the problem at hand.

"Yes," Ami confirmed with a shiver, "what do I need to do?" she came straight to the point.

The curly-haired blond removed his arm from her shoulder and fell into the same tone he used when he taught her magic. The familiarity of his lecturing voice calmed the young senshi a little, even if the topic did not. "First, you will need to prepare an offering."

"Life energy?" there was a definite undercurrent of distaste swinging in Mercury's question.

"Indeed," Jadeite confirmed. "It is the one thing other than the ginzuishou that she craves. Don't underestimate its usefulness, it is what let you escape from Azzathra in the first place."

Ami's head shot up, and she looked at him, frozen like a deer in the headlight. "Y-you mean what brought my magic back was... ?" she asked, paling and feeling her stomach turn. The worst thing was that she couldn't help consider it completely worth it. Panting, she swallowed her revulsion at the notion. She should have known. After all, she had read enough treatises on necromancy to know that the life of others could be used to invigorate one's own power. At least, she knew that Jadeite didn't kill his victims. They would be fine, after a while. At least so she hoped. And hadn't she done something similar once before, when she bribed the dark gods? She had no room to judge him. Once Ami's legs stopped shaking, she nodded. "I see," she said, "I will acquire some at once."

Jadeite's smile as the Keeper disappeared didn't reach his eyes. Aside from the - admittedly huge - complication of the impending Reaper duel, his plans were progressing nicely. Yes, this partnership with Sailor Mercury had potential. Watch out Beryl.

Chains clanked as the horned demon tore at his arm-thick restraints, making no more progress than he had in the weeks before. Unlike the other times Ami had visited him, his yellow eyes lit up in sudden glee when the young Keeper appeared, rather than the blind fury she was used to.

"So you are going to be my opponent!" the red-skinned monster broke into roaring laughter. "Praise the Dark Gods!" he growled, fixing his gaze on the orange pattern blemishing the skin of Mercury's left hand. An identical mark shone forth from his own. "I will finally end you, you little brat! Your days are numbered!" His thin lips split into a wide grin, revealing long, pointy fangs.

Mercury approached with slow, measured steps, keeping her face expressionless. Only the intensity of the red light shining out of her irises betrayed her rising irritation.

"Oh, I will savour standing over your savaged, lifeless body. I will take my sweet time killing you." The Reaper's Neanderthal-like eyebrows rose as the slender girl came even closer and reached for his belly. In a higher-pitched voice than before, he growled "Now wait, you know that Azzathra will simply kill you too if you - ARRhhhgh!"

"Let's see if Azzathra can heal that," Ami said in a voice as cold as the grave, watching his bulky form go limp and his oversized chin sink down and come to a rest on his collarbone. His large metal pauldrons rattled as he collapsed like a marionette with its strings cut, and then there was silence. The swirling ball of life energy that she had ripped out of the creature hovered over her palm, causing a prickling sensation on her skin. Its fiery glow seemed warmer than human life energy, and Ami could feel it radiate phantom heat as its light stained her pale features orange. Her eyes blazed with satisfaction, and a subtle smirk flitted over her lips. If she had to sacrifice some life energy to Metallia during the ritual, she would at least take it from someone she hated.

In the flickering orange-tinted light, the heap of chicken bones taking up the right wall of the cell seemed alive as the shadows swayed. Ami spared it a glance and turned her attention back to the Reaper. Her attempts at fattening the beast up hadn't been very successful. The waist bulged out a bit, sure, and she could no longer make out every muscle underneath the leathery skin, but overall, he utterly failed to appear plump and slow. With a last glare at the unconscious demon, she vanished from the prison.

There had not been a temple to the dark gods in Ami's dungeon since Azzathra had ruined the existing one, which had been consecrated to his now-dead enemy, Murdrul the Devourer. Not that the senshi would have wanted to keep a place so steeped in the blood and suffering of the innocents, anyway. The shattered pillars and emptied sacrificial basin were buried and forgotten under tons of stone and sand, which suited her just fine. However, it left her without a convenient place of worship. Fortunately, Jadeite had been able to propose a different way of contacting the ruling entity of the Dark Kingdom.

The room around the Keeper and the dark general held no lights, except for a crystal ball illuminated by the cloudy swirls within, and the ball of stolen life energy still floating above Ami's palm. In its dim light, only her chin and the lower edge of her blue bangs were visible. Above the nose, two large discs of red glowed in a strip of darkness. They moved to the right to look at Jadeite's silhouette, barely visible in the twilight.

"I know that Beryl feeds Queen Metallia energy through her crystal ball, but I suspect hers has additional powers. Nevertheless, the principle of catching the Great Ruler's attention through scrying on her is valid." At his left, Ami cringed as she remembered what had happened the last time she had tried to look at a dark god, but Jadeite did not notice. "As you already know, scrying attempts can be detected and followed back. Once you have Queen Metallia's attention, offer her the energy and make your plea."

Ami nodded, clenching her teeth. How far she had fallen that praying to a dark god was a step up from her current situation. Never had she dreamed that she would not only consider such a course of action as a theoretical possibility, but actually go through with it. Filled with doubt, she glanced up at Jadeite again, and could see his white teeth sparkle in the sparse light as he gave her reassuring smile. She felt her heart flutter and looked at the crystal ball with new determination. "Let's begin."

Guided by the blue-haired girl's magic, the mists within the sphere parted, and both observers leaned over it. The orb's whiteness turned into tones of deep blue and violet as an image formed within. A huge sculpture depicting the jaw-less skull of some huge, long-fanged monstrosity stared at them with empty eye sockets. Its features were ill-defined and asymmetric, as if it had grown naturally out of the surrounding rock, which only made it creepier. There was an empty hollow for a third eye in its forehead, in which a mote of fire quivered. An orange bag pervaded with darker veins hung from the mouth like a tongue, widening toward the bottom until it was larger than the head above. It defied gravity as it hung over an abyss filled with rolling black clouds and glowed softly from within, except for a shadow at it's very centre.

"That's Queen Metallia?" Ami asked, unsure of what exactly she was looking at. She had expected something more recognisably alive.

"Her cocoon," Jadeite explained in a hushed voice, "she is still recovering."

"Queen Metallia," Ami called out into the hungry silence, "please bestow your favour upon me! I pray to you and ask you to accept me as your worshipper. Please accept this gift of life energy as a sacrifice!"

At first, nothing happened, and Ami already thought she had failed, but movement drew her gaze down onto the sun-like ball she held. A tendril of energy was snaking toward the crystal ball, which went hazy once the energy made contact. The blue-haired girl imagined hearing a slurping sound as the scrying device sucked in the rest of the life force. Once the last of it was gone, the room was much darker than before. The image of Metallia's cocoon did not change in any appreciable way. Ami kept watching it like a hawk, but there was no reaction. After a while, she realised that none would be forthcoming. "Jadeite? Did it work?"

"Metallia accepted your offering, that much is clear," the dark general answered guardedly. He raised his hand, and the turquoise crystal lights came back on.

"I don't feel any different," Ami wondered, half in relief and half in fear while looking down at herself, as if expecting a change. When she inspected her hands, she saw that the orange mark was still present, and felt a pang of harsh disappointment. A hope that she hadn't even admitted to herself was dashed.

Jadeite crossed his arms and sounded vaguely amused. "Why would you expect to? You came to our Great Ruler out of your own free will, why would she waste her precious energy on changing you?"

"Well, I had kind of expected at least some reaction," Ami confessed and stepped in front of a conjured full length mirror. A moment later, she had her computer out and was busily scanning away while lines of text scrolled over her visor.

Seeing the young girl hide a yawn behind her hand, the curly-haired blond stepped closer. "You should get some sleep. You need to be well-rested for your battle. Do this later," he advised, strongly enough to make it sound like a command.

Ami sighed and let her shoulders droop. "I can't," she sighed. "Whenever I close my eyes, I'm back with Azzathra, reliving the memories. I feel so lost and helpless and can't fall asleep. Much better to spend the time working instead."

Jadeite waved his hand in a dismissive way. "I think I can help with that."

Ami suddenly felt her heart hammer in her chest. Could he be offering... ? A sudden, pleasant mental image of going to sleep safely in his arms, while her head rested on his uniformed chest, went through her treacherous mind.

"I can cast a sleeping spell on you, if you like," he continued, unaware of what the teenager had been expecting. The sudden colour shooting to her cheeks was therefore somewhat puzzling to him.

Ami nodded. It was a sound suggestion, but she still felt vaguely cheated. She would need all her strength in tomorrow's battle, so she agreed. "I'd like that."

When the duo reappeared in Ami's room, the door was slightly ajar.

"And what have you two been up to?" a lively voice asked from the high-backed armchair in the corner, next to the teenager's reading desk.

Ami started and whirled around. "Cathy! What are you doing here?"

"Well, I was trying to check up on you to see how you were holding up. Imagine my surprise when I found that you were missing. And now I surprise you sneaking him into your room. Is there something you want to tell me?" Her voice was teasing, but the look she threw at Jadeite was all unpleasant business.

"N-no!" Ami sputtered, "I couldn't sleep, so he was going to cast a sleeping spell on me! Right?" she hadn't even considered what this would look like to an outside observer. The timid girl fled, rushing out through the door leading into the adjacent bathroom.

"Sleeping spell?" Cathy raised an eyebrow at the dark general, who crossed his arms defensively. He had known Beryl to use similar inflection when she was displeased with something and wouldn't come straight out with what, instead letting the accused dig themselves in deeper. So he remained quiet, and an uneasy silence permeated the room until Ami peeked out from the bathroom door, clad in a modest yellow pyjama, and made her way over to the bed in a hurry. She pulled the covers up to her neck, and glanced at Jadeite. "Okay."

The man walked over to her bedside and held out his hand, prompting her to touch it. A short flash of blackness later, she was soundly asleep. Jadeite stepped back, but found that he had first to gently pry loose the slim fingers intertwined with his own. That done, he glanced over at Cathy, who was still lurking in the corner like a big, vigilant watchdog. A soft whimper from the sleeping girl drew his gaze back to her, and he saw that her hands were clawing at her covers. He took a step further away, raising his open hands as if to say "I didn't do anything!"

Suddenly, the mattress creaked, and Jadeite found himself sitting on it, with no idea how he had gotten there. A warm arm snaked around his waist, and he looked dumbfounded at the long-haired blonde in the corner, who blinked at him in surprise as she observed from afar. With a shrug, Jadeite commenced the process of extricating himself from the peacefully slumbering girl without waking her. Half a minute later, he had completed his task under Cathy's watchfully glaring gaze, and was making his way to the door. In the bed, Ami turned to her side, shivering quietly at the absence of warmth, and in an eyeblink, Jadeite felt himself yanked back through space toward where he had just left. When he felt a short-haired head abuse his arm as a pillow and heard a contented sigh, his left eyebrow started to twitch. This could become complicated. From the corner, he heard a muffled choking noise, as if Cathy wasn't sure whether she should be giggling like a loon or sigh in exasperation.

In front of the sacred fire, Rei was staring at the translucent image floating in the flame, barely believing what she was seeing. Agitated by Ami's transmission, she had been unable to return to sleep. Instead, she had given in to the urge of checking whether the studious girl was really all right, and she was glad that she had! It looked as if there were some things that Ami had neglected to mention. The black-haired girl let out a little growl, and the vision disappeared. Was there no limit to the depths these dark generals would sink to? First, Nephrite was toying with Usagi's friend Naru, and now, Jadeite was taking advantage of poor Ami's inexperience in matters of the heart. The cad. Unforgivable! The shrine maiden fumed, already thinking about what she would put into her next letter to her friend. If there was a next letter, she reminded herself, feeling the sudden anxiety quench the flames of her anger like a bucket of ice water.

Previous chapter: Next chapter:
Chapter 54: Into the Darkness Chapter 56: The Duel



Attached Comments:

  • Moving on to her immediate tormentor, once Mercury has a chance to think (and extradite herself from her new teddy bear, Jedite), she may remember how one dark god went extinct (no more worshipers), and three guesses who's Dungeon Keepers she'll make her target of preference next.
This is incorrect. Azzathra killed Murdrul, which left his worshippers in a precarious position. (See Tasbaal, Malleus)
Of course, if Ami has the choice between equally good targets, this might still tip the balance.

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