Ami sat on the edge of her bed, admiring her new bedroom. A telekinetic shove pushed the slider on the heater to a higher setting as she doffed the heavy winter garments and pelts necessary to survive on the iceberg. Underneath, she was wearing one of her black Keeper outfits, which, while imposing-looking, didn't provide much protection from the elements. Having electricity again sure felt nice. Overhead, the lamp hanging from the ceiling flickered as the currents fluctuated. With a wry smile, Ami looked up at the glass hemisphere. The locals had been impressed by the simplicity of just having to push a button to turn the light on and off, no magical knowledge required. Re-inventing the light bulb had been easy, fortunately. Not so simple was maintaining a high-quality, failure-free power grid, the repeated waxing and waning of the illumination reminded her, even if the dungeon heart's magic kept her rooms solid and frozen, despite the room temperature. Maybe she should try designing and creating a transformer next? More stable current would potentially improve the gem creation process too. At least the cables hidden in the artificial stone walls were well-made and up to handling even a large increase in capacity.
Ami shifted her weight, making the springs in the mattress creak as she leaned forward, and frowned at the wallpaper. It should have been white and pristine like freshly-fallen snow. Instead, light blue frost patterns marred its surface. Not that the spidery spirals, which reminded the blue-haired girl of hurricanes watched from orbit, were ugly. They just shouldn't be there, and Ami worried about what would happen if they started showing up on delicate machinery. It was reassuring that the decorations left the furniture alone, for now. The teenager winced inwardly at the sight of the wooden closet standing next to her desk in the left corner of her room and half-covering one of the strange marks. The furniture was simple and functional, but she had designed it in a hurry, with no regard for aesthetics. Some adornments distracting from their rough and boxy look would actually have been an improvement. The muscles around her eyes tightened, turning her expression into one of determination, and she stood up from the bed and walked over the soft, aquamarine carpet toward the wall. Let's see if I can't erase those things.
Stopping in front of the largest filigree pattern, she touched it with her fingertips and focused on the fabrication spell. Discs of white expanded from the points of contact, until all of the unwanted adornments were covered up. Ami took a step back and inspected the drying paint for any trace of blue, but found none. Satisfied, she turned away, pondering whether or not she should remove the other decorations, too. The wall did look a bit empty without them, she admitted as she glanced back at the blank space. Her eyes widened and glowed redder when she noted that the pattern was back. Even staring at the thing through her visor revealed no external influence. It seemed that her new dungeon heart was a bit of a graffiti artist, then? Not one to give up easily, Ami decided to take a different approach. A repeated application of her magic painted a fake window onto the wallpaper, covering the frost pattern with a view of a few stylised trees. Her work complete, the young Keeper backed away from her painting, not taking her eyes off of it, and sat down on her bed again. Minutes passed, with only the faint rumbling of the dungeon heart in the background to keep her company. Tired, Ami yawned, closing her eyes. When she reopened them, the trees in the painting looked warped and skeletal, and the patterns were back, wrapping like vines around the painted window's frame. Creepy.
Feeling the hairs on the back of her neck rise, Ami decided that she would have to research this phenomenon properly another day. With recording equipment in place. However, it was about time that she caught up on some sleep. Her hand went to the gold buttons around her collar, but hesitated. This would be the first night following her encounter with Azzathra and the Reaper duel that she would be going to bed without artificial aids to fall asleep. With all the fairy excitement and her research work, she hadn't had the time to dwell on her experiences properly yet - not that she wanted to. But now, she feared that her unoccupied mind would prod and poke at the memories, and they would nag at her from within, preventing her from getting a moment of rest. Or, even worse, she would fall asleep, have horrible nightmares, and summon Jadeite to her room again. That would be absolutely mortifying. Ami felt her face flush at the thought, even if a treacherous part of her mind insisted that cuddling with the attractive dark general was just what she needed. What was he wearing to bed, anyway? Some of the possibilities, especially combined with her transporting him again, left her blushing harder and convinced her that she should have a chat with him right now, if only to head off even worse future embarrassment. A guilty little glance into his room revealed that he had not gotten ready for bed.
The knocking noise of Ami's knuckles hitting wood echoed through the corridor, and she cringed inwardly at the realisation that it was too late to back out of the talk now. "Jadeite? It's me," she announced herself.
"Come in." The door swung open on its own, and Ami spotted the dark general getting up from his chair and turning in her direction. Gathering up her courage, she stepped over the threshold. She was being silly for hesitating so much, the logical part of her mind chided her. If she could face monsters without weapons, then having a talk with Jadeite, where she risked nothing but embarrassment, should be easy. Her heart, which was beating rapidly in her chest, disagreed. Of course, now I'm alone with him in his bedroom. Banishing that though to the back of her mind with a supreme effort of will, Ami took a step forward. After all, she had a good reason to be here. She raised her gaze from the floor and looked at Jadeite's face, and he returned the look with a calculating expression in his eyes.
"Mercury," he offered as a greeting, inclining his head nearly imperceptibly. "What brings you here?"
"Um," Ami stammered, having no idea of how to begin. No, stop looking at the ground, you aren't doing anything wrong here! "It occurred to me that I had not properly apologised for my treatment of you the night before the duel yet," she said, "So, um, I'm very sorry to have kept you up like that all night! I didn't mean to!" With a deep blush, she bowed and wished she could clasp both hands together, but the sling prevented that. Where should she put the other hand in such a situation, anyway?
"No harm done," Jadeite granted magnanimously, revealing white teeth as his lips parted in a polite smile, "your distress at the situation was understandable."
Ami fidgeted under his gaze. "I wish I could promise you that it won't happen again," she said in a low voice, looking at the floor and feeling her cheeks heat up, "but I don't know what will happen if I have nightmares. Just- just wake me if you end up with me again, okay?" With her face burning, she whirled around and made for the door.
Jadeite's unexpected request made her freeze in mid-step, and she looked back over her shoulder at the curly-haired blond.
"I do have a question. It's something that has been confusing me for a while now, if you don't mind me asking."
Ami turned half around so she could see him better. "Yes?"
Jadeite took a step forward and raised a white-gloved hand, pointing at himself. "Why - me? If you needed comforting, I would have thought you would summon someone more motherly, like Cathy. Or at least someone less threatening, like the priest." He paused, not even noticing how Mercury's pupils shrunk in alarm at that question, and added "After all, I had the impression you were cross with me for some reason, the way you were avoiding me."
"What? N-no!" Ami found out that trying to hide one's face in one's palms when looking at the ground was quite difficult with only one free hand. Barely audible, she said "I'm just timid."
"Timid? But why? This explains nothing!"
Ami heard the blood thumping in her veins so loudly that it was nearly deafening. He was going to make her say it wasn't he? The urge to flee was becoming nearly irresistible. What would Usagi do in a situation like this? Not run away, Ami was certain of that. And she owed him an explanation, didn't she? The teenager opened her eyes and looked up, trembling slightly as she met Jadeite's gaze. "I think I may be in love with you," she breathed. There, now it was out in the open! With great anxiety and a glimmer of hope in her heart, she observed the dark general's face as she waited for his answer with bated breath.
While Jadeite had vaguely considered the possibility, he had not given it much credence. Oh, sure, he knew he was good-looking, but she was a sailor senshi! They had been mortal enemies not so long before. Cathy's mocking voice She likes you too much echoed in his memory, taunting him. The muscles around Jadeite's mouth twitched as if he wanted to say something, but decided otherwise and thought some more. He took a deep breath and said "No, I don't understand." His tone of voice was as perplexed as the expression in his eyes. "That doesn't make sense. You are acting all wrong!"
"Uh," now it was Ami's turn to blink in confusion "What would you have been expecting?" The urge to sink into the ground abated slightly when the dark general's answer roused her curiosity.
Her question forced Jadeite to pause. What would he have expected? Love in the Dark Kingdom was uncommon, and he had few examples to draw upon. There were Kunzite and Zoisite, who had a stable long-term relationship going, but kept it fairly private. Not that he had ever felt like investigating what exactly it was that the two did when they were alone. Not that he had ever believed that the entire situation was anything but Kunzite being attracted by the younger general, who shamelessly took advantage of this infatuation and milked it for all it was worth. This would have been the smart thing to do. Another, more personal example was Thetis. The youma had been pursuing him quite insistingly for a while, but he had rejected her irritating advances. Why in Metallia's name would he want to let her into his life and make himself vulnerable? With a hint of amusement, he noted that she had the same power set and hair colour than the girl standing in his room with a face as red as a tomato. Was there something about him that made him irresistible to blue-haired girls who controlled water? Oh, right, she was still waiting for an answer, looking at him with large, shiny eyes. Their red glow looked subdued right now, allowing their naturally blue colour to shimmer through. It was also an uncomfortable reminder that she still held the power here.
"More aggressiveness," he said, managing to pin down the most important aspect of Mercury's behaviour that had he felt had been missing. "If you were interested, why did you not act on it?"
"That would have been wrong," Ami exclaimed with conviction. Less vehemently, she elaborated "You are my employee. I didn't want to make you feel pressured, or jeopardize our working relationship. I didn't want to force you into something you wouldn't like." And I was too shy.
While Jadeite could appreciate the sentiment - he certainly wouldn't have wanted to become the object of Beryl's obsession - it also ran counter to his mode of thinking. "What else is power for, if not to take what you want?"
Ami shook her head sadly. "That's not how love works. It's something that can only be given, not taken."
"What a strange perspective," the dark general said, crossing his arms.
Ami felt that he was not getting it. "If you love someone, you want them to be happy, even if it comes at the cost of your own unhappiness."
"That's not how things were done in the Dark Kingdom," Jadeite said. Upon seeing Mercury's dejected look, he thought about her words. The very concept was ridiculous, typical girly nonsense, but... He remembered the battle on the Avatar Islands, the pain of sharp fangs tearing into his neck, and the desperate worry in Mercury's eyes as she saved him, fleeing the battle just to carry him to safety. Could this have been more than just the desire to preserve her most valuable resource? Could she have done this out of caring for him personally? The curly-haired blonde felt an unfamiliar emotion. The idea of having someone who would look out for you and whom you could trust was oddly compelling. His angular features softened. "But I think I might like your way better."
His answer was rewarded by a radiant smile blossoming on the smaller girl's face, and she took a step toward him before remembering what she was doing. "So. Where does that leave us?" she murmured.
Awkward silence ensued as Jadeite rapidly reassessed his situation. There was so much he had to consider, not at least what his own feelings on the matter were. Apparently, he waited too long.
"I see." Ami's head drooped. "I- I probably should have expected this. It's not as if someone like you would find a bookish little girl like me attractive. I shouldn't have brought this up."
While Jadeite might not have been the most well-educated person in matters of love, he was certainly smart enough to recognise a verbal minefield. He was also in a rather qualified position to judge Mercury's attractiveness, now that he thought about it. The Reaper outfit she had been wearing during the duel had left very, very little to the imagination. There had been nothing objectionable about her curves that he had been able to make out, despite the blood, grime, and bruises that had covered the girl's fit body. Give her a few years to mature, and...
Ami looked up, startled when a large, white-gloved hand enveloped her own.
"I didn't mean to imply anything," Jadeite said with a reassuring smile. "Your question just surprised me. I'm sure you are going to grow up into a beautiful woman."
"Oh." Ami blinked rapidly, her eyes shining wetly as she dared to meet his gaze again. "Um..."
"However, this comes as a surprise to me. Would you mind giving me some time to sort out my thoughts? Let's take things slowly for now."
"Yes. Of course." Ami stammered. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have dropped this on you so suddenly. I didn't really intend to say anything at all." Her blush returned in full force, or maybe it had never left. "I'll leave you, then. Good night!"
Ami all but sprinted from the room. She still couldn't quite believe that she had actually confessed her love to Jadeite. And he hasn't outright rejected me! Remembering the warmth of his hand on hers, she pressed the limb to her chest. Somehow, she was less worried about nightmares plaguing her during the night now.
"Hey Mercury, why are you in the kitchen, killing plants?" Jered leaned against the door frame and stared at the burnt clay pots taking up most of the table. All of them contained earth and plants that looked like a random assortment of common weeds to him. They stood in two separate groups, the larger of which contained green and healthy sprouts, while the other contained nothing but dessicated husks.
"I am experimenting," Ami replied as she took a pot from the healthy group and positioned it in front of her chair. "I don't know about you, but I am not looking forward to just eating chicken or fish every day. Besides, that's not healthy, so I'm now investigating a way to rapidly grow plants underground." She frowned when another of the sprouts shrivelled up as she poked it with a black-glowing finger, and made a note on the Mercury computer resting to her right.
Attracted by the voices, Snyder and Cathy appeared, forcing Jered to step out of the doorway."Ahem, not that I want to criticise your methodology, but if my education does not completely mislead me, you are using a necromantic withering spell on that plant. With very predictable results," the redhead pointed out.
"Yes, and you are giving them too much water, too," Jered said, indicating the layer of liquid above the earth from which the greens were protruding.
"I know that," Ami said, "the interesting thing about the withering spell is that it doesn't actually kill the plant."
"They look pretty dead to me," Cathy quipped with a second look at the grey, limp-leafed remains of Mercury's earlier experiments. In a suddenly worried tone of voice, she added "Necromancy is an - interesting - choice for a harvest-enhancing spell. You aren't trying to create undead crops or something, are you?"
To the blonde's discomfort, Ami's expression turned thoughtful, as if she was giving that idea some serious consideration. A moment later, her features relaxed and she shook her head. "What I meant is that the cause of death for the plant isn't magic, it's starvation. The spell speeds up the organism's metabolism and supercharges its cells, causing them to divide at a vastly accelerated rate, but the influx of nutrients from the environment remains the same." Upon seeing the confused looks her explanation had earned her, she shifted mental gears and put it into words that Usagi would have understood, too. "The spell makes the plant age rapidly, but it doesn't get enough food to fuel its growth, so it dies."
"Oh, I see. So now you are trying to figure out a way to provide it with what it needs?" Jered said, grasping the concept easily.
Ami nodded. "Yes, and trying to shorten the spell's duration so the harvest won't spoil near-instantaneously. Or maybe to slow the growth rate so that the magic can be manually dispelled."
Cathy straightened and leaned against the wall, crossing her arms. "Interesting. Do you have any work for us to do in the meanwhile?"
"Well, I could use another room for a farm when I have figured out how to make this work," the blue-haired girl said, "Jadeite is already out getting me new plants, so there's nothing I really need at the moment."
"You could teach us how to use the sapphire-making machine," Jered suggested in a hopeful tone of voice.
Ami looked up from her work. "That's a rather complicated process, and you wouldn't be able to check the proper temperature in the first place without-" she hesitated and swivelled her head toward Cathy, who raised an eyebrow at the sudden stare. "Could you press your right earring, please? The one you got from my transformation sequence?"
The blonde complied, and was startled to feel something slide in front of her eyes. Numbers, letters and diagrams that did not make much sense to her flickered across her blue-tinted field of vision.
"I can't say glasses suit you," the woman's wavy-haired boyfriend said with a smile that took the sting out of the words. Mercury's visor on the face of the long-haired blonde looked just so wrong.
The corners of Ami's mouth bent upwards. "It looks as if you do have a way to measure the temperature in the crucible. That's the largest hurdle out of the way. I can just melt the raw materials again if the experiment doesn't work out properly, and electricity is free," Ami said, staring into the air as she considered the idea. "Yes, I agree. Even if you fail, there is nothing lost, as the furnace would be idling anyway. Come with me, I'll show you how the controls work."
Half a day later and two sapphires richer, Ami presented her newest development to the other four inhabitants of the dungeon. The incubator resembled a free-standing, rectangular safe about as tall as the studious Keeper. Its interior drew curious looks from Ami's companions, as did the heavy cables and gurgling pipes connecting with its sides. A single potted plant stood in the bottom depression of the oven-like device, half-submerged in water, and directly underneath a large lens affixed below the array of light bulbs that hung from the incubator's ceiling.
"As you can see, this turned out to be quite a bit more complicated than I first expected," Ami said as she put her right hand on the open door of her invention and slammed it shut. At the push of a button, fans set into the sides of the device started up, and papers on the nearby table rustled in the wind. Something began sizzling within the device, and a thick cloud of hot steam billowed out from the fan's opening, causing the blue-haired girl to jump back and retreat several metres, until she stood within the group of onlookers.
"Is it supposed to do that?" Cathy asked. "It sounds like a boiling kettle!" By now, the room was as foggy as if Mercury had cast a Shabon Spray Freezing, though the water vapour was pleasantly warm for a change.
Ami nodded, then realised that the others probably couldn't see her in the murk, and said "Working as intended. I think that's long enough to see some results already." She hit the off-switch telekinetically, and the sound of the fans died down, giving way to the crackling noises of cooling metal. Slowly, the door swung open, and the device belched out a new cloud of vapour. "Don't worry, the plant should be fine. There is a fire-immunity spell on it."
Ami gestured, and the still hot pot appeared in front of her, where it remained floating in the air. "Well, what do you think?"
"It does indeed look bigger than before," Jadeite said, giving the green sprout, which had grown by nearly a thumb's length, a once over.
"That seems like an awful lot of spectacle for the result we are getting," Jered said, eyeing the plant suspiciously, "and it's not even fully-grown yet."
"Ah, yes," Ami answered, unperturbed by the criticism, "that would be because of the main problem. Providing the plant with enough water through pipes was simple, as was fanning in fresh air. Giving it enough light was the main problem. If the plant grows twice as fast as normal, it needs twice as much light. If it grows ten times faster, it needs so much light that its intensity would set it on fire, hence the fire immunity spell. The lens in there is for focusing the light of all of these lamps properly on the growing plant, and I also had to figure in rest cycles. Once I had that down, the only thing that remained to do was fiddling with the numbers."
"Ahem, I have a question," Snyder spoke up. "Why can't you just let the plants grow the proper way? If you can have enough light and heating underground to keep them alive, then you could grow them all year round. Why complicate things with necromancy?" The red-and-white robed acolyte seemed honestly puzzled.
"I predict that at least pest control will be much easier her way," Cathy grinned with a look at the steaming incubator.
"I can't afford the time to wait for regular crops when I have to feed an army," Ami explained, "but there is also the space issue. Fields take up a lot of room, and I can't just dig wherever I want, due to stability concerns. The entire area could just cave in!" Upon seeing Cathy's alarmed expression, she quickly added "don't worry, you are in no danger of that when you are mining out rooms. The dungeon heart won't let you dig out anything that would compromise the dungeon's integrity. The magic of your picks would simply fail."
"That's a relief. So what are you planning to do now that you can make plants grow faster?"
"I'm going to design a farming room, of course." Ami set down the plant next to her boots and summoned her computer. "Let's see. If each plant has a designated spot, then the watering can be handled automatically. The dungeon heart should have no problem synthesizing fertiliser - or should I use sewage? - and with enough electricity... hmm..." unseen fingers clattered over the keyboard as the teenager adjusted her plans. "Many plants need around seventy days to mature, so if I sped up their growth, by a factor of twenty, we should be able to have a harvest around bi-weekly." With her eyebrows forming two happy arcs, she looked at her companions, who seemed suitably impressed, except for Jered.
"I guess at that point, we are really going to start missing the convenience of having imps around," he muttered, putting his hands into his trouser pockets.
"Well, well, I do hope we will be able to delegate harvesting to other minions," Snyder said, mirroring the green-shirted man's expression. "However, I think that using this kind of room for simple farming is letting it go to waste."
Interested, Ami looked up to see what the acolyte had to suggest. "Go on?"
"You can control the climate within these chambers, can you not? You should grow valuable exotic fruits and spices in there, and trade for the more common grub. I would expect this to be a much more efficient use of your resources. At the very least, having delicious food around would raise morale."
"An entirely selfless suggestion," Cathy said with a wink at the acolyte, who had lost much of his portliness over the recent weeks.
"Transport would be a problem," Jadeite pointed out. "Even if we could find someone willing to trade with us, we would also need to find an untraceable way to move large quantities of cargo quickly. I maintain that farming for our own food is the better option."
Directing a shy smile at the dark general, Ami agreed. "Yes, self-sufficiency should be our primary goal. However, I don't see any problem with growing different crops in additional rooms. Now, does anyone know where we could acquire seeds?"
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