Ami stared at the plate of food resting on the wooden table in front of her longingly. The mouth-watering aromas rising from it mingled with the alcohol and tobacco smell of the tavern air, and her stomach growled a complaint. So close and yet so far. However, she didn't dare pick up her knife and fork, as her angry, bear-like accuser was towering over her and watching her every move might interpret that as her going for a weapon. Life just wasn't fair. Of all the things to get suspicious about, he had fixated on her hair colour, which was the one thing that had nothing to do with any of the secrets she was trying to hide.

The blue-eyed girl leaned back in her chair as far as it allowed, and looked past the man's still extended pointing finger and straight into his eyes. "I was born with that hair colour," she informed him, her voice calm. Sure, he was much taller than her, had arms that bulged with muscles, and would normally have had the intimidating presence to make her cringe away in fright even in her transformed state: However, she had spent the last two days in the presence of the Horned Reaper. Compared to that murderous thing, an angry strongman just didn't measure up.

"A likely story, " the man barked, sending droplets of spittle flying over his shaggy beard.

"I know a simple way to check if that hair colour is natural," a weasely-looking young man with brown hair quipped from the back of the room, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. Bawdy laughter approved of his statement. A tall blonde woman sitting next to him, who was wearing a metal breast plate even at the breakfast table, smacked his shoulder with a fist, feminine outrage on her face.

"Well, it's true," Ami stated, the faint rosy colour rising to her cheek the only hint that she had overheard the strange man's suggestion. She hoped nobody would actually insist on taking it seriously!

Booted footsteps sounded on the wooden stairs leading down from the inn's upper floor, and a red-headed young man, barely taller than Ami, attempted to defuse the situation. "Now, now, now, there's no need for everyone to get all worked up over this." He was wearing a long white robe similar to a monk's habit. A broad, scarlet stole was wrapped around his neck, covering most of his shoulders and upper body, with both ends reaching nearly to the back of his knees.

"Snyder," the black-bearded man towering over Ami replied, not taking his gaze of the girl's blue hair. "You're just an acolyte, not even a fully trained priest!"

"But who better to judge this young woman's spiritual integrity than a man of the Faith, like me?" the newcomer retorted in an unctuous tone of voice, undeterred.

Ami craned her neck to get a better look at the youth who had stepped up to her seat from behind. He looked rather harmless. Soft, chubby features, red hair in a bowl cut, confident smile on his face. He was holding some strip of paper in one hand.

"Tch, Boris. Shame on you for even thinking such a cute young lady could be a dabbler in the dark arts. See, I will simply do this," he said, putting the paper on Ami's head with a flourish before she could react. She immediately felt a strange tingling sensation. Still looking at the hulking brute of a man, the acolyte smirked smugly "See, the ward did nothing. False alarm."

Boris, for his part, nearly tripped over his feet in his haste to back-pedal out of reach. Gasps escaped the throats of the guests of the inn, and chair legs scratched over the floor as the more martially inclined of the breakfast crowd jumped to their feet and unsheathed weapons. Aghast, the barmaid dropped her tray with a scream.

Suddenly the focal point of a wide semi-circle formed by various sharp and pointy implements all pointing directly at her, Ami turned to face the holy-man-in-training, her eyebrows furrowed in an expression of irritated, disbelieving surprise. Her question was more a shaky sqeak "What did you do"?

"Oh my." Confronted with the girls eyes, whose irises glowed red like hot embers, Snyder gulped and took a step back. And a second one, just to be on the safe side. Sweating, he raised his hands, palms outwards in a placating gesture. "All right, all right. Stay calm everyone. While there might have been a slight misjudgement on my part, there's no reason to panic. She can't cast any dark magic, as the ward is syphoning off and dissipating all her evil energy. The spillover is what's causing the glow."

Ami still had no idea what had everyone so terrified of her, except that it had something to do with what the robed young man had done. Hearing his explanation, she stealthily tried to summon a coin from her treasury to her hand. The tingling sensation on the back of her head intensified, but the coin arrived underneath her fingers resting on the table, even if it felt colder than usual. Relieved that she still had an easy way to escape, she sent it back.

"So you see, while she appears to indeed be some kind of witch, the situation is under control. As long as the holy ward is on her, we are perfectly safe from her magic! I made that one myself," the acolyte bragged.

With a flash of orange light, the paper strip covered in holy symbols burst into flames and crumbled into ash. The assembled heroes collectively took a step back, and Ami smelled burnt hair.

"It really shows," the tall blonde woman in the back of the crowd muttered in disgust.

"I... shall have to meditate on this," Snyder stammered, before turning tail and dashing for the exit, priestly robes waving behind him.

Eyes back to blue, Ami stared the assembled inn patrons, motionless. They stared back. It was quiet enough in the building to hear a needle drop. Suddenly, the door swung open with a bang, and two panting, portly town guards stepped in, tapping their spears on the ground in an unnecessary attempt to draw attention. "Freeze! You are under arrest, witch!" the lead one shouted imperiously. The effect was slightly ruined by the door rebounding off the wall and hitting him in the shoulder, making the ill-fitting armour on his shield arm rattle.

In a very Usagi-like moment, Ami met their eyes, looked down at her plate, and raised her gaze again. Giving a hopeful smile, she asked "Would you mind terribly if I finished my meal first?"

Previous chapter: Next chapter:
Chapter 9: A Youma's Report Chapter 11: Travelling Companions



Annoted comments:

  • Uh, the manga... I don't really remember much about it. What I remember is mostly the detail about Pluto having no idea what happens in the world (because it conflicts so much with her all-knowing fanfic version). The other thing is that the manga annoyed me. It felt like a tedious repetition of the same pattern: the senshi are taken out one by one like mooks, and it's up to glorious Sailor Moon to save the day. Thus, it's highly unlikely that I'll introduce any manga-only stuff.
    As for the golem idea [of ice golems in Mercury's bared likeliness]: I'm not opposed to new ways to embarass Ami, but I'll have to think of a way in which it makes sense in context.
  • Ami certainly can manage her dungeon remotely, though she obviously can't do things that would require her physical presence, like scanning something to figure out how it works.
    The games never really went into detail about what dungeon keepers are. It's likely that they are living creatures of some kind, as the AI taunts include decorating their dungeons with your entrails. In DK2, the menu screen seems to be your war room, within the dungeon itself. It has a map and flags and some other things. There's also some evidence that Keepers can leave their dungeons. In DK1, you are looking at the world map from some kind of watchtower or siege tower. For now, I'm working under the assumption that dungeon keepers can do whatever they please, but that most are pretty paranoid and prefer to stay within the safety of their dungeons, where they are well protected, much more powerful, and their every need is taken care of.
    As for variant dungeon hearts, I think the universe can support that. There are clearly some differences between the versions used in DK1 and DK2. The former is much more magically potent, while the latter is more user friendly. Even the heroes use dungeon hearts at some points, though theirs don't seem to have any powers beyond maintaining impenetrable walls, powering traps, and possibly sustaining hero gates.
    I'm also thinking about the effects of dungeon heart destruction on the Keeper again. I think the mentor's words are "banished forever from this land", or something to that effect. I imagine this could be quite fatal if there's nowhere to be banished to, such as an alternate dungeon heart. What happens if the keeper isn't around anyway is anyone's guess.
  • I forgot: I think a mobile dungeon heart would lose all territory it claimed once it was moved and lost contact with the ground. No reason, just a feeling that this is how it should work.