The Horned Reaper looked down at the prone form of the his potential get-out-of-jail-free ticket. A female, judging from the skirt and the oh-so-cutesy ribbons. His eyebrows narrowed at the sight. Urge to kill rising. The human was so short that he doubted she was even fully-grown. Most disappointing. Too physically weak to put up an entertaining fight, and too young to have absorbed much magical lore. Unless she wasn't human. She looked the part, but he had never seen one with blue hair before. Then again, most of the ones he had encountered were either wearing helmets or coated with various bodily fluids. Oh well. All he really needed was an escape route; future carnage and mayhem were merely a bonus.

Noting the length of the girl's skirt, or rather the lack thereof, the demon nodded approvingly. No self-respecting heroine would be caught dead in an outfit like that. The Reaper's clawed fingers tightened around his scythe grip as he yearned to drive it into the smooth, unblemished skin of her legs. No! Focus! Freedom first, fun later! Dressed like this, the intruder had to be an apprentice dark sorceress then, or maybe some lord's pampered plaything. Neither would object strongly to being handed power on a silver platter. Getting her to play along should be simple. Even better, she was already waking up and wouldn't test his patience unduly. The Reaper's perpetual grin widened in anticipation.

Ami Mizuno, currently Sailor Mercury, let out a soft groan as she woke. She was lying on her stomach, and, judging from the way her ribs, side, and face ached, had landed that way, possibly head-first. Feeling cold, rough stone under her left cheek, she raised her head off the ground. There was a stinging sensation and a slight resistance as coagulating blood stuck to the floor. Deep blue eyes opened and stared unseeing into the darkness. Ami could hear dripping noises echoing in the distance, and the cold air smelled of mould and a hint of sulphur. Where was she, and how did she get here?

Oh, right. Jadeite's latest scheme had involved more pocket dimensional weirdness, and she had been just about to follow Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars through the exit, while behind her space was just folding up and collapsing. The realisation that she had not made it in time hit like a physical blow, and she felt her heartbeat speed up. Was she in the Dark Kingdom? Dead? Being dead probably didn't hurt this much.

Groggily, her right hand went up to her earrings, prompting a visor to slide in place in front of her eyes. Grey tones replaced pitch blackness, and Sailor Mercury got a first glimpse of her surroundings. Still shaken, she noted that the floor was rather dusty. Further inspection was postponed by the discovery of two - were those hooves? - nearly as thick as her torso, located just barely out of arms reach. Involuntarily, her gaze wandered upward, taking in the wide greaves that flared out into pointed knee protectors, the red skinned legs like tree-trunks, the metal-studded loincloth, a barrel-shaped muscular chest, and finally came to rest on a grin that was nothing but finger-long fangs. The part of Ami's brain that wasn't gibbering in terror admitted that she might have been a bit hasty in ruling out the "dead" hypothesis. This horned monster sure did look like a Western illustration of the devil, though she couldn't imagine what she had done to end up in hell. These unproductive thoughts were roughly shoved aside by self-preservation instincts kicking in.

Eyes widening, a shout of "Youma!" escaped the blue-haired girl's lips, and she quickly rolled away from the looming monstrosity, jumping to her feet once out of reach of that grisly-looking scythe. Thoughts were racing through her brain even as she took a combat stance. Giant youma, I'm all alone, I don't know where I am. Options? Shabon Spray won't hurt it. Beat it up? It's twice as big as me, and all muscle! I wish I had Rei's powers! By now, fear was threatening to overcome the adrenaline burning in her veins. Flee?

The Reaper adjusted his opinion of the girl slightly upward when, confronted with the sight of him, she didn't freeze up, but instead scrambled out of reach and even looked as if she considered attacking him. How interesting.

"Shabon... "

Even better, she was starting some kind of spell now. He shifted his weight, bracing himself. This should be fun!


Bubbles? BUBBLES?! His right eyebrow started to twitch as his expectations came crashing down around him, and a deep growl escaped his throat. What kind of moron threw bubbles at a horned reaper? He had never been insulted like thi- wait, it was getting rather chilly, and this fog hadn't been there before. The murk was so thick he couldn't even see his own feet, and the brat had disappeared. The muffled sound of rapidly fading footsteps indicated that she was running away rather quickly. The Reaper sniffed the air. This blasted fog masked even the scent of her fear. How vexing. The dungeon was small though, so he could just stand here, talk, and try to coax her into coming back. That would be the reasonable thing to do.

Ami shivered when she heard the thundering clang of the youma's hooves stomping down the corridor. It was cackling madly as it followed her. She had hoped the only exit from the bleak main chamber would lead her to some place where she could hide, but instead she found a tiny cell filled with rotten straw. The prison's rusted bars were bent outwards, and some had even been broken and ejected into the corridor itself, as if something huge had violently burst out. She had a fairly good idea what.

Fingers flying rapidly over the keyboard of her hand-held Mercury computer, the senshi searched for a solution. She had scanned the walls and found them solid. No secret doors anywhere in sight, nor any trace of life. Oh, she had seen some dead cockroaches and rat skeletons. All neatly bisected. This youma was certifiably insane! Unimpeded by her own fog, she could already see the towering figure approaching. Her computer was steadfastly refusing to find any exploitable weaknesses. Her lips became a thin line as her face settled in a mask of determination. If she was to die here, she would not go down without a fight.

The Reaper snorted with irritation, this damnable fog was an annoyance. At least the brat was trapped in this dead end - what was that? Catching a hint of movement from the corner of his eye, he whirled around, or at least attempted to. Something cold and metallic struck the hollow of his right knee, and the leg he was twirling around on buckled. The ground shook as his armoured knees struck the ground. Behind him, a slight shape raised her broken prison bar again, this time in an overhead blow. You can't kill her yet, the red demon reminded himself.

Quick like a snake, his right hand shot out, catching his attacker by the throat. Sailor Mercury made a strangled noise as red, scaled fingers closed around her neck like a vice. The Reaper stood up, incidentally lifting the girl off the ground. Merciless yellow eyes stared into fear widened blue ones, which narrowed in anger. Then she brought the heavy metal bar straight down on his head. More startled than hurt, he let out a grunt and blinked. Seeing the expression of shock and growing despair on his victims face, he let out a long, roaring laugh. Small gloved fingers clawing at his hand snapped him out of it. The brat's face was turning a rather unhealthy shade of blue by now.

"Listen," the demon growled, bringing Ami's face up to his own. "I will drop you now, and you will stay and listen. If you run again, I'll chop your feet off!"

Seeing that the girl was in no shape to reply, he dropped her unceremoniously to the floor, and watched in amusement as she backed away, crawling until her back was to the wall, wheezing and gasping for air all the while.

Ami could see lights dance before her eyes, and massaged her neck with both hands, trying to loosen her choker that was now nearly embedded in her skin. So much for the ambush idea. If the youma wanted to talk while she eagerly sucked in air, that was all right. As long as it talked, it wasn't killing her. Maybe she should start paying attention.

" you can see, we are both trapped here. Fortunately for both of us, there is a way out now that you are here. One that you will find quite to your liking, I reckon." the Reaper looked down at the girl, looking for a reaction. Nothing, she was still coughing. Stupid, fragile humans.

Well, that explains why I'm still alive, Ami thought.

"Just claim the Dungeon Heart for yourself and become a Keeper!"

And unleash you on the world, the senshi added in her mind. Ack, neck hurts. Better keep him talking. "What is a 'Keeper'?" she croaked out, still rubbing her raw throat.

"A Keeper is one of the ruler of the underworld, commanding vast armies and magics beyond mortal ken, more powerful and wealthy than even kings! Even the mightiest of monsters would bow to your will. Perhaps even me, if you do well. Do you accept?"

This youma wants me to become a Dark General, Sailor Mercury thought incredulously. A mental image of herself in an uniform just like Jadeite's flashed through her mind. Ridiculous. Still, I had better not upset him. "Where is this ... dungeon heart ... you mentioned, and what would I have to do?" she craned her neck back, looking up at the Reaper for the first time since their fight.

Hook, line, sinker, the demon thought. "You landed on it, actually. With my help, the process is rather simple. All you need is to want the job and some blood, I will handle the rest."

Ami pulled herself to her feet, steadying herself against the clammy wall. This dungeon heart sounded like her best bet to get out of here. If only it didn't mean letting the scary monster out too. She needed more time. Cautiously, she asked "Please don't take this personally, but would you mind if I analysed this dungeon heart before I committed to anything? It sounds too good to be true, and..."

The Reaper chuckled, amused. He had not told her any lies, so what could it hurt? After waiting for decades, waiting a bit more did not mean much to him. "Paranoia? Useful in this business. Go right ahead." he waved a hand dismissively, getting another chuckle out of the way she nearly tripped over her own feet in her hurry to get away from him, looking back over her shoulder nervously from time to time.

Two hours later, he was rather bored. What did the girl hope to learn from staring at the round cover of the dungeon heart with those weird glasses of hers and tapping her fingers on a small rectangle?

Ami was rather intrigued by the readout of her scans. If it wasn't for the youma glaring in her direction, then attempting to analyse an artefact of this complexity would have been downright enjoyable. Thus, she had been working on a plan to get rid of it for the last hour. Or, to be more honest, trying to convince herself to go through with it. The device underneath the protective stone plate was of a fiendishly elaborate design, but she was certain that she could manage to manipulate it to her ends, given enough time - without making a deal with the devil over there. For now, she already knew how to access that reservoir of magical power slumbering within the inert heart. With it, she could boost her own attack enough to dispose of this youma. She hoped.

All she had to do was step on this symbol first, then walk over to that on the other side, concentrate, take position over the centre-most part of the dungeon heart... like this... Ami closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm down her nerves while sweat trickled down her forehead. The reaper was still standing in the same place, leaning against the wall with a bored expression on its face, but an eyebrow was rising at her sudden activity. The senshi exhaled. She'd only get one try at this. Now or never.

"Shabon Spray..." she felt a rush of power flow into her from below, and tried to ignore the tainted feel of it. She felt bloated with energy, close to exploding. Then, a dam she never knew was there burst under the pressure "... Freezing!"

Ice! Why did it have to be ice! He'd kill that treacherous little slut as soon as he got out of this ice block. Which, given ambient temperatures, could take a while. The Reaper would have roared in homicidal anger, had he been able to move. Alas, he was well and truly immobilised, and only his hate-filled eyes were able to dart around in their sockets. His attacker was having some trouble too it seemed, floating in a pillar of blue light and screaming herself hoarse. Served her right. He just hoped she hadn't killed herself and deprived him of the pleasure.

The dungeon heart, while not being sentient, reacted according to its programming when it felt itself being accessed. User is intending to use my power to destroy her enemies? Check. User's blood? On the cover, coagulated but present. Check. Strong source of magical power? Oh hell yes! Check.

The Reaper was fairly certain that a flower bud growing out of the potential Keeper's forehead was not part of the usual activation sequence. How embarrassing. He would have frowned had his eyebrows not been frozen in place. And now the plant blossomed out, only to reveal a brightly glowing blue crystal inside. As if pulled by a great force, it abruptly shot downward, breaking right through the dungeon heart's cover, and sending chips of stone flying. Moments later, the whole stone disc fractured and exploded upward, flinging the girl away like a rag doll. A first deep, rumbling heartbeat echoed through the halls, oh so familiar to the trapped demon. Unable to move, he watched as the dungeon heart's superstructure started to form and torches magically ignited themselves, bringing light back to the dungeon for the first time in centuries.

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Prelude: Chapter 0: Name That Keeper Chapter 2: Just how does any of this work?




Attached comments:

  • [Regarding Horned Reapers]
    Personally, I prefer the way the Horned Reapers were handled in DK1, but I don't plan to define whether he's the DK1 or DK2 version unless it becomes important to the plot. For now, I'm leaning toward Horny becoming something of a long-term complication for Ami.
    In general, I intend to just use whatever is fun from both games, if it doesn't conflict with a previous part of the story. What we see in the games is extremely abstracted for gameplay reasons anyway IMO, so I see no need to slavishly adhere to the mechanics of either of them.
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