A shudder went through Ami's palanquin when the goblins realised that they were between a furious horned reaper and his target. The beast barrelled down on the group of fuku-clad greenskins, and their ranks broke as they scattered like frightened chickens, each one predictably attempting to save its own hide first. All discipline was dropped by the wayside, along with the Keeper's litter.

Ami felt a moment of weightlessness as the cushioned bottom of the re-purposed chair fell away underneath her. Her seat had been facing away from the portal that the Reaper had stepped through, and she had been in the process of twisting her torso awkwardly to face him when the goblins let her fall. At least the pile of pillows underneath her softened the impact when she struck the ground. The palanquin toppled, dumping her on the warm rock of the floor, where she rolled to a stop on her belly. This gave her a good view of the red blur that was the reaper, a gleaming arc denoting the path of the scythe blade held over his right shoulder as he stormed toward her.

Despite the protest of her aching muscles, she managed to pull herself to one knee, and unleashed her trademark attack, the Shabon Spray Freezing. Rock cracked under the demon's armoured hooves as he launched himself into the air with a mighty bound, clearing the compact pillar of glowing bubbles shooting in his direction, and ascending higher than he was tall. At the apex of his leap, he brought down his scythe, firing a large flaming sphere at the kneeling girl. Ami's eyes went wide as she tracked the monster's progress with her head tilted backward. She let out a gasp as the fireball approached, casting her pale features in bright relief. With a surge of adrenaline, she threw herself to the side, drawing upon reserves she didn't know she had. She felt a tremor go through the ground while she rolled away from the the attack's point of impact. It exploded into an expanding ring of fire that washed outward over everyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. The wall of fire blistered her exposed skin as it washed over her prone body, and brought tears of pain to her eyes. All around, she could hear the shrieks of the goblins become louder when the skirts and ribbons of their outfit caught on fire.

A second impact, a mere second later than the first, alerted the blue haired girl to the fact that the Reaper had landed amidst the destruction he had unleashed. The blazing palanquin crunched under his hooves, spitting burning feathers and black smoke into the air that swirled around the muscular form of the demon like a cloak. The smell of sulphur and worse stung in Ami's nostrils while she once again struggled to pull herself of the floor, whose uneven surface pressed painfully into her bare skin. Only her shins and shoulders were free of scratches by now, owing to the effectiveness of the armour protecting them.

Within the conflagration, the horned demon swung his scythe horizontally, holding it near the end of its heft. He spun around like a top, and the deadly weapon described a graceful horizontal circle as it followed the movement. Under Ami's horror-stricken gaze, it cut through flesh and bone, removed the legs of one goblin who had been too slow, bisected a second at the waist in a shower of blood and entrails, and beheaded a third before continuing on towards NO! CATHY!

Sparks flew as metal rang on metal. The blonde grit her teeth and held with both hands onto the heft of the spear interposed between her body and the deadly blade. Despite the desperate parry, the Reaper's scythe continued on its path, lifting the slender swordswoman bodily into the air and hurling her away. She crashed into one of the trolls who was still standing undecided near the battlefield.

"Shabon Spra- ARGH!"

Ami stared in disbelief at the black metal rod protruding from her belly. The pain spreading like a wildfire through her abdomen was nearly unbearable, and a thin trickle of red ran down her chin as she bent over and collapsed to her knees. Her hands unconsciously clenched around the heft of the weapon that had impaled her. Her gaze wandered forward, seeking out the form of the Reaper, whose right foot was still raised from kicking the dead goblin's spear in her direction. Through the large spots in her fading vision, she could see his eyes flare yellow with glee as he strode towards her, lifting his scythe to finish the job. The monster seemed to loom larger and more terrible with every step, and was savouring every moment of this. No! She couldn't die! It couldn't end like this!

The scythe whistled toward Ami's neck as time seemed to slow down for the girl. She could see every notch of the blade as it shimmered in the firelight, every droplet of blood driven across the metal surface as it parted the air, only to drop off the edge and form a thin, half-moon shaped trail of miniature red comets. Across the bonfire that had once been a palanquin and now also encompassed the bodies of her poor fallen minions, Ami could see the hunch-backed trolls move in on Cathy and Jered, now that the victor was clear. The brown-haired man had a dagger in each hand and was standing protectively in front of the blonde, who looked staggered after being slammed into a troll. I'm sorry, Cathy. The dying girl's eyes flared up like glowing embers.

The Reaper's scythe continued on its path, unimpeded. Too unimpeded. Ami's form dissolved into streamers of black lightning that flowed around the blade. The spear protruding through her body fell and clattered to the ground, and for a moment, the uncoiling darkness looked eerily like an angry red-eyed face before disappearing. The demon roared in rage at being denied his revenge, and kept attacking the spot where his attending his victim had just been in a mindless frenzy, sending a spray of rock chips flying in all directions with each blow.

"Cathy? Cathy, can you hear me?"

What's going on? Oh Light I can't move! Help! What's happening to me? Oh no, the trolls are coming! Move body, dammit! Work!" Ami could hear the blonde's thoughts as if from far away, picking up in tempo as they became more and more panicked.

"Cathy! Listen to me!"

My body is moving on its own, oh no, no, no. I should never have enlisted with a Keeper. I should have known this would happe-


"M-Mercury? Is that you? Are you doing this?" the swordswoman's thought-voice sounded both frightened and furious, now that she had become aware of the other presence in her head.

Please don't be afraid. I just need to borrow your body for a moment, as I'm too injured to fight.

"Mercury Power, Make up!"

Jered felt his hackles rise. The cry was in Cathy's voice, but the words and pronunciation were wrong. Blue light enveloped him momentarily as his clothing was replaced with a white leotard and short miniskirt. Worse than the humiliation was the fact that the transformation had robbed him of his weapons. With rising dread, he looked over his shoulder, only to have his worst suspicions confirmed. While the blonde's senshi uniform had not changed, it looked neater and cleaner, and the woman herself looked as if she had just spent hours applying make-up and combing her hair. In other circumstances, he would have felt attracted by the sight of her posing in the revealing costume, a few blue sparkles still dancing around her. However, the fact that her beautiful blue eyes were glowing with red light made him have an awful feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Mercury! How could you? Leave her alone! GET OUT!" Immediately, he found himself unceremoniously yanked up and dropped down back in the dungeon near the portal. The tunnel's cold, damp air felt like an icy shower after the sweltering heat of the Underworld City. With loud grunts and squeaks of surprise, the surviving goblins landed next to him, forming a disorderly pile of tangled green limbs on the ground. The only one missing was his precious Cathy, he registered with a feeling of helplessness.

"Shabon Spray!"

The Reaper looked up when a bank of fog filled the plaza, lowering the temperature and dampening the light of the fires. The voice who had shouted the incantation was not that of the Keeper, but it was one of her custom spells, so she must be possessing the blonde. The corners of his mouth twitched upwards in anticipation of another chance at killing Mercury, and with nary a thought, he launched a fireball in the direction the shout had come from. A troll's howl of pain informed him that, while he had missed his target, the attack hadn't been entirely wasted. Orange light penetrated through the murk, shifting more to the left as the burning creature ran around in a blind panic. Firing another sphere of flame and running directly in its wake, he sought to reach the last known location of the blonde. The precaution was proven to be entirely necessary when the ball of fire preceding the demon exploded into steam with a hiss, struck by a gust of freezing magic.

"Thanks, Cathy!"

The blonde suddenly felt Mercury's mental presence leave her, and a moment later was face to face with Jered, who smiled in relief when she appeared out of thin air. She felt energised - the effect of whatever Mercury had been doing obviously hadn't left her yet. Speaking of which, everyone in the room flashed blue when the Keeper undoubtedly used her strange transformation magic again.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," the Reaper snorted, furrows between his huge eyebrows deepening as he looked across the bonfire at his opponent. Around the crackling fire, updrafts caused by the ascending hot hair made the fog spiral toward the faraway cavern ceiling, providing an oasis of relative clarity in the greyish soup. This made it possible for the demon to have a good look at his latest challenger, who stood in a combat stance, hands balled into fists and raised protectively. The fukued imp's red eyes were glowing like fist-sized rubies.

"Shabon Spray Freezing," the little creature squeaked in reply, then scrambled as the demon side-stepped the fast-moving frost attack and lunged towards his attacker. As his scythe cleaved through the space the thing had occupied just a moment before, the imp simply disappeared, only to drop down a short distance away, along with two companions. The trio blinked dumbly at him (not that they ever looked intelligent) before scattering, each bug-eyed creature running into another direction to hide in the fog.

"Just another silly trick, Mercury. I'll still get you in the end. Have you considered just how fragile these creatures are?" the Reaper started zigzagging as he fired off fireballs at random, aimed at the ground rather than any elusive target. He heard a squeaked transformation phrase from somewhere in the drifting fog clouds, and launched more fire in that direction before he had to evade another blast blast of frigid bubbles. The area was becoming brighter and brighter with every fireball he unleashed. Each one increased the area of the floor that was burning, decreasing the safe space upon which his opponent could tread. As a nice side benefit, the rising heat made the wind pick up, slowly but surely getting rid of the damnable murk. And if some of the troll thugs got caught in the burning field, all the better.

The Reaper's mood improved when he heard the shrill squeal of an imp that had touched the flames and was dissolving into green motes. Through the fading fog, he could now see the little forms of the creatures scuttling around like rats between the walls of fire, keeping to the fewer and fewer cool spots. Unfortunately, it seemed that Mercury had gotten wise to his tactics, and she was doing her best to freeze the floor and to put out the flames. Good for him that this was easy to interrupt, either by launching himself at the imp in question, or by simply sending more fire its way. The one thing that was immensely irritating was the fact that he could barely predict which of the pesky minions was going to launch a blast next, as the Keeper was hopping bodies faster than he could keep up with. Black lightning arced between the five imps surrounding him in a wide circle as her presence darted from one to the next. And always, always she kept shifting them further away from him whenever he got close. Still, she was slowly running out of room, and then he would have her cornered. His eventual victory was inevitable. And even if she chose to run, she was so injured that he could risk following her into her dungeon. Life was great.

"Shabon Spray Freezing!"

It was really convenient how she had to shout out the attack phrase, alerting him to the incoming danger. Strange echo this time, though, thought the Reaper. He launched a fireball into the path of the magical ray of frost, grinning as both projectiles collided and neutralised each other.

Ami saw stars dance in front of her eyes. What in her planet's name was that? Her attack shouldn't drain her like that! Behind the hulking form of her enemy, she saw something speed forward through the flames. The already large eyes of her imp-body widened to immense size as she traced the blast's trajectory back to the blonde figure standing in front of the portal, both palms still facing toward the Reaper's back. Her? How?

Feeling some incoming danger, the demon spun around, catching the second Shabon Spray Freezing on his scythe arm instead of his back. Immediately, the limb and weapon disappeared under a thick, heavy layer of ice, immobilising half of his body. From the corner of his eye, he saw the Cathy girl approach, jumping over the patches of fire - since when could she leap like that? She ducked out of his line of sight, behind one of the firewalls, then re-appeared, holding a blood-covered metal spear. How? Was the Keeper possessing her again? No, the imp still had blazing eyes and - curses! A fresh wave of frost struck his feet. It was surprisingly weak, as these attacks went, but still enough to glue his hooves to the floor, putting him into a rather precarious situation. Furiously, he hammered at the ice coating his scythe arm with his free hand, spreading deep cracks with each ringing blow.

His efforts were interrupted when the blonde arrived, jabbing her weapon at his unprotected back. He had to nearly dislocate his shoulder in order to slap the incoming strike aside, and the weapon, fashioned from one of his own scythes, still managed to slice a deep furrow into his biceps. Enraged, the fingers of his free hand closed around the heft of the weapon and held on to it, despite Cathy's struggles. He jerked the weapon up, throwing her off her feet and whipping her body upward. She let go and flew in a graceful arc, but had to rapidly fire a Shabon Spray Freezing at her landing point to avoid being burned. Once again, Ami felt as if something was sucking the strength out of her.

The demon, hurt and angry, was still sufficiently aware of the situation to know when the tide had turned against him. One ice-wielding body-hopping harlot? Manageable. Two? No. The looted scythe was sized for a weak mortal body and mangled beyond recognition, but still sufficient to channel a fireball through. With a bellow of rage, he unleashed his flame directly at his feet, surrounding himself with a curtain of scalding steam and forcing the blonde to retreat further. Free, he hurled the weapon like a javelin to skewer the annoying complication, sure that she was less replaceable than a random imp. The human had the gall to catch the weapon as she ducked out of its flight path and to smirk at him! He'd have to do something suitably horrible to her, but later. The Reaper broke into a run, leaning low as he moved at his top speed, diving into the obscuring curtain of steam that his bid for freedom had unleashed.

"He's fleeing! Where did he go?"

"That way! He's running toward the lava river!" an imp was not meant to wear a visor over its bulbous eyes, and what the magic had come up with to accommodate its strange anatomy made it look as if it was wearing a transparent blue helmet.

"Got it! Shabon Spray Freezing! What the hell?" the ersatz-Sailor Mercury shouted as the demon evaded her attack by launching himself off the cliff, spreading his arms as he fell toward the stream of liquefied stone below. "Suicide?"

The demon struck the lava with a wet plop, sending a small wave through the viscous liquid. Not bothered by the heat, he raised his fist and shook it at the miniskirted blonde watching from the cliffs above, before sinking under the bubbling surface. A red-eyed imp joined Cathy on the cliff, a second brightly-lit contour before the black background of the ceiling. "Dang," Ami squeaked, "we aren't going to be able to catch him in there."

"Cheer up, we just kicked a horned reaper's arse! That has to count for something!" Cathy stepped away from the gorge, no longer able to bear the searing wind howling out of its magma-filled depths. Sobering, she added. "Tough don't. Ever. Take over my body again without asking!"

"Sorry! I was dying and not really thinking straight at the time!" the imp gave an apologetic little bow, which looked rather comical.

"Oh, I saw that," Cathy replied, "thought you were done for. Will you ever be able to take your proper shape again?"

Ami considered this for a while, then nodded. "It's just a wound, deep but not complicated. Without that spear through it, I should be able to heal it if I just prepare the spell beforehand. Let me give it a try."

A sphere of darkness shot out of the imp's forehead, hovering for an eye-blink before it grew into the shape of Ami's body. Aside from black and red, colour was the last thing to reappear. The girl, still dressed in the Reaper costume, had appeared in a crouching position, one palm pressed to her stomach, the other to the hole in her back. The pale green light of applied necromancy played over her sweaty and blood-encrusted skin before she slowly rose to a stand. Her blue strands hung down dishevelled and covered her soot-covered face, but her eyes blazed as bright as the lava below.

The few remaining members of the band of thugs who had stuck around took one look at the half-naked girl and her tall but slender companion, armed only with a spear. Both of them, and this was the important part, had just driven off a fucking horned reaper. The trolls decided to find some less dangerous prey. Like an ancient vampire or a dragon, maybe.

Previous chapter: Next chapter:
Chapter 22: Into the Portal Chapter 24: City Expedition, Second Attempt



Attached comments:

  • The previously worthless Reaper who had no skills or abilities worth anything is dodging Mercury's attacks with ease.. within the fog ?
    He has done so before, when Ami was teleporting around madly in her own dungeon and throwing one blast after the other at him. He has also cleaved through hordes of spiders with ease, took down a giant one, and threw fireballs at the fleeing ones. The only opponents who ever managed to gave him trouble were Keepers (Ami's ice, Arachne's lightning bolt barrage) or the Lord of the Land.

    Ami fought poorly and stupidly as well, no plans of attack..not even after near constant failure and ever increasing losing tide.
    Well, let's look at Ami's abilities realistically. She has one attack that's worth anything, Shabon Spray Freezing. That's pretty much it. What do you want her to do, try to punch the Reaper in the face?
    Oh, and being able to fight a horned reaper with nothing but imps, possession, and her senshi powers while near-dead and with no forewarning is clearly fighting poorly and stupidly.

    This thread also marks yet ANOTHER super powered person that knows where Ami's heart is, most of her defenses and attacks.. while she has nothing and not even close to having a useful minion.
    Sucks to be her, doesn't it? ;)