Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Plank Sinatra
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Plank Sinatra when i die rap dies, destiny bond

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Nicole laughed along at the betrayed look on their own beloved bespectacled girl, even as her blonde counterpart seemed to further tug on what remained of Penny's social graces. Having already weathered what passed for Astrelle's good cheer, Nicole found it hard to be bothered by the girl's snide attitude, but she also wasn't the one directly under attack. If Penny could go without using that cast of hers as a club and beating down on Amanda's head, then Nicole could go without getting her in a full nelson and helping her out.

Her head craned upward at the sound of the dinner chime, and she felt a little rush of excitement go throughout her body - not a rush, actually, more of a breeze. Yeah, a breeze, fluttering out from her core and into her extremities. She found it hard to even concentrate on whatever remained of her food from here.

"What else?" she asked rhetorically. "It's just about showtime. Soon we won't have to argue about whether it's all it's cracked up to be or not. We each can just decide for ourselves." If she could have winked at Amanda and Astrelle at the same time, she would have. I guess that would just be a normal blink, though. Not cool looking. So she didn't even try.

Speaking of the girl in question, she turned to the aloof half of the table - the one-woman bridge between them, Penny, and Dana in their little burgeoning clique. She smiled at them both playfully.

"I'm counting on you two not to upstage me, okay?" she asked, with a mock note of pleading and a twinkle in her eyes. "I know I'm just a material girl, material world and all, but if I'm not the chicest girl on the team I don't really have much else going on. So do your best to be average for once, vi prego, belle?"
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Dana couldn’t help but grin when Nicole continued to play up Penny’s awesomeness. However, her grin soon dissolved into a frown as the bespectacled blonde (who’s name was apparently Amanda) made another snide remark at Penny’s expense. Dana glared daggers at the girl, and was about to tell her exactly what she thought of condescending jerks, but before she could say anything, Amanda’s roommate spoke up and hastily defused the situation. Priya, the roommate in question, went on to apologize for Amanda’s rudeness, while Cara helped her get the conversation onto a more positive track. Dana’s smile returned at this display of kindness and camaraderie, and even Amanda’s final muttered retort did nothing to diminish her joy at the sight of so many people being excited about the same thing she was- finally becoming an Ars Magi and transforming for the first time.

Before their conversation could proceed much farther, a chime sounded, alerting them to their mealtime’s imminent end. Penny chose to use her last few minutes in the cafeteria to chat with Cara, so Dana decided to try and get to know Amanda’s far more personable roommate a little better.

“So, Priya, what do ya think your gladius’ll be?!” Dana asked eagerly. “Melee, ranged, or a mix of both?! Ya know,” she continued with an excited gleam in her eyes, “I’ve even heard rumors that some Ars Magi use staves as weapons, to help ‘em channel their magic better! Don’t know if it’s true or not, but wouldn’t that be pretty cool if it was?!”
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Inedible
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“Me?” Priya asks, considering Dana’s question carefully. She taps her chin, smiling brightly after she’s given it some thought. “A sword!” She pauses, adding, “I guess that’s kind of boring, right? But I want to be a dashing swordswoman.” She waves her fork around in motions that are probably supposed to be swash-buckling.

“Mmm.” Says Cara, “I’m not gonna guess, we’ll just find out tomorrow.” She nods to Penny. “I guess we just wait, for now.”

Quiet conversation continues around the tables for the next several minutes, mostly speculation on transformations, weapons, and outfits. Some are more enthusiastic than others, but the mood overalls seems positive—with some small exceptions.

When dinner is finished there’s not much left to do but return to the dorms, most of the on-campus facilities by now closed and no student yet allowed outside into the city. This time at least the girls from the Laurus have more time to sleep before the morning bells wake the candidates once again at some ungodly hour of the morning.

Today is the day.

Each girl in turn finds themselves escorted deep into the bowels of Nova Lux, past secure doors and winding passages, deep beneath the earth into the forge where Ars Magi are made. They find themselves in a circular room, an observation area outside of a small surgical chamber. The walls gleam sterile white and the lighting is bright and harsh, reminiscent of the hospital that they visited earlier.
Several final checks are done, and the last thing each remembers is a small cluster of white-coated doctors gathered around them, and the gleam of metal instruments before they sink into darkness.



“Three.”




The next couple days are spent in recovery. It’s a strange sensation at first, to have this foreign object inside of the body. Inset in the navel, each gem is a smooth and gleaming invader that feels notably unnatural for the first 24 hours.

This is before mentioning the uncomfortable soreness, the periodic dizziness, and the fits of nausea that come as the body adjusts to whatever magic is now coursing inside of it. Each girl was warned of these side effects and given even worse news to go with it: They can’t even transform yet. The Armagus requires a specific trigger, and is nothing more than an uncomfortable lump until their bodies have adjusted to it.



“Two.”




“This will be your first exercise as a Nova Lux cadet.”

The nausea is starting to pass on this, the third day. Candidates have begun to return to something resembling normal, just in time for the mission briefing in the assembly hall. A holographic map of the city is on display at the front of the room, slowly rotating under the touch of a uniform-clad woman at the front of the auditorium.

“The exercise will take place in the Palmyra Military Exercise Zone, or M.E.Z. There, under controlled conditions, your Armagus will be activated.” A pregnant pause, and the officer continues: “This activation will require the presence of a Void.”

Quiet whispers ripple through the crowd of assembled young women.

“We will be lowering the diffusion of Nox in the exercise area to a level sufficient for the manifestation of low-class Voids. Your Armagus, an anti-Void weapon, will respond accordingly. The exercise will be supervised by military personnel to mitigate the danger to yourselves, but I won’t lie to you: Any encounter with a Void has the potential for disaster.

This is your first real trial as an Ars Magi, prepare yourselves accordingly. Ignis aurum probat.”





𝙿𝚊𝚕𝚖𝚢𝚛𝚊 𝙼𝚒𝚕𝚒𝚝𝚊𝚛𝚢 𝙴𝚡𝚎𝚛𝚌𝚒𝚜𝚎 𝚉𝚘𝚗𝚎
𝙰𝚋𝚊𝚗𝚍𝚘𝚗𝚎𝚍 𝙳𝚒𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚒𝚌𝚝

𝙰𝚙𝚛𝚒𝚕 𝟷𝟻𝚝𝚑, 𝟷𝟷𝟽 𝙰𝚅
𝟿:𝟶𝟶 𝙰𝙼
Dana Noel, Penny Grenoble, Nicole Cognoscenti, Diana Khay Vanna, Astrelle Lennox


“One.”


The voice is small and static-laced, a quiet buzz from the earpiece you’ve been equipped with.

“Now lowering diffusion level. Nox levels rising.”

You stand in the middle of an abandoned street, rows of empty buildings hemming in on all sides. This is Military Exercise Zone, an older part of the city abandoned and later reclaimed specifically for Imperium purposes. It’s a ghost town, not a single soul dwelling within. The only sign of movement are leaves blowing in the chilly afternoon air, dried and brown foliage that rustles quietly down along the narrow streets.

The candidates have been broken into groups of five, with the Laurus crew finding themselves together once again. Your companions wait in an observation tower some ways behind the exercise area, observing you the same way you did them during their respective turns.
But now, it’s just you.

“Nox levels still rising.”

Something is wrong. It’s like static in your brain, gentle at first, growing louder as time goes by. Things begin to feel fuzzy and indistinct.

“Manifestation of Voids detected.”

They look similar to the thing that attacked the Laurus. Humanoid, impossibly thin, inky black, geometric patterns etched along the flesh. Black clouds of Nox roll off their bodies as they take shape, three in total, seeming to blur and twist into existence out of the air itself. Air that is becoming steadily thicker as small wisps of Nox begin to form.

They advance.

The static is worse now, the world around hazy and indistinct. Hard to focus.

And then you feel it. A single point of clarity, something bright and powerful just barely within the grasp of your consciousness. All you have to do is reach your mind out and take it.

All you have to do is change.



Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by shadowsaint007
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shadowsaint007 ♪Let's do the time warp agaaaaaiiiinnn....♪

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“Me?” Priya asks, considering Dana’s question carefully. She taps her chin, smiling brightly after she’s given it some thought. “A sword!” She pauses, adding, “I guess that’s kind of boring, right? But I want to be a dashing swordswoman.” She waves her fork around in motions that are probably supposed to be swash-buckling.

If Priya thought swords were boring, it's only because everyone hyped the hell out of them, Penny thinks. Every fantasy story, pirate movie, swashbuckler novel, and God knows what else has the hero or heroine use swords - well, almost all of them. It didn't make the sword bad, just maybe overused. Hell, there were dozens of types of swords, each with their own style and flair.

Though it does make Penny wonder about the more... exotic weapons. Whips, hammers, maces... would there be any Ars Magi who used microphones like an idol? She doesn't see herself as using one, but it's certainly an interesting mental image.

“Mmm.” Says Cara, “I’m not gonna guess, we’ll just find out tomorrow.” She nods to Penny. “I guess we just wait, for now.”

Quiet conversation continues around the tables for the next several minutes, mostly speculation on transformations, weapons, and outfits. Some are more enthusiastic than others, but the mood overalls seems positive—with some small exceptions.

When dinner is finished there’s not much left to do but return to the dorms, most of the on-campus facilities by now closed and no student yet allowed outside into the city. This time at least the girls from the Laurus have more time to sleep before the morning bells wake the candidates once again at some ungodly hour of the morning.

Returning to the dorms, Penny yawns widely into the back of her hand. She's still tired from yesterday! Maybe she can get some sleep for tomorrow... though a thought occurs to her. Maybe she could do a bit more research before she went to bed.

She tries to connect her phone to the network, and tries to access the school library. She spends a couple of hours researching a few questions, mostly pertaining to the school's history, the history of Ars Magi, and a copy of the school map and the curriculum if those are available.

Today is the day.

Each girl in turn finds themselves escorted deep into the bowels of Nova Lux, past secure doors and winding passages, deep beneath the earth into the forge where Ars Magi are made. They find themselves in a circular room, an observation area outside of a small surgical chamber. The walls gleam sterile white and the lighting is bright and harsh, reminiscent of the hospital that they visited earlier.
Several final checks are done, and the last thing each remembers is a small cluster of white-coated doctors gathered around them, and the gleam of metal instruments before they sink into darkness.

"So tell me, doc, will I ever play the violin again?" Penny jokes before she's put under the anesthetic. She counts down backwards from 20 as the doctor orders, losing count at around 7 or so as she slides into a deep sleep.

The next couple days are spent in recovery. It’s a strange sensation at first, to have this foreign object inside of the body. Inset in the navel, each gem is a smooth and gleaming invader that feels notably unnatural for the first 24 hours.

This is before mentioning the uncomfortable soreness, the periodic dizziness, and the fits of nausea that come as the body adjusts to whatever magic is now coursing inside of it. Each girl was warned of these side effects and given even worse news to go with it: They can’t even transform yet. The Armagus requires a specific trigger, and is nothing more than an uncomfortable lump until their bodies have adjusted to it.

"Ugh," Penny grunts as she gets up in the morning, feeling the thing in her navel every time she shifts. She tries a few stretches, trying to get used to the weird sensation in her belly. "The doc must have slipped us a mickey; we go out like a light, don't remember a thing, and yet end up with a weird thing in our gut and what feels like morning sickness.

"Hopefully, we'll get used to it. I don't think the older cadets even notice it's there anymore."


“This will be your first exercise as a Nova Lux cadet.”

The nausea is starting to pass on this, the third day. Candidates have begun to return to something resembling normal, just in time for the mission briefing in the assembly hall. A holographic map of the city is on display at the front of the room, slowly rotating under the touch of a uniform-clad woman at the front of the auditorium.

“The exercise will take place in the Palmyra Military Exercise Zone, or M.E.Z. There, under controlled conditions, your Armagus will be activated.” A pregnant pause, and the officer continues: “This activation will require the presence of a Void.”

Quiet whispers ripple through the crowd of assembled young women.

“We will be lowering the diffusion of Nox in the exercise area to a level sufficient for the manifestation of low-class Voids. Your Armagus, an anti-Void weapon, will respond accordingly. The exercise will be supervised by military personnel to mitigate the danger to yourselves, but I won’t lie to you: Any encounter with a Void has the potential for disaster.

This is your first real trial as an Ars Magi, prepare yourselves accordingly. Ignis aurum probat.”

"Tell us about it," Penny says grimly, rubbing her cast, a solid reminder of the run-in she had with the Void not two days ago. She doesn't want a repeat of last time, so she tries to stay calm and focus. Fortunately, there were no bystanders, so they just have to stick together and win. And technically, this would be their second real trial.



𝙿𝚊𝚕𝚖𝚢𝚛𝚊 𝙼𝚒𝚕𝚒𝚝𝚊𝚛𝚢 𝙴𝚡𝚎𝚛𝚌𝚒𝚜𝚎 𝚉𝚘𝚗𝚎
𝙰𝚋𝚊𝚗𝚍𝚘𝚗𝚎𝚍 𝙳𝚒𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚒𝚌𝚝

𝙰𝚙𝚛𝚒𝚕 𝟷𝟻𝚝𝚑, 𝟷𝟷𝟽 𝙰𝚅
𝟿:𝟶𝟶 𝙰𝙼
Dana Noel, Penny Grenoble, Nicole Cognoscenti, Diana Khay Vanna, Astrelle Lennox

The voice is small and static-laced, a quiet buzz from the earpiece you’ve been equipped with.

“Now lowering diffusion level. Nox levels rising.”

You stand in the middle of an abandoned street, rows of empty buildings hemming in on all sides. This is Military Exercise Zone, an older part of the city abandoned and later reclaimed specifically for Imperium purposes. It’s a ghost town, not a single soul dwelling within. The only sign of movement are leaves blowing in the chilly afternoon air, dried and brown foliage that rustles quietly down along the narrow streets.

The candidates have been broken into groups of five, with the Laurus crew finding themselves together once again. Your companions wait in an observation tower some ways behind the exercise area, observing you the same way you did them during their respective turns.
But now, it’s just you.

"Hey, girls, funny how we keep running into each other like this," Penny jokes. "Seriously, though, are you feeling like you have a whole swarm of butterflies in your stomach? And I'm not talking about the nausea from the operation."

“Nox levels still rising.”

Something is wrong. It’s like static in your brain, gentle at first, growing louder as time goes by. Things begin to feel fuzzy and indistinct.

“Manifestation of Voids detected.”

They look similar to the thing that attacked the Laurus. Humanoid, impossibly thin, inky black, geometric patterns etched along the flesh. Black clouds of Nox roll off their bodies as they take shape, three in total, seeming to blur and twist into existence out of the air itself. Air that is becoming steadily thicker as small wisps of Nox begin to form.

They advance.

The static is worse now, the world around hazy and indistinct. Hard to focus.

And then you feel it. A single point of clarity, something bright and powerful just barely within the grasp of your consciousness. All you have to do is reach your mind out and take it.

All you have to do is change.

"Three? They must really have faith in my ability to not getting torn to shreds," Penny quips. She does, however, feel a rising heat in her belly, one that radiates outwards until it fills her whole body. Sparks form around her limbs and fingertips, and she feels the static particularly affected by the crackling lightning racing through her.

One thing she remembers from an interview is how Ars Magi receive their gladius. It's not forged or manufactured, it is created by the will of the Ars Magi - something she didn't fully understand until now. As magic fills her being, she can almost see the thing in her hand, but it's a strange combination of... engines, wires, and steel?

After all, for one to receive a gladius, one has to see its outline in her head. And what is another word for an outline but a blueprint?

Gears click together, pieces fit like a puzzle with the loud clank of steel. Before she knows it, Penny is carrying a massive rocket hammer in her hands, one much larger than she is and so heavy it almost trips her to the ground before she gets a grip. As it settles in her hand, she feels a surge through her hands travel up to the hammer's head, and it sparks for a second before bursting into life, fire roaring from the nuzzles belching fire, announcing its life to the world.

Whoa, I've heard mechanical-looking gladii were possible, just didn't expect mine to be one, Penny thinks. She then notices she's an inch or two taller, and her footing is somewhat loose, then realizes she hasn't grown - her new outfit has roller blades.

Then there's the rest of the outfit, which looked like something a Bavarian maid would wear - and, as much as it embarrasses Penny, pretty similar to what Magical Maid Altea wore. Oh, and she had green bangs for some reason.

Still, no point dwelling over her appearance; there are still three hostile Void nearby, ready to tear them apart. She shakes her head, makes herself focus, and takes a deep breath.

She almost misses the fact that her arm is now healed. She clenches and unclenches her fist, and shakes her forearm a bit to see if her arm really had a miraculous recovery.

"Huh, not bad," she mutters. She then turns to the three Void approaching her, a wide grin on her face as her heart pounds with excitement.

"Alright, you ugly fuckers, it's payback time! Let's see how you shits handle some extra reach and speed!"

With that, she moves quickly from side to side on the rollerblades, zigzagging closer to the enemy. She finds herself wondering if she could use the hammer's rocket to redirect herself, when she's almost thrown off by the whiplash as the hammer's thrusters roar in response, sending her racing forwards. She barely avoids running into the Void before redirecting her charge, shifting the hammer to rapidly strafe to the left. Using her mobility and speed, she baits the Void, trying to gauge their speed and reactions to a faster enemy as she circles them.

"Hey freakshows, you gonna stand there picking your asses or are ya gonna get a move on?!" she yells at them cheekily.
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Plank Sinatra
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Plank Sinatra when i die rap dies, destiny bond

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Ohhhh, Nicoooooole, you've gotta be a magical girl! Ars Magi have a storied part in humanity's survival! They'll remember your name in the neighborhood for the rest of time! Sure, you were a fuck up who could have gotten all As but got all Bs because you didn't like turning in assignments, and you declare thumb war on guys you want to bone down on, but that's just part of your charm! They'll love that about you in military school!

For three days, that had been the sardonic core of Nicole's buried resentments, swirling and tempestuous and often punctuated with weird stomach rumbles and groans, like she'd been fed some foul carbonara with frankfurter in it. She couldn't say she was entirely unused to the sensation. Two years previously, she'd had her wisdom teeth taken out all at once, but somehow all the romanticizing and propaganda disseminated about Ars Magi had neglected to mention that the whole journey began with the same crippling, post-anesthesia nausea that came with having your jaw disassembled. She hadn't even felt comfortable standing for the first day or two, for fear that she would find her legs still gelatinous or her stomach in the mood to betray her and heave. When she would look down, curled halfway into a fetal position on her bed, she would see the alien invading her body - scarlet and dull, with only the occasional glitter that she had begun to suspect was merely a trick of the sunlight, days passing by one after the other. Once she had reached down to poke it - sue her - and actually been driven to the point of tearing up in pain and discomfort.

Bereft of those two emotions, the only feeling left to her was boredom. She considered talking to Astrelle every now and then, but it was hard to keep her usual standard of flirting up when she constantly felt like she was going to turn into sludge with one wrong wink, let alone getting up and going over to the other bed. Besides, even if Astrelle was in the mood for talking - doubtful - Nicole wasn't really in the mood to hear her say she was right back on the airship. Even if she was, what good would it do now? They were thoroughly locked in for the ride.

They remained locked in for two more days after their procedure. At least, that was the result of the mental math she'd come up with as she trudged into their dorm's bathroom and began running the water for a shower. She was feeling only a little less listless this morning, and personally she would have been happy to take another week off. But it seemed like today was the day that Nova Lux figured they were strong enough to kick ass under their own power. As she stripped out of the clothes she had been bumming in since the operation and started fiddling with the water temperature again, the queen of vibes lifted up one leg and mimed the single, sweeping motion commonly associated with kicking ass. To her surprise, she didn't quite topple over - although she had wrapped her fingers around the top of the stall to prevent such a klutzy disaster from unfolding. Letting go, she tested kicking with her other leg. That felt easy enough, too.

She grinned at this latest triumph and stepped into the shower, gasping a little at the shock of the water on her skin - and then realizing it was a pleased gasp, and not the pained hisses that normally came swaddled in a blanket of foreign curses at the water being too hot or too cold. No, it felt just right - Goldilocks temperature. After a second of indecision in the face of her good luck, she grinned; her head reclined, letting the water wash over her face, hair, and down her front as she savored the warm water and her good fortune. Even the way the water lapped at the jewel in her abdomen didn't feel quite so bizarre anymore. Gently, she reached down to touch the small chunk of emerald. This time, she felt nothing. That felt good in of itself, and she grinned, giving the gem an affectionate little pat and circling it with a finger.

Another little victory. Just keep stringing those together, bella. That's what life's all about.

She grinned, angling her head back further, and started rinsing her hair.




Once again, she found herself marveling at the differences between Palmyra and her native Hasta. Marveling was the wrong word, actually. Mourning was more appropriate. But even as far as Palmyra went, setting foot in the MEZ was an absolutely ghoulish concept, like preparing to duel in the middle of a graveyard. Every building had once bustled with activity, people living their lives here in spite of miasma, until one by one they had faded into memory or been driven out by the military - the same military she had now devoted her body and her life to. She looked over at Astrelle again, then back to the tests at hand. The rest of them had gathered to watch Vanna perform, and once again, Nicole found it enchanting to watch the daughter of the Diana clan go to work. Even though there was no possibility of her words of encouragement reaching Vanna, or Dana after her, she still kept up an enthusiastic applause at their transformations and performances against the Voids, and at the end of both tests she found herself applauding loudly. Then it was her turn, the girl in the middle - not noble, but not poor; not thrilled about her fate, but not resigned to it either; not consumed by dreams of being an Ars Magi but not thoroughly repelled by them. The queen of vibes, the girl in the middle. She guessed that made her the natural candidate for the glue of the team.

That glue would be put to the test. Nicole was about to prove she was capable of holding herself, and the squabbling quartet of girls who fate had tied her to, together. She looked back at the other girls in the observation tower and smiled warmly, hands on her hips. Knowing that familiar eyes were on her helped quell her discomfort at the ghost town that threatened to swallow her, like being in the midst of friends in a horror movie screening.

“Now lowering diffusion level. Nox levels rising. Manifestation of Voids detected.”

Nicole's attention was stolen away from her new friends for good. It was do or die time. The nausea in her stomach was replaced by performance jitters. The kind she'd felt when she was on the Laurus, experiencing fleeting bursts of agility for the first time. The kind she felt when she had first gotten her letter from Nova Lux. The kind she felt standing at the highest point of Hasta, rain matting her hair, seeing the rivulets trace the lines of his cheeks, his jaw and his lips...

The kind she'd felt then, the moment of her greatest failure. Her final failure. From here on out, it was all about the little victories.

She stretched out her dominant arm, rolling her hand by the wrist and cracking every knuckle as the Voids drew their forms from hell.

The wind is on my back.

She felt her stomach flutter again, and her body began to glitter.

May my sword cut like my smile.

And the blade, long, slender, and cobalt, bloomed in her hand like an extension of her hand - the finest steel, ornamented in color and born from gust.

Her body looked like it had become fire made flesh, a slender inferno being licked and fanned by the breeze cultivating around Nicole Cognoscenti. Her clothes had become tangerine tongues of flame, with white hot cores serving as her top, skirt, and boots; her scarf blew triumphantly in the wind, the longest tongue of all, tasting the justice she represented on the wind. Even the jewel in her navel glittered brighter, like her eyes after a well-timed quip. She tipped her small beret towards the monsters formed to test her, in a playful show of respect. She didn't bother with a ready stance.

"Vi faccio vedere come lotte un Hastano!"

The Ars Magi lunged.

Her very first Void died to her very first cut. Instinctually, Nicole crowed out in triumph, but beneath the lizard brained thrill of her Void kill virginity came a mental note - she had swung with a simple backhanded cut that had ducked past all three Voids, and bifurcated her target down the middle on her way past. The sword, however, had never even touched the shadows; its reach must have been augmented by her power somehow, or perhaps the physical blade itself was only the center of winds that swirled invisibly and cut sharper than scissors. She would need to test it out further sometime.

In the meantime, the second and third Voids were ready to attack. Her back was to them, so she kept running, feeling the same agility that had served her from nowhere onboard the Laurus kick back in. Now, however, she felt it burst from within her spectacularly, and when she ran she felt freer and fleeter than she ever had in her life. Nothing would catch her with the wind at her back. Nicole leapt, so happy she could cry.

She thought her feet made contact with the ground until she looked down, noticed the dusty, fogged, cracked glass of a window long-abandoned, and decided she didn't give a crap. She kept running along the length of the building, taking her final leap off the corner where building met alleyway. Her right foot reached out and used a sign post, rusted beyond the point of deciphering, as a springboard for her next great leap, back into the midst of where the Voids had rushed to meet their doom. This time, she wanted to see the blade sink in; her gladius sank deep into the shadow of a Void, where any normal, Godly creature would have felt its heart pierced by the manifestation of her justice. She grinned in triumph--

oof oh god

--and felt the breath leave her when the third Void struck her stomach.

Even as the second Void returned to the cold hell from whence it came, she tumbled backwards from the force of the blow, feeling the strain of the operation upon her midriff all over again as she skidded to a halt on one knee. She had been caught showboating, caught up in testing power unlike any she'd ever imagined she would feel, and gotten caught for it. That was probably one of the lessons that Nova Lux wanted to teach them. It was better to learn it now. Nicole stood and adjusted her beret, an uncharacteristic, pouting glower on her face. Her fingers adjusted, cracking again around the hilt of her gladius.

This time, both opponents rushed to meet the other - both determined, but one measured and strategic where the other was mindless and cruel. Blows that had seemed terrifying onboard the Laurus now looked wild, frenzied, intent on pain and death without a clue how to inflict it on an opponent that had become faster and stronger than them overnight. Nicole's dodges felt kinetic in a way she'd never imagined she could feel, skidding backwards, to the side, bobbing and weaving for the fun of it. The wind was tickling her inside, making her feel as though she could start laughing and never, ever stop - making her feel like she never wanted the fight to stop. She felt like laughing like she imagined she'd laugh if she ever got Astrelle to come up with a joke. Most of all, she wanted to laugh at the Void.

Then, in the middle of a leftward dodge that turned into a flourish, the wind around her blade cleaved an arm-like appendage from her final obstacle. The inky blob that passed for a head went next. And then it was over. She was victorious.

Hell with little victories. This was huge. Nicole Cognoscenti had passed her test.

She adjusted her beret, seconds before her transformation slowly began to revert. She had imagined the reverie she felt would fade alongside it, but aside from a few little aches of exhaustion, she felt no worse for wear. Even the scrape on her left leg, where she had skidded the length of the forgotten street, was barely a twinge. She took another deep breath and went to fiddle with the beret again, anxiously, excitedly, before she realized it had faded away. She was back in the clothes she'd warn to the test. Only the gem in her stomach still glittered, as it would until the day she died.

She looked up at the observation tower where her friends watched and grinned, smile cutting the length of her face. She raised two fingers and kissed them emphatically, then arced her left arm in a clockwise motion above her head. The fingers split in front of her eyes, forming a triumphant V as she bowed low, like a ballerina seeking accolades for her performance. Her bad leg was hidden from sight at the peak of her proud little curtsy.

Then, true to character, Nicole Cognoscenti started to headbang. When she lifted her gaze up, her scarlet hair had fallen into her face. She gave a halfhearted attempt to blow it out of her eyes, with no cigar.

She started to laugh, and didn't stop.
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The days following her surgery were some of the worst of Dana’s life. She had felt utterly drained of the energy that usually defined her, and was so weak that she could barely manage to sit up in bed to eat the food Penny brought back from the cafeteria for her. At least, when her nausea died down enough for her to be able to eat… Thankfully, by the time their first combat exercise rolled around, she was mostly back to feeling like her old self. Unlike some of the others, Dana didn’t think it was all that weird to have a gemstone inserted in her navel. It was cool. It meant that she was now truly an Ars Magi, and today, she was going to prove it.

Vanna had gone first, and provided a display befitting someone of her high station. After that, it was Dana’s turn. As she strode into the ruined cityscape that would serve as the arena for her test, Dana wore a brilliant smile completely incongruous with her bleak surroundings. She was just so excited, so happy, to transform for the first time and fight as a real Ars Magi.

Turning to face the observation tower where her friends waited, she gave a thumbs up. “Okay! I’m ready whenever you are!” she called, perhaps unnecessarily.

“Now lowering diffusion level. Nox levels rising,” answered a voice from her earpiece.

Dana could feel the growing sensation of reverberating static in her head, which signaled the increase of that frightening substance, but it did nothing to reduce her eager anticipation of what was to come.

“Manifestation of Voids detected,” the voice over the earpiece told her as her own eyes watched a trio of the horrific creatures materialize before her, just as they had for Vanna. The observation was stated in so detached a manner, it might as well have been read off a script.

Perhaps it was?

Just like a tv show… Dana couldn’t help but note with mild amusement.

In any case, the show was most assuredly about to start. Dana’s enemies were before her, just as spindly and sinister looking as the one she’d encountered aboard the Laurus. This time, however, there were no injured soldiers in need of healing. And this time, she was no mere teenaged girl… Even now, she could feel the glow of power surging within her, just waiting to be unleashed. All it needed was her permission, and that was something she was only too happy to give.

In a flash of luminous brilliance, Dana transformed, manifesting both parma and gladius with the trademark speed of her elementum. With a jubilant giggle, she noticed that she was wearing an outfit quite similar to the one worn by Guardian Gunslinger Alexis, although there were still a few telling differences. For one thing, Dana’s outfit had a cape, and, for another, her head was adorned with an oversized hat befitting a witch, rather than a cowboy. The entire ensemble featured a bight color palette that seemed to glow with an inner radiance, one which complemented that of her eyes and smile. And much to Dana’s delight, her gladius was indeed a pistol in the style of Alexis’s own signature weapon. Coated in chrome, it shimmered and glittered in the light generated by her parma, while a few golden gemstones set into its sides glowed with pent up energy.

“All right!” Dana declared with a gleeful twirl of her pistol. “Let’s do this!”

The Voids were still a fair ways off, and Dana didn’t intend to let them get any closer. Taking careful aim with her gladius she lined up a shot on the center of the middle Void’s chest and squeezed the trigger. A blinding beam of energy shot forth and blasted a hole clean through the monster’s torso, dissipating the Nox that composed it like a shadow caught in a ray of sunlight. With it’s entire center of mass blown away, the rest of the creature wasted no time in dissolving completely.

“Sweet!” Dana exulted, while jumping up and punching the air. “Now to finish off the rest!”

Closing her eyes to focus herself, Dana reached out her hand, and conjured a glowing mote of light from each of her splayed fingers. These rapidly grew into five pointed stars, from which thin lances of light shot out. They proceeded to slice apart the two remaining Voids, which vanished into wisps of swiftly dissipating Nox.

“Woo hoo! Victory!” Dana cheered, jumping up in the air before striking a pose and giving her friends the victory sign. The energetic girl had never had so much fun in her life, the last few minutes having made the several bedridden days preceding them worth every agonizing moment. It was everything she had hoped it would be and then some. “What did ya think, guys?!” she asked with an excited gleam in her eyes after she’d de-transformed and returned to the observation tower. “Was that awesome, or what?!”
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Penny circles the trio of Void, noting their speed and reflexes, weaving to see how fast they respond to feints, but she was done goofing around. She turns around and zooms towards the three, feeling the might of her hammer, Gros Eisen, as it thrums with power, using its jet to speed up her movement.

She couldn't match Vanna's skill, Nichole's grace, or Dana's shooting gallery, but she can feel the raw power coursing in her veins as she charged her foes. Jumping in the air, she charges her hammer with power before slamming it on the ground right in front of her three foes.

"EINSCHLAGEN!" she roars, shattering the earth with the force of the blow and battering the three shadowy monsters with the shockwave and strong electrical arcs. This was no killing blow, but the power delivered and the force of the elementum within the (admittedly short) area of effect was enough to stun her foes, and with their guard down, it's her moment to strike. Gros Eisen was a large, unweldy weapon, and despite her new strength allowing her to swing it around like a baseball bat, it's not as graceful or swift as a sword. Its thrusters convey power and additional speed, but not grace or finesse. Her best shot at doing the most damage is making sure every blow connects - but once she does, it's clear the force of each blow is bone-shattering. Already, the three Void look like they've been battered by a truck.

One of the three Void is already buckling, hammered by the relentless onslaught. Penny winds up a hammerblow, gives a roar of fury, and slams her hammer into the Void. The sheer force of the blow is enough to splatter everything above the waist, and the monster dissolves into nothing.

One down, two to go. Already, the two Void are rushing in, trying to take her down quickly with claw swipes. She barely avoids a couple attacks, turns on her rollerblade, then, as she charges the pommel of her hammer, she drives it right into the chest of the Void on her left, right at the core. The massive shock stuns and weakens the thing, and she takes advantage of its moment of weakness to hoist it over her head and slam it to the ground, finishing it with another mighty hammer strike that smashes it into paste and crushes the core in one blow.

The third takes advantage of her distraction, slashing her across the back. It's a surprise moment of pain, a reminder that she should watch her back at all times - but it makes her more mad than scared.

"Oh you little bitch!" she snarls, and charges her fist with lightning, delivering a solid haymaker to its 'face' that sends the beast flying into a wall. The thing barely has a moment to recover when, with a war cry, Penny charges it full power and brings the hammer down on top of it, the force of impact instantly reducing it an unsightly dark smear on the pavement, with the smell of ozone filling the air. She stands there, breathing hard as the rush of energy flows through her. She wills herself to calm down, though she finds a frozen mad grin on her face.

So this is the power of an Ars Magi, huh? she thinks to herself. Not bad at all...
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Astrelle let the hum of conversation fade in and out of her mind. It was more babbling about those TV shows Penny and Dana liked so much, so there wasn’t much for her to contribute. Not like she was allowed to watch a lot of TV as a kid either. At some point, Penny acknowledged her arrival, to which Astrelle merely responded with a subtle nod.



There was a morbid familiarity with being half bedridden for a few days after the procedure, and in a way, it was the most comfortable that Astrelle had felt since her arrival at the school. She could find peace in the comforts of her bedding, something that had always provided her solace in her past. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped at its softness in the bouts of pain that radiated from the foreign lump in her chest. Despite the pain, nausea, and dizziness, it had some success in taking the edge off of the recently acquired airship trauma, and gave her time to adjust to the new environment. As much as she hated to admit it, she had the most difficulty adapting to Nova Lux compared to the other starry-eyed girls—she had been discarded here, not by choice. All these events left Astrelle simmering in a sense of powerlessness, a feeling she hated with the entirety of her being. Though, after some time and rest, it became easier to accept.

Astrelle was thankful Nicole was quiet for most of their recovery—not that she was in good shape to talk much either. There was almost some kind of camaraderie between them as they took turns hovering over the toilet, just in case, in their nauseous delirium. Nicole’s presence with their shared misery was not all that bad.



Astrelle couldn’t quite grasp her emotions on the day of their first exercise as Ars Magi. She could feel something tremor within her, a cocktail of anticipation, nervousness, and excitement. In general, it was obvious that her mood had improved since the last time the girls had seen Astrelle, her usual half-smile painted on her lips. She was finally starting to act as she had before, which might have come to a surprise to others who have only seen her moodier days. Nevertheless, Astrelle was eager to ride the high of gaining more power once transformed.

A few girls took their turns before her. The materialization of the Void monster held less of an impact the second time, and Astrelle was relieved that she responded alright to its image. There was some lingering fear, but the greater part of herself itched to plunge a blade in the monster’s inky form, as if it would kill previous humiliation. As she watched her companions destroy Void after Void before her, the more her anticipation grew. Her limbs tingled with the built up adrenaline.

Then, it was Astrelle’s turn in the pit. The announcements trickled in.

“Now lowering diffusion level. Nox levels rising.”

Her hand pressed against the jewel in her chest.

“Nox levels still rising.”

The black mist rolled into the street from the alleys, gathering in a single spot a few meters in front of Astrelle. The fog thickened and rose, becoming more opaque and viscous, like honey.

Astrelle’s vision was pinned onto those hazy, shifting forms. Her static-filled brain could focus on little else. But slowly, the wisps of smoke and dripping ooze melted together into humanoid shapes, and suddenly, everything was clear. The static was replaced by a second of calm. In that fleeting moment, a strength coursed through Astrelle’s body, radiating from the center of her chest. Ribbons of shadow emerged from the gem, wrapping Astrelle in a sticky darkness not unlike that which formed the Voids. The way her new uniform hugged her body felt as if she had been born with it, and the weapon that materialized in her grasp, extending in a long arked blade above her head, felt as natural to her as a second dominant hand. The black metal glowed with some kind of ambiance, with smoky tendrils of darkness that trailed behind the movement of the blade. The uncanny familiarity of her gladius was jarring, but the incoming Voids didn’t allow Astrelle to be lost in her thoughts for long.


One, two.

She leaped back reactively, and sunk into the shadows on the second step. It was a blessing her spectators could not see the grin that stretched from ear to ear on Astrelle’s face, drunk on the eruption of vitality that ignited her veins. This time, things were going to be different. She had power. A weapon. No, she was going to ensure that it would be different this time. Her grip tightened around her scythe, Oblivion, and she eradicated what fear still remained in her bones.

A soft, manic laughter echoed from the shadows as Astrelle maneuvered within, around the inky enemies. They followed the sound of her voice, changing directions as Astrelle shifted from one shadow to another. After she had enough fun confusing the beasts, Astrelle propelled herself from the shadow, right at the feet of one of the Voids, her blade raised above her head. The momentum that lifted Astrelle and Oblivion from the abyss cleaved the being right up the middle.

“One down. Two to go.”

The remaining Voids rushed at Astrelle, now that she had emerged from her hiding place. Astrelle hoisted the bar of her scythe above her head to block their downward swings. The weight of their arms hit the rod with a thud, forcing a pressure that made Astrelle’s arms buckle underneath.

“FUCK!” Fear crept back into her heart, but she didn’t let it paralyze her. She mustered up the strength to twist her body and swing their attacks to the side, before sinking back into the shadows, into safety.

She took a deep breath. She could do this. She was sure.

Once the Voids had their backs turned on her, Astrelle resurfaced from the cobblestone with the silence of a summer wind. She ejected herself into the night, and readied her scythe. With a strong spin of her arms and torso, Oblivion’s blade sheared through the Voids’ forms, and their bodies disintegrated into the atmosphere in sandy wisps.

Like a puppet with cut strings, Astrelle’s body slumped onto the stone path. It’s done.
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One by one each girl undergoes their trial, oily black puddles and shattered marble cores left in their wake. Exuberant or weary, each of the first four newly minted Ars Magi are welcomed back to the observation tower to join the rest and the small outfit of officers overseeing the procedures. Congratulations are given, though there’s no doubt a more formal ceremony to come later.

From that tower the four other girls get to see Penny strike the final blow against her last opponent, the force of it dislodging brick and concrete as the last Void returns to inky mist. The ruined street becomes quiet once again, just crumbling brick and thin tendrils of residual Nox.

“Grenoble,” Says the staticy voice in Penny’s ear, “Return to tow—”

| Music: Primitive |


She doesn’t quite hear the end of it before something lifts her off her feet. The pain comes just a moment later, along with the deafening crash of her impact into—and through—the wall of the crumbling building on the opposite end of the street.

The girls in the observation tower get the best view of how it happens. They see the hand emerge from a nearby alleyway, and the arm after. They might expect a body to appear soon after, but it’s just arm, and then more arm, an impossibly long and ropey black appendage that plunges through the air and smashes into Penny’s chest. The force of the blow rips the small Ars Magi off her feet and propels her across the street, bricks and concrete exploding as it carries her through the wall and further inside.

She doesn’t stop either, not until she hits the interior wall on the opposite side. It’s only after several seconds more that she becomes cognizant of the pressure on her chest and the obsidian fist that’s gripped her just below the throat. She can see the long length of the arm pinning her in place, and only has a moment to consider her sudden displacement before the arm begins to retract. It drags her with it, back onto the street, flinging her to the pavement.

She and the viewers from the tower can see the arm retract afterward, and the thing it’s attached to emerge from the alleyway Penny once stood next to.

This Void is different. Still humanoid, but even taller than the last ones; somewhere around eight feet, made a little lower by the bestial slouch it has adopted. It’s head is bestial and square shaped, and flowing white strands of what might be something like hair trail behind it. Geometric lines trace over the black skin, pulsing a vivid purple even in the daylight.

“Nox levels are spiking!” Comes the voice of the operator, rising sharply in surprise. “An unknown Void has entered the field!”

“Boost the diffusers.”

“Boosting—Void is still active—picking up multiple high class void manifesting in the training area--”

Several more seconds of shouted orders, and then the officer in charge turns toward the Ars Magi in the tower.

“Noel, Cognoscenti, Lennox.” Fingers point at the small squad. “Assist Grenoble.”

With the order given the doors to the tower are opened for deployment once again. The thing is waiting, and as they Ars Magi take the field it turns to them to open its maw and let out an inhuman howl.

Their enemy is waiting.


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Vanna's performance was elegant and calculated. Nichole's was showy, and while she did get hit once, she still looked stylish. Dana simply smoked her opposition at range. Astrelle even did an impressive job turning her adversaries to ribbons. Penny knows she got careless with the last Void, but perhaps she could plan around that next time; she wields a massive hammer, and she can only do large, swinging blows. If she's to survive her encounters with Void, she needs to plan around this vulnerability. Not to mention the possibility of rogue Ars Magi, who can think in ways no Void can.

She hears the transmission, and listens to what it says, before catching something move in the corner of her eye. Something big, black - and moving at her very fast. Her eyes widen in surprise, but she barely has any time to get out of the way before large black tentacles slam into her, sending her small frame flying and knocking the very breath out of her lungs. She feels herself flying, propelled at ludicrous speed through air, then brick and mortar as though it were children's building blocks. It feels like a vice is trying to crush her chest, right around the collarbone area, and the force of the impact leaves her coughing for breath and her back sore. Then it yanks her in the opposite direction and starts dragging her towards... whatever it is. Then it steps out of the shadows, its viselike grip letting go, and Penny can finally get a good look at her new adversary as her vision refocuses and her breath slowly returns.

It's another Void, similar in many ways to the ones she just fought - but this one is bigger, and clearly much stronger and dangerous. D-classes were just stretchy but human-looking. This one looks monstrous, there's no other word for it.

Tch, something tells me I'm not in a test anymore, she thinks, getting up to shaky legs and taking several hard breaths to recover. If I knew I was going to get smacked repeatedly, might have gone into this more carefully. Still, lesson learned - let's just try and survive the next few minutes first!

There's no time to recover her breath; the thing's long, stretchy arms and fast reflexes mean that Penny can't just flank it as easily as she did the D-classes. She needs to get mobile, quickly. With a thought, Groß Eisen bursts to life, the rocket exhaust allowing Penny to start skating around on her rollerblade quickly, weaving and moving quickly to avoid getting hammered once again by those long, stretchy arms.

"Come on, freakshow!" she calls out to the Void. "Let's see how good you are with those Stretch Armstrong arms when you're not a bushwhacking little cheat!"

She switches to her comm even as she skates furiously, trying to find a weak point in its design. She frantically tries to remember the official reports on Voids, trying to remember if there's anything she needs to watch out for.

"Guys, some backup would be really nice right now," she yells into the comm.
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Dana watched with gleeful excitement as each of her friends faced the Voids in turn. She thought it was awesome how their unique personalities influenced their fighting styles, and she couldn’t help but imagine how cool it would be if they could all team up to face an opponent together. Their hypothetical foe wouldn’t stand a chance, and she giggled at the mental image of the five of them standing triumphant atop the corpse of an enormous Void. But wait… Voids didn’t leave corpses, did they? Well, that was slightly disappointing… Even now, Penny was proving that fact as she finished pounding her opponents into paste.

“Woo hoo! Go Penny!” Dana cheered. She was a little disappointed the tests were finished, but she also couldn’t wait to see what was next.

As it turned out, the next item on the agenda would have to be postponed as, without warning, a spindly limb whipped out of an alley and smashed Penny through a building.

“Penny!” Dana cried in alarm, her eyes going wide at the sight.

Thankfully, her bespectacled friend quickly managed to fend off the surprise attack, which revealed itself to have originated from a Void that was significantly more menacing looking than anything they had faced before.

“Guys, some backup would be really nice right now,” Penny called over the comm.

The officer in charge proceeded to order them to provide just that, but Dana was already in motion before they had even started speaking. Her friend was in danger, and she didn’t need an order to rush to Penny’s aid.

“Hang in there, Penny!” Dana told the bespectacled Are Magi. “We’re on our way!”

Transforming in a flash, Dana sprinted onto the battlefield. “Hey, ugly!” she called out. “Eat this!” Drawing her gladius, the energetic Ars Magi took careful aim and fired a beam at the Void’s torso. She didn’t expect the attack to have anywhere near the kind of effect it had on the monster’s lesser brethren, but hopefully it would at least serve to soften the creature up enough for the rest of her friends to finish it off.
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She was proud of all her teammates. When the side was retired and she returned to her perch above the testing area, Nicole gave Astrelle a comforting wink on the other girl's way out to face her demons. She gave another to Penny, along with a friendly knuckle touch. For Astrelle's test, the Hastan watched with both her arms around her two younger teammates, eagerly taking in her roommate's performance. She had taken a quick lick, like Nicole had, but overall she acquitted herself well. Afterwards, she had taken a minute to recuperate on the ground; Nicole's mouth twitched sympathetically, remembering how laid up the both of them had been over the last few days.

Penny's turn came next, along with some encouraging cheers from both Dana, who already seemed inseparable with the glasses-wearing girl, and a single whoop-whoop! from Nicole herself. Penny kicked as much ass as any of them; as flustered as she had been at their luncheon days before, there was no denying she had the heart of a scrapper, and she proved it by brandishing her enormous fucking hammer, oh man that's cool until victory fell at her defeat. Cheers broke out again from the tower.

Then it all went wrong.

The air around Penny began to crackle again, along with a brutal impact that struck the bespectacled girl from nowhere for the second time since Nicole had known her. If they had still been the powerless girls on the Laurus, she might have been crippled by the surprise attack. Now she was an Ars Magi - they all were. And she was more than capable of surprising back.

With some help, of course.

The wind is on my back. May my sword cut like my smile.

"Vi faccio vedere come lotte un Hastano!"


Her second transformation felt as good as the first. Nicole vaulted over the lip of the tower and laughed aloud, raucously, as the wind rushed around her and whipped her hair back in a scarlet frenzy. In the four seconds it took her to freefall, her thoughts turned over in her head:

Catchphrase, that one was a must. Hot guys and gals will eat that kind of crap up.

Her feet hit the ground, as lightly as if she'd stepped out of bed. Her gladius formed in her hand; she sprung forward, using Dana's beam for cover.

"Dana, keep using those! Chase it towards one of us!" she called out, laughing airily as she twirled towards danger. Nevertheless, her words had adopted an iron tone; she had gotten to see both of her friends in action, knew their mettle, and knew how to encourage them to be the magical girls they'd always dreamt of. "Penny, don't stray from its right! The left is mine!"

And it was; she nimbly dodged a spindly arm, having learned quickly from her first time at the wrong end of a Void's swing. Content with her gameplan and feeling her confidence swell after such an effortless dodge, Nicole kicked herself off the ground as though her legs were springs. Her sword swung in the direction of what almost passed for a neck, the size of the sword belying the shape of buffeting winds that formed its true blade.
Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Pink Khione
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Penny’s bout with the Voids went as smoothly as the other girls’ turns; with time, each of her opponents were equally melted into black goo. However, the loud thud of Penny’s body smashing against a wall snapped Astrelle out of her momentary calm while she was observing from the battleground’s perch. She hardly had time to notice a much more menacing Void take form in the arena, and before long, the many staff on duty had already begun shouting orders like they had done on the airship days ago.

Astrelle could feel the warmth and color drain from her face as her eyes laid upon the beastly monster that inched closer to her fellow Ars Magi. She gritted her teeth and clenched her hands so tightly her nails left imprints on her palms. Despite her frustration of being pulled back to fight once again, she didn’t hesitate to transform a second time. It would be her best chance of survival anyway. The wisps of shadows enveloped her body, and appeared to pull her into the shadows with how eagerly Astrelle activated her ability to hide within them.

For the next little while, she observed the actions of her colleagues—they had a pattern of being quick on their feet, as expected. Penny made a swift recovery and subsequent counterattack despite having been catapulted by the Void’s swing, and was quickly followed by Dana. Nicole’s entrance was as flashy as ever, but it seemed to do the trick of catching the Void’s attention, which was all Astrelle needed. As Nicole swung at the neck of the monster, Astrelle seized the opportunity to jump from the Void’s own shadow and slashed her scythe at its torso.
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Penny’s rollerblades are quickly proving themselves invaluable assets as she glides across the ruined street, mere inches ahead of the black tendrils that chase after her. Concrete and steel crack and bend under the force of the impacts, each rubbery arm leaving behind a destructive indentation in whatever surface is touches.

The situation changes once the other girls take the field. It’s the blast from Dana’s Gladius that leads off the incoming attack from the other magical girls, the bolt of light spearing into the center mass of the spindly Void. That brilliant ray of light leaves a gaping hole behind, a fist-sized gap in the black mass. Yet unlike its lesser kin, that one blast isn’t enough to expunge the monster from reality.

Nicole’s plan, to herd the monster toward her blade, seems solid—until it becomes suddenly clear that the Void isn’t limited to the same methods of movements as its enemies. The blade of her sword and the shearing winds that sheath it find only empty space as the creature moves past her in a blur. Past, and above.

Astrelle gets a clearer picture as she emerges from their enemies’ grounded shadow. It’s long arms spread wide, beating once as they transform into ragged looking wings that launch it into the air. The blade of her scythe drives into its lower half as it makes its escape, but the creature twists toward her as it rises. It’s clawed feet hook into the dark-haired Ars Magi, grasping her tight and taking her captive as the Void rises into the sky.

As it ascends higher one of those wings makes a violent sweep toward the ground below, flinging chunks of inky black flesh toward the girls remaining on the street. Globs of Void-flesh rain downward, each elongating and growing mouths full of vicious looking fangs. By the time they hit the concrete each blob has transformed into a writhing serpent, slithering and lunging for the Ars Magi nearby. There are nearly a dozen in total, each fanged mouth promises a grievous wound should the Void-spawn manage to entangle their prey.
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The arrival of the cavalry was a welcome sight to Penny, who's just barely avoiding the thing's rapid onslaught thanks to her speed.

"Just in time, girls!" she calls out. "Now let's turn the tables on this freak!

"Hey cocksucker! Over here!"
she calls out to the Void, assaulting its right flank viciously with her hammer as per Nichole's instructions. However, the thing's speedy limbs makes it hard to score a direct hit on the body, and while she does manage to land a glancing blow on the twisting limb, it quickly retracts out of her reach and becomes... wings?

"What the-" she says, looking up as the thing takes flight. Apparently it can tell when a fight's turning against it - and it's taking Astrelle with her!

"Oh you fucking miserable, cocktease, chickenshit monster, come the fuck back down here and fight like a man!" she calls out after it. "And put her down, asshole! Didn't your momma ever teach you manners around a lady!?"

That's when the thing starts dropping fanged worms from above at them.

"Oh, fantastic," she grumbles. "It's got ugly friends too. Girls, watch my back and don't get surrounded! We don't want to take any more risks as it is!"

She then proceeds to pummel the attacking waves of void-snakes, using large, powerful sweeps of her electrified hammer to smash six of seven of the things at a time, followed by a powerful thunderstrike that squishes a dozen and knocks many more back - away from her and her companions to give them breathing room.

She then aims her hammer at the flying Void, trying to bring it down with a lightning bolt the way Dana managed to deliver several sharp blasts of light. To her chagrin, the lightning comes out in a wild, untamed arc, twisting and sparking wildly, missing the monster (and fortunately Astrelle) before taking it out on an unfortunate street lamp, felling it in sparking ruins.

"SHIT!" she cries out. "So much for aiming..."

"Girls, much as this is fun, I think we need to find a way to catch that thing before it flies off with Lennox,"
she calls out. "I'm guessing we can all jump real high with our new abilities, but I'm talking about if anyone thinks they can just up and fly, that would really be useful right now. We can try to hit the monster from this range, but don't hit Astrelle!"
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There was a valuable lesson at the heart of all the chaos and bullshit here: from today until their deaths, there would never be such a thing as a sure bet for an Ars Magi. But it was a lesson Nicole really hoped they would get to around day...thirty. Ten. At least day two. No learning quite like accelerated learning!

"Girls, much as this is fun, I think we need to find a way to catch that thing before it flies off with Lennox. I'm guessing we can all jump real high with our new abilities, but I'm talking about if anyone thinks they can just up and fly, that would really be useful right now. We can try to hit the monster from this range, but don't hit Astrelle!"

"I couldn't if I tried," Nicole jested, eyeing the serpents tepidly. Truth be told, as jarring as it was to see the Void take flight - especially with her erstwhile roommate - and as much as it would have terrified her even days ago, right now, she found anything in the sky preferable to dealing with the serpents it had begat. In the skies, she felt at home. "Penny, you two keep on top of things down here. Dana -" she winked " - you're doing great, babe. Keep out of range and--"

One of the Void-spawn had lunged, and Nicole's swipe with her sabre punished it for the attempt. The winds that sheathed the blade cleaved the monster back into the pools of ink it crawled from.

"--and just keep blasting. Gotta fly. I'll be back with her!"

She made a break for it, springing off the ground and lightly tapping the stump that now topped the remains of the light Penny had obliterated. She shoved off the twisted, bifurcated metal pole and did her best to soar.

Truthfully, 'felt natural to her' didn't even come close to the sensations. While it was true that all the Ars Magi likely had some degree of agility beyond what they had ever imagined, in her soul Nicole could feel that her case was different. When anything else in the world jumped, be it man, beast, or magical girl, it came down. But not Nicole. She descended on her own terms.

She could see the Void, a cruel distortion of a raven's shape, with Astrelle fighting valiantly in its clutches. She could imagine the cynical thoughts about death and abandonment racing through her roommate's head at the moment. Thoughts of how they had all been tricked into this somehow, led astray by parents or society, how fighting for something as nebulous was saving the world was a dream for the stupid or the catatonic. Honestly, some of them might even have been warranted. But that wouldn't make those anxieties any less fun to prove wrong.

Nicole felt grateful for Palmyra's urban sprawl for the first time; though utilitarian, that also meant it was consistent, and she had no shortage of fire escapes to leap from in order to continue gaining momentum as she built up to sustained flight. With a sweep of her sword she summoned a current to beat against the wings of the Void; they had transfigured in a hurry, and they looked sickly and ill-made. Even a novice Ars Magi like her, she reasoned, would have enough juice in her to prevent such a pitiful creature from escaping. From there, it was a matter of cutting Astrelle down. Her scythe was absolutely not the weapon of choice for dealing with captivity like this, but even Nicole's sword required a precision cut - and a leap of faith on both their parts.

"Trust me!" Nicole yelled, grinning with all the optimism and grace she had in her, trying to make herself heard to her fellow Ars Magi over the winds. She swung the sword again, trying to cleave off the sickly, thin-looking talons that clutched Astrelle. So I can't be the Ars Magi that saves the world. Fuck it.

Expensive boots stamped on a cigarette long extinguished, balanced on the pitted metal of a balcony long abandoned. With a mighty, selfless heave, they abandoned their perch - and Nicole Cognoscenti flew.

I can just be the one that saves the girl.
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Dana’s smile widened when she saw that her Gladius’s beam had blown a hole clean through the Void’s chest. As she suspected, it wasn’t enough to slay the creature outright but it had certainly wounded it, and that was as good a starting point as any. Indeed, no sooner had Dana snapped off her shot, then Nicole darted past, instructing her to keep the monster pinned down, while she and Penny engaged it in melee.

“You got it, Nicole!” Dana acknowledged, while giving the redhead a cheerful grin and a thumbs up.

Reaching her hand out, she once again conjured five small stars from each of her splayed fingers.

“Okay little guys!” she instructed as the stars zipped off to surround the nearby combat. “Do your stuff!”

After taking up position, the five glowing luminaries unleashed a torrent of incandescent star bolts. The attacks were fairly low-powered, but they served to restrict the Void’s movement, preventing the creature from escaping, or dodging the attacks of the other Ars Magi. At least, that was what Dana had intended…

As it transpired, the Void was far more durable, and far more maneuverable than Dana had expected. Contorting and warping its form with inhuman agility, the creature dodged the blows of Astrelle, Penny, and Nicole, before growing a pair of wings and taking to the sky.

It can fly?! Dana thought incredulously. A moment later, she gave a sharp gasp as an even more horrifying event took place. Oh, crap! It’s got Astrelle!

Unfortunately, even worse was to follow. As the creature ascended, viscus globs of Void-flesh rained down from its sinister form. By the time they reached the ground, the dark droplets had morphed into toothy serpents, and Dana couldn’t help but recoil at the sight of the disturbing creatures.

“Yikes… Those don’t look friendly…”

With a quick mental command, she instructed her floating stars to fire upon the dark serpents, blasting any that got close to her or her friends. Any that hadn’t already been smashed into paste by Penny’s rocket hammer, that is.

“Nice work, Penny!” Dana called to her roommate. “I gotta say, you’re really rockin’ that outfit! And that hammer of yours is AWESOME!” she added as tiny stars seemed to fill her eyes.

Dana’s admiration only grew a moment later, when Penny pointed the hammer in question at the flying Void and, doing her best Thor impression, fired a crackling arc of lightning at the creature. However, while the attack certainly packed a punch, it was a bit lacking where accuracy was concerned. Missing its target by a country mile, the chain lightning struck a nearby lamp post and promptly blasted it to sparking bits.

“Oh, uh… T-That was still pretty cool, Penny!” Dana told the bespectacled Ars Magi, in what she hoped was an encouraging tone. “I’m sure you’ll get better with a little practice!”

Despite her upbeat demeanor, the energetic Ars Magi was still acutely aware of the seriousness of the situation. Astrelle was very much in danger, and Dana knew that rescuing her needed to be their top priority. Penny had apparently reached the same conclusion, and she inquired if either Dana or Nicole had the ability to fly up and engage the monstrosity on its own level. Before Dana could say anything, the red-haired Ars Magi sprung into action. In an impressive display of graceful acrobatics, she propelled herself into the sky and slashed at the Void with her blade, clearly aiming to slice off the talons restraining Astrelle.

“All right! Go for it Nicole!” Dana cheered.

The energetic Ars Magi was so captivated by the display that she almost didn’t notice the Void-serpent as it darted out of a nearby shadow with frightening swiftness and aimed for her throat.

Almost.

Whirling to face it, she drew her Gladius in one quick motion and fired a blinding lance of luminous energy through the length of the vile creature’s body. Immediately, it dissolved into dark smoke, before even that, too, dispersed into nothingness.

“Penny’s hammer might be a bit more badass, but you’re pretty cool yourself, little guy!” Dana told her Gladius, while twirling the weapon around her finger and giving it a bright smile. “I gotta think up a really sweet soundin’ name for ya…” she added thoughtfully. “I just gotta find the right inspiration…”

Despite her current lack of ideas on that front, Dana was certain that the still-raging battle would provide precisely the insight she was looking for.
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The smaller snake-like Voids scatter under the force of Penny’s hammer, several smashed flat or blown away by the blast that comes with the explosive impact. Dana’s stars protect her and Penny from being swarmed by the rest of the serpents, blasts of light shearing a dozen of the void-spawn in half before they can swarm over the two girls.

The spindly Void’s ascent is made more difficult by the winds buffeting it, the currents shaking both it and Astrelle as it rises higher into the sky. Dark wings flap and fight against the interference, beating in wide sweeps as it makes steady progress upward. It’s near three stores up when Nicole meets it in the air, launching from the railing to strike at the claws grasping her dark-haired roommate. Her blade sheers through the lower half of the monster in one clean strike, sheering away the Void’s feet and freeing Astrelle from its hold.

The monster legs out a shriek as Nicole sails past it, venting its rage into the empty sky. Astrelle’s savior finds her flight suddenly interrupted soon after; one of the Void’s long arms extending to crash into her midsection before she can completely escape its airspace. Claws dig into her skin and parma as the creature yanks her backward, whirling her through the air and flinging her like a red-haired stone cast from a sling. She plummets abruptly toward the street, her new flight-path taking her toward the concrete at vicious speed.

The Void follows after, whipping around in the air and dive-bombing in pursuit of the prey that it's just flung. It descends rapidly, mouth opening to display row after row of razor-sharp teeth. Once Nicole crashes to the ground it’ll be atop her, ready to rip and tear into the Ars Magi.

Alarmingly, by the time it lands the Void’s lower half has already started to regenerate. The hole punched in its chest earlier by Dana’s blast has likewise begun to stitch itself together, the empty gap now stitched by goopy black threads.
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Penny nearly jumps for joy when Nichole manages to bisect the Void in half, the lower half dispersing as Astrelle is freed of its grip. However, it's still too early to celebrate, as the upper part lashes at Nichole and throws her groundward, before swooping down after her in an enraged attempt to make her pay for her interference.

Penny makes a quick assessment of the situation; both Astrelle and Nichole were falling to earth at disturbing speeds, with the added bonus of the Void swooping after Nicole with the intent to smash her into the ground. Dana is trying to make her move, but can't target the Void lest she hit the Ars Magi it was chasing.

Only one thing to do, and it's insane...



"Dana! Get Astrelle!" she calls out to her partner. "I'll get Nichole. Once I give the signal, give that thing everything you got! Ready?!"

With a mental command, she fires Groβ Eisen full-blast, the rocket hammer propelling her at full speed. She skates along at breakneck speeds towards Nichole's position, using the hammer's blasts and rocket bursts as thrust vectoring to guide her in her intended direction. As she charges forwards at a speed that can only be described as pure insanity, she feels the lightning course through her body, charging her, strengthening her, bracing her against the forces trying to hold her back. She can't fly like Nichole, but she can certainly pour on the speed. It takes every bit of skill and control to stay in control of what was essentially rollerblading with a rocket attached, but as she charges her gladius with power, she feels it resonate with her burning spirit and determination, ready to squeeze every last drop out of their combined power in order to achieve victory. The wind screams in her ears and her heart is pounding so hard it threatens to explode in her chest, but she pays it no heed; only to the target, and how to get there as quickly as possible.

Using her breakneck acceleration, she leaps off the ground in a low dive, using her insane momentum to basically fly low parallel to the ground. Even as she charges forwards, she starts spinning her hammer around, its rocket burst looking like a massive Catherine's Wheel as she zeroes in on an interception. All through the spin, she grits her teeth, fighting back the nausea as she focuses on Nichole's position, and getting ready for the strike.

Still flying in mid-air, she grabs Groβ Eisen in a one-handed grasp, and with the other hand, reaches for Nichole.

"Think fast, Nichole!" she cries out, managing to grab the Hasta girl by her arm, she uses her spinning motion to throw her to safety, before switching back to a two-handed grip, tightening her grasp on the hammer.

"DANA!!" she calls out breathlessly, "FIRE! DONNERSCHLAG!"

She slams the electrified rocket hammer full-force into the thing's face, the air around them erupting with intense electrical force, the hammer striking the thing with the combined might of her Elementum and pure physical momentum. The road is temporarily brightened by the power of lightning, sparks filling the air as a deafening thunder fills the air. The impact was so strong it caused a shockwave to burst out, shattering any nearby glass and even knocking over parts of nearby walls, and the Void was sent flying by the sheer impact.

"HAH! How do you like being blindsided, you ugly-" Penny crows triumphantly, before her uncontrolled flight causes her slam into the side of an abandoned store with considerable force.
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To Dana’s elation, Nicole’s attack succeeded in freeing Astrelle from the Void’s clutches, but her celebration was short lived. The Void, having been deprived of its prey, now lashed out at Nicole, sending the crimson-haired Ars Magi hurtling back towards the ground at a frightening speed. Astrelle wasn’t out of the proverbial woods yet either, as she, too, was now plummeting like a rock, on her way to what promised to be a very unpleasant meeting with the pavement below.

“Dana! Get Astrelle!” Penny instructed. “I’ll get Nicole. Once I give the signal, give that thing everything you got! Ready?!”

“Ready!” Dana called back.



Springing into motion, she raced towards where it looked like Astrelle would land. Dana knew that just being underneath her wouldn’t really work, and so, in order to gain some altitude, she mentally commanded her various glowing energy stars to form a series of steps for her. Hoping they would be able to solidify enough to bear her (admittedly light) weight, Dana began jumping from star to star, each leap taking her closer to her goal. When she felt she was close enough, Dana launched herself off the final star and wrapped her small body around Astrelle in a tight embrace.

“Gotcha!”

That was just step one, of course, as the two Ars Magi were still falling. Dana had managed to change their trajectory, though, and had also instructed her stars to form a single sloping shaft of light, which she and Astrelle could now slide down. Once they had safely reached the ground, Dana gave her gloomy companion a big grin.

“That was kinda fun, huh?” she asked with a giggle as she helped Astrelle to her feet. “Just rest here for a bit,” she instructed as she began heading over to where Penny had just completed her own rescue of Nicole. “I gotta go help Penny finish off our ugly friend!”

She had just about gotten into position, when Penny yelled, “DANA!! FIRE! DONNERSCHLAG!

Simultaneously, the bespectacled Ars Magi blasted herself up, before brutally slamming her Gladius into the Void’s face, the charged up rocket hammer striking with such force as to cause a shockwave.

“Whoa!” Dana yelped as she was sent sprawling onto her back. “That’s some power!”

Not wasting a moment, the energetic Ars Magi drew her own Galdius and raised the gleaming weapon above her prone body, until it was pointing directly at the Void. It was a clear shot, and Dana knew she had to make it count. Summoning every last ounce of her magic, she channeled it all into her pistol, causing it to glow with barely contained power. This was it, this was her moment. With every fiber of her being, Dana Noel knew that this was when she would show everyone what she was truly capable of. The moment when she would pierce the darkness of this shattered world with her radiant light.

All at once, a shaft of blinding brilliance shot into the heavens, utterly consuming the Void and piercing the brooding clouds beyond, so that the vibrant blue sky was once again visible. As the beam finally began to dissipate, rays of soft sunlight fell upon Dana’s smiling face. She felt completely exhausted, but she had never been happier.

“Nice work, buddy,” she whispered to her Gladius. “And guess what? I think I finally figured out what to call you. From now on, your name is Shining Zenith!”

Hugging the pistol close to her chest, Dana closed her eyes and drifted off into blissful unconsciousness.
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