“I was being interviewed, and then a shadow took me into another world with my best friends...
...Could totally be the name of the next great light novel.”
Oros walked through the forest near penrose. She was delirious and couldn’t remember where she was. She wasn’t in pain, but she had lost too much blood and wasn’t thinking straight. Just because blood wasn't necessary for her to live didn't mean it was something she could easily do without. Anyone looking on would see a pink haired zombie shambling through the tall grass. Her outfit had been cut to tatters, and her jaw was dislocated if not broken. Her groaning even sounded like something a shambling dead would do. The zombie walked under the shade of a tree, and collapsed.
Her ambushers likely had a second ambush party waiting for her at the hotel. She needed to go somewhere else, some place they wouldn’t expect her to go.
She had her connections in Penrose, but her pride wouldn’t let her use them. There was no way she’d appear before Em looking like this, nor would she reach out to Cradle. She just needed a place to lie down where she wouldn’t be attacked again.
Connie and Mia were both spending a relaxing morning in their room. Mia was playing a video game, while Connie was attempting to paint a pretty landscape on a small piece of masonite. It was a beautiful day, the woods outside their window especially picturesque, all covered with freshly fallen snow, and with the increased control she’d recently gained over her magic, the timid girl hoped that this time, her painting would remain just as wholesome as her source material. Looking out at the winter woodland, Connie couldn’t help but smile. Nothing creepy to see here, nothing dark or depressing. Just the trees, some birds flittering between the branches, some squirrels frolicking in the snow, the body, laying under the nearest tree… Wait. The body…? Taking a closer look, Connie gasped as she saw that, yes, there was a body laying in the snow under the tree just beyond their window, an exceptionally bruised and bloody body, to be specific.
“Mia!” Connie cried out, startling her friend. “T-Th-There’s a b-b-body out there!”
“What?!” Mia exclaimed, rushing over to join her friend by the window. “Holy shit…” she whispered as she, too, caught sight of the mangled young woman.
“W-We h-have to h-help her!” Connie insisted, while trying to open the window.
“Wait a minute, Connie!” Mia instructed. “We don’t know what did that to her,” she explained. “We need to be careful, and we should definitely transform first.”
“O-Okay!” Connie agreed, before giving voice to her incantation. “C-Come on, Mia!” she added the moment her transformation had concluded. “L-Let’s go!”
Upon reaching the injured girl, Gaia knelt down to get a better look at her wounds, while a trembling Connie stood beside her. The masked girl gasped when she’d gotten a better look at the unconscious young woman. “I-Is t-that Oros?!” she asked, the eyes of her mask going wide.
“It certainly appears to be, little sister,” Gaia agreed as she continued to assess the girl’s injuries and apply botanical bandages where she could. “I can only imagine what did this to her, and I do not wish to meet them any time soon.”
Gaia really didn’t like the idea of bringing someone as rude and chaotic as Oros into their home, but at the same time, she knew they couldn’t just leave her out here either… And so, carefully picking up the pink-haired young woman, the verdant magical girl placed her on one of the leafs of the beanstalk the pair had used to descend from their room. Folding around her like a pea in a pod, the leaf rose upward to slip through the open window, with Connie and Gaia following close behind.
“W-What do we d-do now, Mia?” Connie asked as the leafy pod detached from the stalk and settled down on the bed. “W-We d-don’t really have h-healing p-powers…” she added, while nervously fiddling around with her hair. “S-So s-should w-we c-call a h-hospital? O-Or m-maybe Ronin and M-Miko?”
"That won’t be necessary." With some effort, Oros sat upright. She took hold of her chin and pushed her jaw back in place. "I should heal on my own. I don’t have health insurance and I doubt a hospital will accept a company credit card." She made no attempt to wipe the blood off the corner of her mouth. Oros’s eyes scanned the room. "I don’t think you need to worry about what attacked me. The things that want to kill me often don’t bother with others. Probably because I’m too hot to handle. A walking fire hazard. Taking me into your home is probably the worst thing you could have done for your own safety."
“O-Oh, good! Y-You’re awake!” Connie exclaimed happily, her mask forming a big smile as she held her clasped heads over her heart. “I-I was s-so worried!”
"Why, you’re my, whats her tits? Yea! You’re Faith’s friends, right? Did any of you get a chance to spin the bottle? My memory is a little hazy." That was when her eyes fell squarely on Connie, then Mia.
“O-Oh! U-Umm…” she mumbled, slightly flustered by Oros’ s sudden change of subject. “Y-Yes, w-we’re f-friends with Faith! A-And, uh, n-neither of us g-got to s-spin the b-bottle at M-Miss Sakura’s m-movie n-night… B-But we still had a l-lot of f-fun!” she added, hoping Oros didn’t think she was sad about missing out.
“Do you have any idea who attacked you?” Gaia asked, getting straight to the point. Her serene voice held a slight edge that wasn’t normally present, Oros’s comment that their course of action had probably been the worst possible bringing no small amount of anxiety to even this most tranquil of magical girls.
"You bet I do! And that’s exactly why the less said about the subject, the safer we’ll all be." Oros looked back to Connie as a bottle appeared in her hand. She placed it between the young girl and herself. "Regardless, with just a few of us playing, there should be more opportunities for you to go. In fact, why don’t you start?" Oros was grinning ear to ear.
“U-Umm, b-b-but i-if it’s j-just t-the t-t-three of u-us….” Connie stammered as Oros proceeded to start up an impromptu game of spin the bottle on their bed.
“Do you really think it’s wise to be doing that right now?” Gaia asked pointedly, her eyes narrowing as she glared at Oros. “If we are in danger merely by being in your presence, would it not be best if you left? Especially seeing as how you seem to be fully recovered.”
Oros looked down at her ruined body. Her broken arm, the cuts all along her torso, her tattered uniform that was grounds for indecent exposure. That was without addressing how she was fairing on the inside. The only reason why she hadn’t bleed all over the bed was because there wasn’t enough blood in her body to bleed from the start. She hadn’t even been breathing, save to get enough air to speak.
"I mean-" She looked at Gaia. "I’m not uninjured. I’ve still gotta regrow my heart and a few other organs. Pain just doesn’t bother me that much. In my current condition I’m pretty sure even you could do me in pretty easily." She tipped her head back. "Why aren’t we fighting? I mean, I know why I’m not, but you seem to hate my guts. Is there a reason you wanna keep me alive?"
For a few moments, Gaia simply stared at Oros, even as Connie gave a shocked gasp at the revelation that the pink-haired girl would need to regrow her heart. Finally, she gave voice to a tired sigh. “Look, Oros, I may find you more than a little annoying, but that doesn’t mean I want to see you dead. Besides,” she added, “My dearest Connie has an exceptionally kind heart, and she couldn’t bear to see anyone die, especially not if she had a chance to save them. And so, here we are.”
Oros nodded with a grin smug enough to imply that Mia’s answer was expected. "And I have a soft spot for girls like Oni, so you’ll just have to accept that I’m truly withholding information for your safety." She groaned and cast her head back. "Not in the mood for spin the bottle? Guess the outcome is a little predictable when it’s only three people. Not to mention I don’t see it spinning very well on the bed." As if to demonstrate this, she gave the bottle a spin. It didn’t even make half a turn before rolling back towards Oros. "Are you going to the Christmas party, Oni?"
Upon hearing Oros’s reply Gaia simply gave their guest a look that said “don’t you dare hurt Connie”, before allowing the pink-haired girl to move the topic of discussion to the upcoming party in Dan’s dimension.
For her part, Connie simply stared at Oros in confusion as the girl started talking about someone named “Oni”. It took a moment for the poor girl to realize who that might be, although she was still rather uncertain about the whole thing.
“M-Me…?” the masked girl asked, pointing a trembling finger at herself. “U-Uhh, y-yeah! I-I t-think i-it’ll be a l-lot of f-fun! A l-lot of my f-friends are g-going, a-and… H-Have you g-gotten an i-invitation yet?” she asked Oros, unsure if the somewhat strange girl had any friends to give her one.
"Yup!" She held up her ticket. "Seems we’ll be seeing a bit more of each other. I wonder if they’re cool with spinning bottles?" She opened her hand, and a phone appeared in it. "I can have someone pick me up if my staying here is a problem. I just don’t trust myself to get very far. Kinda feel like shit, you know?" She looked at Mia. "What do you think?"
Gaia sighed in resignation. “I think you can stay here,” the verdant girl told Oros. “At least until you’re fully healed up,” she added. “And as long as you promise to behave yourself.”
"I have been making an effort to keep the swearing down." She reclined in the bed a little. "But I’m trying to remind myself I’ve got a date for the party, but this green lady’s standing in front of me, and she’s not wearing a lot. It makes things hard."
Gaia rolled her eyes at Oros’s “compliment”.
“In that case,” she told their guest, placing her hands on her hips. “Allow me to make things easier.”
The next instant, there was a flash of emerald light and the nymph-like demigoddess was replaced with a short-haired tomboy, wearing considerably more clothing.
“I’m gonna go back to my game,” Mia said as she sat down on the other side of the bed. “If ya wanna sleep, try not to snore too loud. If not… I dunno, maybe you can paint some pictures with Connie?”
“I-If y-you’d like to, I-I’d be m-more than h-happy to s-share!” Connie added, transforming back herself and gesturing to her various supplies.
The weakened magical girl was so stunned by Mia’s transformation that she hadn’t responded to Connie's query right away. Her wide eyes tracked her all the way to the corner of the bed. "Not bad." By that point, Oros had gained enough self control to look back at Connie. "Paint, in bed? Eh, maybe if you have a few pencils I can just kinda sketch something." Her eyes rest on Connie’s innocent expression.
“W-Well, uh,” Connie mumbled, embarrassed about having forgotten that Oros probably couldn’t stand in her injured state. “I-I g-guess you c-could s-sit on the e-edge of the b-bed a-and use t-this s-spare easel… B-But, um, i-if you w-want to use c-colored p-pencils, I have s-some of those, too!” she added, before reaching into her art supply bag and producing a package of colored pencils and a small sketchbook. “H-Here y-you go!” she told Oros happily. “I r-really h-hope you e-enjoy it, a-and I c-can’t wait to see w-what you m-make!”
The beastly girl slid her knees forward, causing the blankets and what was left of the giant pod to bunch up around her waist. She pulled everything up to her neck with her good arm before swinging her legs off the edge of the bed. Oros was almost swaddled in blankets, with only her head and arm sticking out. She had been careful to not disturb the patch of blanket that Mia was sitting on, but they were sitting pretty close to each other.
"Been a hot second since I tried to draw something." her fingers glided over the colored pencils. Her fingers came to rest on the black one, which she pulled from the case. "Think I'm gonna draw a fight scene. What about you, Oni?" Oros was already tracing in stick figures.
“I-I’m g-gonna t-try and f-finish my l-landscape,” Connie replied. “I-It’s j-just such a b-beautiful day, I w-wanted to see if I c-could capture it w-without my m-magic influencing t-things…”
"Whatever makes you happy, kid. Whatever makes you happy." Oros took her pencil and started to go to town on the white sheet she had been given. Unlike Connie, Oros was drawing inspiration from her mind’s eye. A difficult feat to pull off, one that often has disastrous consequences when attempted by a novice. She certainly seemed like she knew what she was doing. Oros was holding the side of the lead against the page rather than the point. This produced a light, yet broad stroke with every pass of her pencil. She was just establishing the scene right now, drawing in stick figures and buildings. "By the way, why do you stutter all the time? "
“O-Oh, u-umm, i-it’s b-b-because I-I’m a-always s-so n-n-nervous around o-other p-p-people,” Connie explained, her embarrassment ironically causing her to stutter even more. “I-I’m s-s-sorry if it b-bothers y-you…” she added, sounding a bit depressed.
“She’s just really shy,” Mia added, not bothering to look away from her game. “And she scares rather easily, as I’m sure you’ve probably noticed. Incidentally, she doesn’t stutter nearly as much when she’s in a low-stress environment with people she’s comfortable with.”
"Is that so?" Oros looked at Connie. "You know if you’re scared of her, you can always come to my place."
“O-Oh, n-no!” Connie hastily clarified for Oros, holding her hands up as if to stop that train of thought from going any further. “M-Mia d-doesn’t m-make me n-nervous at all! S-She’s m-my best f-friend in the w-whole world! B-But, uh, t-thanks for the offer…” she added after a moment, the poor girl being just a bit too innocent to fully grasp the implications of what Oros was suggesting.
The same couldn’t be said of Mia, although the tomboy decided to keep quiet about it for now. After all, she didn’t want to upset Connie if she could help it, and there would be plenty of opportunities for her to “discuss” the matter with Oros when Connie wasn’t around.
"Oh, in that case, she can come too!" Oros grinned. What she had illustrated on her canvas was a single stick figure holding a sword-like weapon opposed by several other stick figures. This might not have impressed anyone, but Oros was drawing three-dimensional shapes over the stick figures to give them form. Clearly she wasn't done. "I’ll take you both at once! I mean, only if you get a luxury room. Otherwise I’d have to split you guys between the economy rooms. They’re all filled up." She traced two rather large circles on one of the stick figures, only to notice her error and erase it. Then she drew them even bigger. "I don’t know if you heard, but I run the Golden Trove now. So if things ever get bad here, I can set you up with a room." She chuckled.
“O-Oh, w-wow!” Connie exclaimed when Oros revealed that she now owned a hotel. “T-That’s r-really cool! B-But, uh, w-we’re pretty h-happy here, f-for the m-moment,” she added. “B-But, um, m-maybe w-when Mia t-turns eighteen…?”
“Maybe,” the tomboy noted dryly.
Oros’s grin only grew wider as they conversed. "and what happens when she turns eighteen? She’ll still look like a kid, as magical girls don’t physically age. Not like any of us would age even if we could, given how long it takes for a week to pass in this here Realm of Patrons."
“I’d like to think I can pass for eighteen, at the very least,” Mia replied. “Besides, this place has all my records,” she continued. “I think they’ll know when I become too old to stay here. I mean, I could probably hack the system, but that’d only really buy me a couple more years, before people finally caught on. And honestly? I’m not a fan of staying here any longer than I have to.”
"Typical child, so eager for the freedoms of adulthood without understanding the responsibility that comes with it." Oros closed her eyes and nodded at Mia. "…Is what my mother would have said. But she’s dead as dirt, so you don’t have to worry about that. To be fair though, I think most magical girls are deserving of their childish appearance. OH! and I was just on the radio. You guys listen to that, right?" She looked at the floor. "P-people still listen to radios, right?"
“T-The radio?” Connie asked after it was brought up. “U-Uh, y-yeah, w-we l-listen to that s-sometimes,” she confirmed with a nod. “B-But, uh, I d-don’t r-really like l-listening to t-talk shows…” she added in a more sullen tone. “T-The p-people they h-have on c-can be k-kinda m-mean…”
“I’ll sometimes listen to Pac-a-Fist,” Mia added. “But only if her guests aren’t too obnoxious.”
She pointed at Mia. "You really should have tuned in to her last show, because I was on it! And I’m so far removed from obnoxious it’s freaky. Like you put me next to an obnoxious person and they start behaving better. My mom said I was great with kids for that reason." She turned back to her drawing. "Anyway, it’s a shame I didn’t get to finish, but she said I could come on again later, so you’d better better tune in then!"
Oros was at the final stage of her drawing, where she was starting to draw clothing and accessories over the three-dimensional forms she had created. Many novice artists try to draw this step first and skip all the groundwork, but this always results in an amateur drawing unless done by a true master of the craft. That wasn’t to say Oros’s pencil work was flawless. She had made small errors in the construction of her characters which were starting to show themselves in the final piece. The lone swordwoman’s arms looked a little long. And her six opponents were crammed together so tightly it was hard to tell where some of them began and ended. But Oros hadn’t put down her pencil yet.
“O-Okay!” Connie replied with an excited smile. “W-We’ll d-definitely t-try to! R-Right, Mia?”
“Yeah, sure thing,” the tomboy muttered.
"I can understand your reservations though. This place has some huge comph energy to it. There’s no nearby monsters, no magical girls jumping on rooftops, it’s kinda nice. It’s simple." She had finally taken up the colored pencils and was using them to color in her piece. "I dunno, there’s not a lot in Penrose anymore. I guess you can participate in the Mint or Beacon’s war on each other, or hide, or respawn some time, maybe following Faith north is what’s best for you kids. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind the company." She chuckled. "I don’t know why I’m staying here any more. It’s not super relevant to my patron’s needs. I guess I know I won’t have the same sense of purpose elsewhere."
“Y-Yeah, it is kinda n-nice not h-having to w-worry about all that,” Connie agreed after Oros complimented their room. “B-But, t-there are also an a-awful lot of b-bullies here…” she added, her soft voice taking on a more somber tone. “A-And that’s n-not so nice… M-Mia’s a-always protected me f-from them, b-but she’s g-gotten in a l-lot of t-trouble because of it, t-too…”
“Ah, it’s no big deal,” Mia brushed the concern off with a shrug. “I mean, what sorta big sis would I be if I didn’t protect you from those creeps? I just wanna make sure we end up someplace where Connie’s safe,” she told Oros. “That’s all I really care about. At first, that meant gettin’ the fuck outta this shithole of a city, but now that we’ve made so many new friends here, I’m not so sure anymore…”
"It’s good to have options, never know when one of them is going to die on you." Oros set down a pink pencil and admired her work. It was no show piece, but for something that was done to pass the time, it was an impressive scene. A pink haired girl with a katana was rushing down a group of other girls. Most of them appeared to be wearing hoods, though they also could have been wearing religious habits. "Finished!" She signed her work with a “M.F.” before looking at Connie. "How did yours turn out?"
“P-Pretty good!” Connie replied happily. “I-It’s a little r-rough, s-since it was only a q-quick study, b-but, look!” she instructed, pointing at the canvas with an overjoyed smile. “I-It d-doesn’t have any c-creepy things in it! I-It’s just a painting of a beautiful winter’s day, j-just like I hoped it would be!”
“That’s great, Connie!” Mia told her, pausing her game and giving her friend a big hug. “I knew you could learn to control your magic if you worked at it! I’m really proud of you, little sis,” she added as Connie nuzzled her shoulder affectionately. “And I’m really happy for you, too.”
As the two embraced Oros tipped her head and smiled. "Yea, I’m gunna have thoughts about this later. The picture I mean! It's wonderful!" She looked at her wrist. "The Doctrine Of Combat Supremacy doesn’t say anything about the rate in which magical girls recover mana, but I’m gunna say a few hours of rest and a relaxing picture is enough for a transformation." She clasped her hand over her chest, and then something started to grow inside it. This wasn’t something that Connie or Mia could see, but they could hear it. Her heart beat seemed to echo off the walls of their room as she visibly healed before their eyes. The blanket she was swaddled in fell off of her shoulders. Her outfit was mending, as were the cuts all over her torso. With a snap, her broken arm mended together, and she was finally strong enough to stand up again. "Ahhhh ~ !" she cast the blanket aside before turning to the two untransformed girls. Without looking away from them, a red vile appeared in Oros’s hand, which she quickly downed. In a puff of red smoke, Oros’s black garbs had been replaced by her cat hoodie, and her eyes had turned from red to green. "That’ll keep the pesky lust from telling me what to do!" She nonchalantly pointed at her picture. "You guys wanna hang that somewhere? Something like that really needs to be on display, you know? I could hang it in the hotel, but if you think it could inspire kids to do better, it belongs here."
Connie was a bit surprised by how rapidly Oros was able to heal herself, but she was very happy for the pink-haired girl, nonetheless.
“I’m r-really glad you’re f-feeling better!” Connie told her. “A-And t-thank you for the picture!” she added, surprised that Oros was offering to let them keep it. “I-It’s really n-nice, a-and I think it’ll m-make a great m-memento of your visit!”
“Yeah, I guess it ain’t half bad,” Mia conceded. Truthfully, she preferred actions scenes to the peaceful landscapes Connie liked to paint, but there was no way she was gonna tell Oros that. “And I think there’s a perfect place for it in the closet,” she added with a smirk.
Oros raised an eyebrow. "The closet? Pretty sure I came outa there a long time ago."
“Mia….” Connie chided her friend.
“Hey, I was just messin’ around,” Mia replied. “Honestly, I think the best place for it is over the bed.”
“Oh! T-That sounds great!” Connie agreed. “T-That way, w-we’ll think of you w-whenever we see it!” she told Oros, giving the girl a bright smile.
"Over the bed? That’s a pretty prime spot. I’m not even going to play an inuendo there, and you all know I could." She pulled her hood over her head. "Guess I’ll see you at the Christmas party. You kids take care! " She waved to everyone with a wink before stepping backwards out the door.
“B-Bye, Oros!” Connie said with a wave. “P-Please stay s-safe out there!”
“See ya,” Mia added. “Oh, and Oros?” she asked after noticing the pink-haired girl’s choice of exit. “Would you mind leaving through the window? I really don’t wanna explain to anyone what a strange girl was doing in our room.”
Oros had only backed part way out before stopping. ”What? Don’t get many adorable pink haired girls with stylish clothes this way?" She stepped back into the room. "Fiiiiine, I’ll make use of my cat like agility." She folded her arms as she walked past Mia. "You’d better not be doing this just to check out my moves though."
The window slid open easily enough. There was a large tree outside with a branch that extended out towards Mia’s room. Typical setup to allow boyfriends easy access to a teen daughter’s house or to allow a teen protagonist to slip past their adult guardians. It always annoyed Oros at how contrived the whole thing was. Windows were designed to let light into a home, so people would seldom grow trees right in front of them. Even looking at things from the tree’s perspective this didn’t make much sense. Trees naturally seek out light, so they are more likely to grow over a house instead of towards its shaded windows. But Mia could make corn-cob-rockets, so her having a tree that seemed to defy logic and reason made sense in this case.
The beast girl hopped onto the branch, which bounced under her weight. Mia had made the tree plenty strong, so Oros had nothing to worry about. She hugged the tree as best as she could, stepped off the branch, and started to slide down.
Very very fast.
It seemed that Oros was not as well as she initially seemed. Yes, her body was fully mended, but her mana reserves must have been too low to even manage claws for holding onto the tree with. One of her legs caught a tree branch, and she was sent cartwheeling through the air, only to have another branch strike her in the stomach. She bounced from branch to branch, swearing with each impact. At least every branch she hit helped to soften her fall.
After descending about four floors, Oros’s final drop put her face first into a mound of snow. Her body trembled as she sat upright. She didn’t have to say “ow,” anyone looking at her could feel what she was going through. "That is cold!"
”Good heavens!” One of the caretakers must have heard all of Oros’s shouting, because a portly woman came to Oros’s aid, ”What happened? Are you alright?”
Oros coughed before standing up. "Yea, Mia let me sleep in her bed. Did wonders for my ruined body."
"Wha? Oh!" Oros placed her hands on her hips. "I’m fine, yes!"
The portly woman folded her arms. Oros was caught squarely in her shadow. ”Did you try to sneak into Mia’s room?”
"Did I? I don’t think I know anyone by that name."
”You just mentioned her name!”
”Wait! Yea! I have a dog named Mia! Here kitty kitty kitty!" Oros used her superhuman strength to hunt for her dog as fast as she could. Certainly faster than some portly orphanage worker could follow. With Oros gone, the woman turned her ire to the window up above, and anyone who might be looking out of it.