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4 yrs ago
Current Going in a trip over the weekend. Will be back on Sunday, probably no RP posts until then
4 yrs ago
>That awkward moment when you learn the religious revival movement you were headin was actually a vehicle for a Lovecraftian Abomination masquerading as a God to jack your body and take over the world
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4 yrs ago
>That moment when you realize that you can only do fandom RPs because you're bad at original characters. This is what I get for never playing DnD
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Alright, so coin turnout for this period of open bounties.

Aurelio - 2 Silver or 8 Bronze
Lily & Alex - 1 Gold, 4 Silver, or 16 Bronze
Sann = 1 Gold, 4 Silver, or 16 Bronze + 1 Silver or 4 Bronze
Sakura - 2 Silver, 8 Bronze
Deni/Ronin - 3 Silver or 12 Bronze
Shane - 3 Silver or 12 Bronze
Gaia - 1 Silver or 4 Bronze
Rose/iris - 3 Bronze
Mariette - 3 Bronze
Oros - 2 Silver or 8 Bronze
Shion - 2 Silver or 8 Bronze
Hilaria - 1 Gold, 4 Silver, or 16 Bronze + 2 Silver or 8 bronze
Aria - 2 Silver or 8 Bronze
Melisa - 1 Silver or 4 Bronze
Anaya - 1 Silver or 4 Bronze

Any complaints about the payout for C rank bounties should be taken up with Ariamis, since he's the one who settled on that value :P
The Phantom Warrior

Starring:
‘Horror Movie Antagonist’ Melisa
‘Plays with dolls’ Anaya Hathaway


Normally, downtown Penrose would be bustling with people, a hotspot of partying and late night activity. College students, tourists, day workers, plenty of people looking for a good time. You know, what you would expect from a place like this.

The evacuation of the city had reduced the amount of people considerably. Yet there had still been those willing to brave the elements and the danger. But now a new threat had emerged. Rumors and stories mostly, but they spoke of a shadowy figure, one moving without qualm or opposition. Some claimed he was a hero, fighting evil like Batman. Others claimed he was a very gimmick themed thief. Whatever the explanation was, there was no doubt that he had to be dealt with.

And so late at night, two magical girls assembled downtown, to put an end to this armored menace once and for all.

Hearing about this strange description of animated armor, and being something of a similar nature, a small metallic doll arrived to investigate. While she was still very new to this magical monster girl thing, her first friends had let her know that they were there in part to fight monsters and protect people. So this would be her first proper foray into doing just that.

Having some advanced knowledge that she could be fighting something she decided to collect and bring along some scrap metal and piping she'd located in some of the more adandoned parts of town. For the beginning she would be cautious as she and a walking mass of metal followed her.

It was there that another doll would float up next to Melissa, matching in size, yet appearing more carefully crafted down to the smallest details. Then another, and a third. They all appeared intrigued at their temporary partner.

"Looks like they taken a liking to you!" Anaya walked over to the metal doll after them, squatting down to talk to her. "And I can see why! It's not every day you meet a doll monster-girl. I'm Anaya, and these are my kindred spirits. Literally." she smiled, motioning to the puppets.

Seeing more dolls show up around her, the monster girl began to get excited. They were like her! Well... to some extent. She could see that spirits inhabited these figures. Looking up as a magical girl came, her suspects for these creatures were affirmed. Smiling brightly, Melisa offered a tiny hand to each girl and doll there. "Wonderful to meet you. I'm Melisa. Wow, I never thought I'd meet another animated doll." She was clearly ecstatic to meet them.

"A pleasure to make your aquaintance! These vessels are for my spirits to inhabit, so they can fight alongside me. Besides that, I handcrafted them myself." Anaya smiled. The puppets chatted amongst themselves in excited whispers, one of them circling Melissa curiously. "So, I guess you're my partner for this bounty? Armored phantom, was it?" The spirit girl had heard about the bounty from the others at HQ, and she was curious enough to take it.

The girl nodded. "Yes. I heard about it and got excited. I'm not really sure what to expect, but maybe it can teach me something about my own, er, body I guess." She would shrug a bit. "Kind of new to all of this stuff."

Anaya straightened herself up. "Ooooh, you're new to this?" she tilted her head. "Well, I'm not sure you'll figure out what makes you tick or not, phantoms are tricky like that. But bounty hunts are like side jobs. Containing monsters, escort missions, fighting other magical girls even, you never know. You do get paid for the job though, but how much you get depends on how dangerous it was." She explained.

Interrupting their conversation, the sound of shattering glass filled the air. It seemed that the foe they had come to deal with was afoot. But could they keep up?

"Oh shoot!" Brought back into the task at hand, Melisa hopped up to look at where the thing was running. Managing to catch a glimpse she pointed in the direction of their target. "Sickum." With that command the metalic creature that had been following her shifted and lept into action. Bounding after the armor it sought to grab or cut off its escape.

Melisa herself would wave for Anaya and the others to follow as she started running after.

The trio of puppets would swiftly fly ahead, weapons at the ready. If they managed to catch up to the target, they would attempt stall them for the two to follow up after them. Anaya would run up to Melissa, picking up the doll if she was lagging behind.

Moving above street lights and along rooftops, the armored figure became a bit clearer. It was samurai armor with a ceremonial mask, just as they had been told it would be. It was painted a dark red with yellow trim, the mask twisted into an almost demonic visage. Presumably that was how it looked normally, but in the shadows of the night it was made particularly spooky.

While the girls followed it in its flight, their Familiars took the lead. The armor moved upwards, not necessarily to the rooftops but along balconies, lower structures, and the like. It was giving them a run for their money.

Carrying out their mission would be a bit more difficult though. The trio of puppets would feel its wrath first as they moved to stall. The armor drew a shining blade, an antiquate katana enhanced by the magic that had enchanted the armor in the first place. It slashed at the puppets, forcing them to either dodge or be damaged by the sharp weapon.

As the metallic being closed in to grab it, it would find the armor much more agile than one might expect. It leapt and sprinted, proving quite difficult to snag. Not that anyone had expected it to be easy. Were they prepared for the force it could bring to bear?

"Son of a-! Hey, stop!!" Anaya was forced to retract her puppets away from the phantom vigilante before it could destroy the vessels. "I just want to talk!!" she called out, amplifying her voice with sound magic so it could reach it.

Despite the pleas made of the armor, it did not stop. Whether it was because it did not want to or because it was unable to do so for lack of intelligence was unclear at present. Whether she sought to continue pursuing that dialogue was her own decision, but at least her dolls were safe.

After several attempts to grasp the armor came up with nothing, the metallic creature rattled and dove forward. Blasting apart the shrapnel spread out to try and move around the armor. It would all begin to collapse around it to try to ensnare and begin pulling it toward the mages.

The next threat then made itself known as the metallic creature shifted tactics. It sought to surround and envelop the armor, then drag it back to the magical girls. Despite how strong the armor might be, it was not resistant to this as it was engulfed in spite of its speed and flailing. That was when it decided to turn the tables, flipping to instead rocket towards the duo with a bit of an extra boost before the mechanical being could realize what was going on.

Despite the bindings in place, the armor strove with inhuman strength as it readied its blade and slashed at Anaya. Hopefully she could react quick enough to avoid the wicked steel blade as the armor moved on to the offensive.

"Tch-?!" Anaya barely managed to move out of the way, the armor managing to slash through her leg. But she can shrug it off for now, her regeneration can deal with it. She swapped one of the puppets out for her own phantom knight. "Play with them for awhile!" she called out, letting her knight fight the other. She needed time to figure out what kind of spirit they were facing. If the demonic warrior managed to break through, she'd have her guns at the ready with a sound enchantment.

Taken back with the sudden turn, Melisa summoned her cannons. Being closer she was better able to feel out what was going on with this creature. Particularly her Metal and Spirit magic told her that the katana was likely the source of the magic. "Watch the sword." Speaking of she would aim at the blade and fire several shots. She would see if her own combo of magic could reign in this embued items.

Metal clashed against metal as the samurai armor fought the scrap metal creature. This was added to by Melisas cannon shots, aimed at the blade that it wielded. That was a difficult target though because of the fast paced combat between Anaya's creature and it, so she was only able to score a glancing hit, at least for now.

Still, it did earn a pause from the samurai. A low groan filled the air, emanating from the armor like a ghostly wail rather than a person. Taking a step back, it readied its blade behind it before darting forward to slash at her. It was much more prepared than the last attack upon Anaya, and that made it all the more dangerous as it sought to bypass the metal knight and strike her instead.

"Shit!!" Seeing the samurai bypass her knight, Anaya rapidly fired sonic bullets at it's sword. While the knight waited for the right moment to step in and attack again.

Bits of metal began to fly in the direction of the sword iteslf to try and surround it. On one side it would try and cover it which could potentially dull the blade it would also allow the material to try and transfer Melisa's magic to the blade and hopefully overpower the spirit within. In theory she might be able to calm, seal, or perhaps take the weapon for herself.

Despite how fast and skillful the armor might be,it was not agile enough to dodge the next attempt. It interrupted its attempt to attack Anaya at least, though that had been compounded by the sonic bullets used against it.

As the armor stumbled back, a more mental battle began. Melisa would find that the Spirit was stubborn, prideful, and resistant to her efforts. That was likely why it had been running around and attacking things, whether it be simple anger or rejection of this future in which it had no place. How would she approach this challenge, and bring rest as well as peace?

Sensing a connection, she tried to keep hold of that. Raising up her hands she would try and get the spirit's attention. "Wh- hold on. There's no need to fight." Seeing as it was a katana she could only assume it was a spirit of a Japanese warrior. Bowing as respectfully as she knew how she would point to herself. "Look at me. I'm sealed inside an object too in a world I don't understand. We have magic that can help you though. What do you need?" She hoped her magic would bridge any language barrier there might be.

Melisa met with turmoil, discontent from the spirit that she came in contact with. While there was initial resistance, the language barrier was not one that applied much when it came to spirits. They could commune on a level far beyond that of spoken language. That might just be for the sake of drama, but it was at the very least a unique experience.

That said, the nature of the spirit in question meant that it was a bit less vocal and eloquent than Melisa was. “Release from these shackles. Purpose.” There were only so many reasons a restless spirit would try to act in the mortal coil, so this matched fairly well with what Melisa might expect. It didn’t necessarily make things easier, but it helped.

That wasn't the most clear. Wracking her brain for a moment, she would try and feel out her magic. "You wish to be freed from the sword?" The doll would ask.

Melisa would quickly find that the spirit seemed to become better at words the longer it conversed with her. That made things easier at least. "Release from being a trophy, as an object of amusement, and freedom from that cage of metal and glass." Given what the spirit had said before, it seemed he was not the sort eager to leave the mortal coil. Not just yet.

Looking off in the direction of the museum things would begin to click. Now that was something of a conundrum. The woman herself knew that just letting this thing go was not what the job called for. They were being paid to recover the armor. Despite this her monster form felt differently. It too had been kept in a case for many years. Looking to Amaya the tiny girl would groan a bit. "It doesn't want to be locked up anymore like it was in the museum." A thought passed through her mind, but she would wait and see what the other girl had to say.

"Hm..." Putting her pistols away, Anaya carefully walked up to the phantom, checking if there's any major damages to the armor and sword. "Hey, if you'd like, I can get a new vessel for you. You wouldn't have to go back to that museum anymore. Is that alright?" Anaya suggested to the spirit.

The armor paused, turning to look at Anaya as she made her offer, before speaking to Melisa once more. "What kind of vessel?" She would not see any major damage, since there had not really been any inflicted by them or by others it had attacked for this time.

Seemed the communication was limited to just herelf. Melisa would relay the question.

"I'm glad you asked! I hand craft all kinds vessels for my spirit partners!" In a boost of confidence, Anaya began to explain. "The suit of armor I summoned is one example of such. I can also do different kinds of dolls ranging from porcelain to ball-joint, and even custom orders like this!" With a snap of her fingers, one of the life-sized dolls was summoned. "So what do you think? If you have any ideas as to what you want, I can whip something up in no time!"

The armor eyed the life sized doll carefully, with a keen gaze that one could at least imagine. It didnt seem like he hated it, which would have to be good enough. "That is acceptable," he conceded after a moment. Thoughin doing so he carried the tone of someone not fully satisfied. Presumably the spirit wanted it a bit closer to the authentic deal.

Having agreed upon that, however, there was one last issue to address. At least in its mind. "And what of purpose?"

"Purpose? Well, what is it that you desire? What do you wish to do?" Anaya would ask.

"To serve. To fight. To protect."

"Maybe you could work with one of the factions here? I work with Beacon, for example."

The suggestion provoked a pause. DId the spirit even know what Beacon was? How much it knew of magical girls and that lifestyle were still unclear. Still, it was a pretty good suggestion to deal with this dilemma.

After a moment, it nodded. It likely would have bowed or something, if it could. "I will explore. and discern which Lord is worthy of my service."

The monster girl wasn't really sure about that proposition herself. She hadn't really encountered much of Beacon herself, other just today. Anaya didn't seem to be like how they were portrayed to her, but it was still early. Besides though, she had another idea. "I know some people that need protecting. They're not a big group or anything, mostly a hodge podge of people. But they had some trouble recently and I know they would appreciate assistance." Just in case she didn't say the name of the place.

The comment by Melisa earned another nod from the spirit. It was another place for him to investigate, and to decide where he should devote his loyalties. "I will seek out this group as well and hear their tale. My choice shall be my own."

"Great!" The girl brightened up with a sudden childish glee. "Oh, do you have a name?" She would look curiously.

The question brought a pause, as if the spirit was struggling to remember who he was. But eventually an answer was found. "....Iwanari Tomomichi. I believe that was my name. It is familiar."

Anaya smiled. "Well, Mr. Tomomichi, let's see you to a vessel of your liking first." She would summon a few more empty vessels for him to choose. Whichever one he picked, Anaya would help move him to it from the armor.

After confirming that Anaya did not have any dolls that were amored like his current shell, the japanese spirit would set to deciding on a new body. Certainly he was not the pickiest sort, but it seemed that he did have some preferences from fragmented memories of an old life, when he was still alive.

In the end he settled for a tall form, one with long black hair. Lithe in movement, but with some muscle build to it. It fit the sort of aesthetic he was looking for as a warrior, while still being pretty good looking.

The choice made, Anaya would move the spirit over. Eyes flickered over as the armor stilled and fell, no longer bound upright by magical force. It took several moments for the spirit to gain control, to feel out its new body and adjust to various sensations. Once it had, it was able to respectuflly bow to both girls. "Thank you both for your aid. Many things are strange to me, but I shall endeavor to learn now that I have the chance to do so."

Once Iwanari chose his new body, Anaya would send the rest of the vessels away. She bowed back in return. "I can help get you some new equipment later, if you wished. That aside, it's no problem at all." She'd collect the armor off the ground, relieved at the outcome.

"This turned out great. We can put the armor back and we have a new friend." She would help pick up some of the armor.

Their new samurai companion cracked a slight smile as Anaya offered to help him get some equipment, clothing, and the like. "I am in your debt. I will feel much better once I have my bearings, as well as a blade at my hip."

A blade? Hmm... Melisa would look over the katana and feel it out with her magic to get an idea of how it was made. With her abilities she should be able to make something similar if she can find the right material. "I might be able to make something like this."

Everything gathered up they would bring it back to the museum while working out details with Iwanari. He would stick around with them for at least a little while longer, until he was better situated to handle the modern world. Meanwhile, the girls would recieve their bounty for the successful return of the armor. All in all, it had been a good nights work.
Heated Rivalry

Starring
'It's what's for dinner' Hilaria
'Too new to have a gimmick' Aria


The world of business was cutthroat. One had to always be looking for the next advantage, the newest edge. This was especially true for the world of magical business, which combined all the dangers of finance with wild magical powers. Needless to say, things could get pretty dramatic.

Such was the case now. The bounty poster, who preferred to remain anonymous, had directed the girls she had hired to go and smash the workshop of a rival. In doing so she would take a decisive advantage in terms of mercantile production within the city. Or something like that anyway. Whatever the logic was, it did not change what they had been directed to do. Hopefully they would be up for the task.

As part of this effort the duo had been provided information directing them to the general location of the workshop. It was located near the rail yard, serenading them with the sounds of trains as they stepped closer. From what the poster had said, there was a secret entrance in one of the old sheds that would take them underground to the workshop. Which was probably better than trying to get in from the sewers.

There were some challenges of course. Entering the shed, they would find a damaged train, a leftover from some major accident or the fight that had ravaged the rail yard like a million years ago. Mechanicals parts laid scattered about, to say nothing of the dirt and snow that had accumulated. There just weren't the people to maintain this when they had more to do to keep the reduced city running.

For now they had at least a couple hours to work this out before the owner returned, according to the bounty poster. Hopefully they could make good use of this time.

Wearing a snug winter coat, the larger of the two girls idly kicked some of the debris on the ground as she looked around the place. “Mmm~” she punted a small piece of metal, sending it bouncing off a far wall of the shed with a clang. “Hilaria will be out of a job if the lab looks anything like this place~” She continued to find small things to kick, looking like she was bored initially, but she also seemed to be checking to see if there was anything hidden beneath the stuff.

While Hilaria inspected things to kick, the thinner girl was scanning their provided literature for more clues. "I'm sure it's just hidden, like a diamond in the, hmmm, snow?" She folded up her documents when she approached the train. "Maybe it`s in the train? Maybe, under the train?" Aria continued to think out loud as she stepped inside. "Now`s the time you earn your nectar boys and girls!" Her butterflies flew out from underneath her kimono and inspected the interior of the train. They rocked levers, explored the furnace, trying to find anything that might have indicated a hidden lair. On the train at least.

Working in tandem, the duo would soon find their success.Hilaria kicked free a latch disguised beneath some rocks, which combined with a lever pulled by one of the butterflies to cause a hatch to swing open next to the train.
"Down we go~” Hilaria would say as she entered first. Aria followed shortly afterwards.

The passage was a bit larger than one person wide, with stone stairs leading downwards into a tunnel. It was all illuminated by lamps interspersed at regular intervals, and so far everything looked normal for the sake of the public that might stumble across it on accident.

Eventually the tunnel dead ended in what looked like a utility closet. One section had various mundane tools, the other side had cleaning supplies like mops and buckets and grease lift and stuff. Given what they had done to get here, this section would likely require more of a magical touch to get results.

Hilaria carelessly tossed aside the various items in the closet to get to the back. When she, presumably, didn't find any glaringly obvious markings or the sort, her eyes seemed to glow gold as she scanned the area with her magic-sensing vision. "Doesn't it seem like such a pain~?" she asked her kimono-wearing ally. "Hilaria doesn't think you can get delivery down here~"

"No, I don’t suppose we could." Aria chuckled at the unusual observation. Hilaria seemed to know what she was doing, so she kept her butterflies back for the moment. "Perhaps they have a way to make their own food further in." She looked at her notes, then back at Hilaria. "While we are here to destroy everything, I wouldn’t mind having a peak at any literature we find before it goes up in flames."

As Hilaria continued to look for anything suspicious, she smiled. "Sure~" she agreed readily. "Hilaria would think our client would want to gain as much intel on her opposition and at least gather things~" she shrugged.

"Yes, for our client." Aria’s eyes squinted slightly as a smile crossed her lips. Her butterflies, oblivious to what was going on, continued to fly around without a care in the world.

As expected, there was no obvious marking to tell them what they should do next. While they conversed among themselves, Hilaria put her Third Eye to work, scanning the room for any signs that might clue her in to a secret entrance. You know, the sort of thing they were here for.

After a bit of looking, she found what she needed. It seemed there were magical conduits in the wall, which triggered a locking mechanism. Or something like that. Presumably one had to use a particular specialization of magic to activate it, or an item, but with Hilaria’s experience and Aria’s help, she could probably brute force it.

"Hilaria sees, she sees~" she placed her hand on the wall where the mechanism was, turning to face Aria. "The unseen lock is the trickiest~! Mmm, but Hilaria wonders what the key is~?" she attempted to see if the lock would react to her gravity magic in any way, but didn't expect any results. And assuming that didn't work, she would ask of Aria, "Hey, hey..." she paused, realizing that they hadn't exchanged names yet. "Hilaria forgot to ask you your name, but Hilaria's name is Hilaria, for future reference~!"

"Oh? I had no idea." She extended her hand towards the giant woman. "My name is Aria. I’m an artificer. I typically don’t talk to people much when I’m on outings like this. Well, not during an operation at least." She stepped past Hilaria to look at the wall. She couldn’t see the lock, of course. "Hmm, we might be able to brute force it, but might that just summon surveillance?" She tapped her foot. "I suppose if we’re quick, it won’t matter too much. But just in case..."

One of Aria’s smaller butterflies inspected the wall, trying to fly inside the “lock,” if it even had a physical shape. Meanwhile, Aria placed her wand on Hilaria’s shoulder, and she could feel her strength increase dramatically.

Having located what they were looking for, work began to deal with the lock. The butterflies would not see much success, the lock seemingly protected against physical intrusions like that. Though presumably no one expected that to work on its own.

The use of gravity magic would provoke a greater reaction. The conduits shifted and pulsed, reacting both to the physical force used as well as the magic itself. From what Hilaria could discern of the reaction, her magic would function to activate the circuit. She just needed to provide a consistent force to the entirety of the circuit to get it to activate and unlock the path forwards. Or she could just smash it down, that was an option too.

Naturally, Hilaria chose the option more suited for both the mission and subtlety, using excessive force, presumably breaking through the entrance. She had probably just gotten bored. "Is everything going to be like this, Hilaria wonders~?" She led the way in, but looked wary, as if searching for any surprises on the way in. But Aria would hear a weird crunching noise coming from Hilaria as she did so.

"Oh I’m sure it’ll get more exciting once we get inside. " Aria was not far behind Hilaria. "Anyone willing to hide their lair this well is bound to have interesting things. You can’t invest all this time in something without having something of value, right?" She stepped over a pile of rubble that Hilaria made. "But if I’m being honest, just meeting you has made this trip quite fascinating. Your approach to entering a secure lair is simple but also very entertaining!"

“Oh, thank you~” Hilaria didn’t stop walking. “Most of the time people just call Hilaria lazy, foolish, or a brute if they bother to comment~ But she just doesn’t like a circuitous approach, is all~” Every few words of hers had a short, two second pause between them, with the crunching continuing still. But eventually, Aria would see Hilaria toss an empty bag of chips off to the side. “Mmm, Hilaria thinks that if there’s an easier way to do something, that the more difficult or complex way is about as useful as the ‘G’ in lasagna~”

"Exactly! Meanwhile the ‘y’ in Lasagna found a way to do its job without even being there, which I find far more impressive!" Aria looked at the casually discarded potato chip bag. She was starting to notice a theme. "When we’re done here, we should get something to eat. I don’t know about Penrose, but there’s a few places I like in the overcity. There’s this really unassuming stall that sells some of the best muskrat you could ever put in your mouth. "

“Yes~! Hilaria thinks that sounds like a wonderful plan~!” enthusiasm for the date was all over her words. Aria would notice a bit more of a spring to Hilaria’s step than before, which continued until they reached the end of the tunnel.

The tunnel did not do much to interest, being a fairly normal tunnel. The main difference was that the lighting here was magical rather than mundane. There was no need to hide the masquerade here after all. At least they knew it wouldn’t end in a utility closet.

Past the end of the tunnel, through another set of mundane doors with no magic lock this time, they would find they had reached their destination. It was a fairly large room, probably too big for the space it was supposed to be if not for magic, with an arching ceiling and some cents for air. The place was a bit of a mess, with fabric strewn about, some looms and various crafting materials, metal presses, a furnace for blowing glass, all the tools of the trade. In one corner was an office space, presumably for stuff like storing designs and cash and the like.

For now there did not seem to be any sign of anyone around. It was time to go to work.

For a moment, it seemed like Hilaria was in a bit of awe at all the stuff they had shoved down there. This, however, changed when she promptly pointed her shotgun at a loom and blew it to smithereens without any hesitation and a giggle. Now pieces of that were scattered about the floor as well. But she didn’t stop there, and continued onto the next item to be destroyed. “Ahh~” Hilaria was enjoying herself. She might’ve been enjoying herself too much, even.

Aria was also swept up in Hilaria’s gleeful destruction of personal property. She swept up a few fragments of the devices into her her hammer space gourd before marching into the office. Once there, she started to sort through the things written there. Anything that was relevant to Aria’s interests was quickly shoved into her gourd. Everything else was tossed off the desk, at which point her butterflies would do a sloppy job of devouring it. "I have a hard time *BANG* believing this is everything." She was not phased by the sounds of Hilaria’s shotgun. Though it was kind of annoying to get cut off every few shots. "Hillaria, do- *BANG* do your eyes *BANG* see *CHOMP* anything else?"

It appeared to take a great deal of effort for the girl to pull herself away from blowing things into pieces. To say she was reluctant was putting it lightly, and it also might have had some implications. But she did eventually succeed, facing Aria for a moment. “Lets see~” she hadn’t bothered to really concentrate on looking beyond what was obviously present, so now would be the time she did, searching for anything that might’ve been hidden.

The duo worked well, setting about the destructive efforts with a naked glee. Wood splintered and shattered, paper and parchment devoured, as they painted on this canvas they had been given. They were making a big mess and making their client very happy, that was for sure.
However, they were not as alone as they thought they were. The bounty had mentioned guards, and now was the time when they made their appearance. But rather than lumbering giants, they fit the owner who utilized this workshop.

First would be Hilaria, standing amidst a growing amount of rubble and detritus even though she had stopped shooting. Shimmering fabric sprang to life and leapt forward, several robes animated by magical power now rising to the defense of their creator like malicious magic carpets. One moved for the shotgun, seeking to wrench it from her grip as it wrapped around the firearm. Another skimmed low to the ground and began tangling itself through her legs, so as to bind her in place and pull her down to the ground.

Meanwhile Aria would suddenly find herself confronted as well. Her foes were a trio of wooden mannequins, like the sort you’d use to model clothes in a department store, or a larger version of those dolls you’d have in art class. One of the mannequins went for a jump kick, springing with an inhuman flexibility and speed as the others moved to block her from reaching Hilaria.

This mission had just gotten a bit trickier.

Aria’s magic was ill suited for direct combat with an adversary, but being cut off from Hilaria didn’t mean she was necessarily alone.

"Rupy!"

One of Aria’s larger insects changed its shape in a blinding flash of light. While still a butterfly, it wore a glowing neon crown, and its wings had cannons woven into each one. On a down stroke of its wings, Rupy fired two projectiles that looked like shooting stars at the incoming dummy. The rest of Aria’s butterflies surged in front of her to act as a shield should one of the guards break through.

"If you want it so badly, then Hilaria can let you have it~" Hilaria nonchalantly threw the gun-axe to the side with enough force to destroy whatever mundane objects came between it and the wall, where it should've lodged itself into. Hopefully pinning the fabric that was latched onto it.

She was clearly more worried about the one going for her legs and placed priority on that, attempting to make a high jump towards the nearest wall where she would create a grip by force if there was nothing immediate to grab a hold of, perhaps hoping the higher view would give her a better assessment of the situation.

Hilaria’s move worked as intended, snagging the robe and yanking it back to the far wall. It was able to tear itself free eventually, but that took several moments and it left a significant hole in the fabric that Hilaria could potentially exploit. Her leap to the ceiling gave her a greater vantage point of the trouble that inflicted Aria as well as the space she had to work with. The destruction was not too widespread just yet, but there was definitely open space to use. Which was good and bad, considering the nature of her opponents.

Speaking of which, they rose to attack once more. This was simpler, a matter of pinning her to the new perch she had chosen. They would not hurt her directly, but they would constrict tightly and hold her there. Presumably until the owner returned or until she starved, whichever came first.

The wooden mannequins proved a tough foe as well. The projectiles embedded themselves in the mannequin, where they remained and mostly inhibited its movement. More butterflies rose to act as a shield, which was a wise decision as the mannequins advanced from two separate angles. The second mannequin took the full brunt of the butterflies, clearing a path for the third to burst through and launch a sharp kick at Aria herself.

"Hmph!"

With her defensive barrier breaking, Aria chose to duck and roll under the desk, just as her opponents broke through the butterflies. She was running out of room, but not options.

None of the mannequins had bothered with Rupy himself, allowing the familiar to attack with impunity. With every flap of his wings, he fired another pair of shooting stars. After a few of the enchanted butterflies merged with him, this happened much more frequently. His body glowed with a radiance that could only be described as divine. This was passed on to his projectiles, which detonated like fireworks.

Hilaria had to admit this sort of foe was one of the ones she was ill-suited to fight. She had every bit of confidence when it came to wrestling another magical girl, but sentient fabrics did not exactly have limbs to restrain or a neck to choke. Since she had to abandon her axe, recalling it would take more time she was afforded. However, that was not the same case with her scutum.

“Hilaria suggests you duck, Aria~!” giving this ‘suggestion’ to her ally, Hilaria had summoned her scutum in her free hand and gave the shield a heavy hurl in the girl’s direction, aimed at the mannequins attacking her. This one would have much more strength behind it than even her tossing vulcun aside, cutting through things like a sawblade.

Aside from that, although she wasn’t confident she would be able to do so since she spent precious time assisting Aria, she at least attempted to kick off the wall before the fabric could pin her to it. At the very least, being restrained on the floor would be preferable to the wall.

The shield soared through the air with impressive speed, cutting right through one of the mannequins before burying itself in the wall. That one was cleaved in half and clattered to the floor. The upper half continued to pull itself towards Aria, but it was not particularly fast in doing so. With the shield embedded in the wall though, it would take some doing to use it again.

Meanwhile the other mannequin struck by Rupy all but exploded from the force of accumulated projectiles, blasted into little pieces and wooden limbs. That just left the remaining mannequin, who chose to focus on Aria herself rather than the minion. Flipping over the desk, it swung around and sought to both haul her out of her hiding spot and then hold her from behind as a human shield from Rupy.

As for Hilaria. She would successfully push off the ceiling. But her luck ended there as her legs were entangled by the first robe. She would fall heavily to the ground, landing amidst broken tables and other debris. The other robe was quickie closing in, looking to ensnare her arms and prevent any more saving throws. Once bundled tight, there would be little she could do. Hopefully.

With the desk being thrown aside, Aria had a brief moment where she was able to understand exactly what was going on before the mannequin reached for her. It wasn’t a lot of time, and Aria wasn’t especially strong by magical girl standards. Even a minion like this would be difficult to overpower by herself. It took hold of her baggy kimono and tried to hold her in front of the incoming projectiles. But much like how a butterfly emerges from a cocoon, Aria would emerge from her Kimono.

With a single tug on her belt, the entire thing came undone, and it wasn’t hard for the slender girl to slip out of her kimono. Fortunately her uniform came with a pair of hot pants and a silken ribbon that was wrapped around her chest. Both were yellow and decorated with red butterflies. It preserved some of her dignity, anyway.

Rupy, like most butterflies, had an erratic and fast movement pattern. With the additional agility he was packing, it was easy for him to circle around the dummy and resume blowing it to bits. The dummy was reduced to splinters, with Aria’s new year kimono fluttering to the ground.

But Aria herself was not concerned with what was happening behind herself. One of her butterflies flew into her back, granting her a burst of strength. She pounced on top of Hilaria and tried to rip the robes off her body with the fervor of a child opening Christmas presents.

Hilaria had already begun struggling to break her arms free from the robe she knew was damaged. "Oh, my~" Aria landed on her with a thud, but it didn't seem to bother the knight very much. "Hilaria appreciates it~" She knew that if they could break free her arms that the ones holding her legs would soon follow.

The mannequin was destroyed in an incredible explosion even as it sought to reclaim its hostage, all but shredding the kimono in the blast as well. At least that wasn’t the sort of thing Aria needed to worry about.

Leaping on top of Hilaria, Aria began to tug and tear at the robes. It was a task she would find difficult, as they flowed and twisted and kep[t her from getting a solid grip. Without that purchase, it was difficult to tear anything. It also masked the moves by the enchanted robes to bind Aria too, leaving her trapped alongside Hilaria in their grasp.

"Ara ara~!" Aria had fortified her strength to it’s limit, but it seemed that it wasn’t quite enough to do anything about the robes. Fortunately, she didn’t mind getting bound alongside Hilaria. She didn’t really mind anything that had happened this entire mission.
"Well, it appears that was a bust. However, we’re not out of options yet!"

As the robe squeezed the two of them tighter, Aria would become increasingly aware of the fact that her attempt was not the only bust around. “Mmm, it’s a bit tight here, isn’t it~? Not the the worst, she supposes~”

Instead of enhancing her own strength, Aria channeled all of her mana into Hilaria. At this range, it wasn’t too difficult to place an enchantment on her. "It would be fun to nap here, but I’m still hungry, aren’t you?"

Speaking of hunger, Rupy hadn’t had anything to eat since he was summoned. He wasn’t a moth, but that didn’t stop him from swooping in and trying to devour the robes. In his war form, Rupy’s mandibles were more than enough to sheer mundane cloth.

Aria didn’t even need to ask. “Hilaria prefers her naps after a delicious meal~” Using the power of her newfound friendship, eagerness to eat, the prior damage to the robe, and this buff she found, Hilaria would push her arms outward. It, presumably, would snap the torn piece of fabric otherwise what the fuck is the CR on this encounter Flame and she would recall her shotgun-axe in order to begin cutting the two of them free from their fabric foes.

With a tremendous flexing of muscles, an exertion of effort, and the inclusion of a combination shotgun axe and an enchanted butterfly, Hilaria would tear her torso free and bring Aria along with her to freedom in the process. This destroyed one of the robes, with the other slipping free now that it was all alone in this fight.

Instead it engaged in a game of ‘keep away’, flying back and throwing stuff at them with the projectiles Hilaria’s destruction had provided. Not that it would save it from a shotgun blast, but it had tried. With its destruction, silence descended upon the workshop once more.

”Whew!" Aria hung on Hilaria’s neck with both hands, with the crook of her legs over Hilaria’s extended arm. She surveyed the destruction as smoke waifed out of the end of Hilaria’s shotgun. ”That was really something else!" She pulled her legs up and dropped onto the ground, where she approached the remains of her uniform. With the help of her butterflies, she was able to retrieve all the pieces and use her magic to make her kimono whole again. After which, she threw it over her shoulders. ”I think this place is destroyed enough. Let us depart so that we may collect our bounty and get something to eat." She stretched her arms over her head with a yawn.

Hilaria took one final look at the workshop that was now in tatters. If it weren't for the fact that it was underground someone might assume that it was hit by a tornado. In any case, whomever's shop this was would not be making use of it for a while. They had done their job.

"Hilaria would love that~" her voice laced with eagerness, the ancient lost any and all interest in the destruction that laid behind them as they left. "Now," Hilaria caught Aria's attention. "About that muskrat stall~"

”Of course, just let me get this thing back on."






Several hours after the destructive rampage that had been committed by Hilaria and Aria, their act had been discovered. In a particular store the phone rang, seeking to establish contact with its owner.

“Brittany’s Boutique, how may I help you?” The familiar voice spoke back with practiced politeness.

The measured response was met with a verbal snap. The speaker made no effort to hide how angry she was as she surveyed her destroyed workshop. “Really Brittany? Sending thugs to smash up my work? That’s low, even for you.” There was no doubt as to what had happened or who was responsible. She was not going to take this lying down.

Brittany made a confused sound.
"Excuse me? Who is this?"

The confusion, whether feigned or real, did not earn Brittany any favors. “It’s Tijana. You know, the other weaver in town. Don’t play dumb with me.”

Brittany turned silent. “Oh, Tijuana? I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. I gotta go now, bye.”

She hung up the call, and went over to her Patron who was sitting on the counter, meaning on it on her elbows, pouting.

“Man, I can’t believe Tijuana would call up and blame me for it...Heh, serves her right, though.”

She smiled deviously.

“It’s unfortunate, but it can’t be helped. Sometimes you gotta grease some wheels to get results in this town. But how did she find out? I gotta make sure there’s no screwups from now on...”

&
Kimble


It was a calm night in Penrose when Kimble had decided to take Alicia on a date. The former catgirl had kept herself busy with work, trying to distract herself from the incident with Lamashtu, but she finally had decided to take a break. And so the two were now strolling over on the central market street, looking through the windows of the few shops that had remained.

Despite all the responsibilities that one had to deal with, Alicia still did what she could to spend time with friends. She’d met with Penny, done what she could to keep from being overwhelmed by the weight of work. Sometimes it had succeeded, sometimes it had not. And through it all she could not escape the lingering frustration and anger at having been denied that final fight with Mariette.

”Oh, that hat is pretty!” Kimble had squished her cheek against the icy glass to take a closer look.
To take her mind off that, she was hanging out with Kimble. There was less to do in the devastated city, but hopefully they would turn that around soon enough. Until then, Kimble had decreed that they do some window shopping...Until she ended up getting stuck.
”Uh oh...I think I need help, Alicia!”

Standing next to Kimble, Alicia couldn’t help but snicker as the former catgirl became fixed to the glass pane. “How did you even do that?” Alicia asked as she watched for a moment. She’d heard of people getting their tongues stuck to lamp posts, but not windows.

Having delighted in her misery for a few moments, Alicia would help her out. Glancing around, she used her Light magic to heat up the glass window so Kimble could pull her cheek free. “Are you alright?” she asked. Hopefully it wasn’t too harrowing of an experience, even if it had happened at the expense of her dignity.

Kimble shook her head after she was released, and giggled a bit.
”I’m fine. As long as you’re around, I have nothing to be afraid of...Even mommy,” she responded, turning more quietly with the last few words. They moved to the next window, which showcased various books.
”Alicia...Have you ever had a fight with someone? Not like a regular fight, but...One with a person you cared about?”

Relieved to hear that Kimble was alright, Alicia was more than ready to resume window shopping. She hadn’t seen very much to grab her interest at present. But there was still time for that to change. And she would admit that the faith Kimble placed in her was warming. Especially in spite of all the stuff the city had been through recently.

As such, the question took her off guard. Alicia frowned, not sure what inspired it but still determined to treat it as seriously as it deserved. It mattered to Kimble, and that was what mattered.

“The only time I can think of was with Penny. That girl Chloe came back into town for a bit, and really tried to set her against us. Things got pretty tense, though admittedly Penny did try to compromise by splitting her two personalities into different bodies to square the circle.” She shivered just thinking about it, though the fact that Chloe had skipped town again before it got worse was some relief. Even if it was another thing she had not been able to settle.

She flashed a chagrined look to Kimble while scratching the back of her head. “Sorry I can’t be of much help. I guess I’ve gotten pretty lucky there.”

Kimble frowned, and took Alicia’s hand.
”No, it’s fine, Alicia.”
She sighed, and looked down at the ground.
”You’ve had your hardships too. But you’ve grown so strong over them. While I...I guess I haven’t changed that much.”

“You just need to be around more,” Alicia observed with some amusement. But she quickly left the meta humor behind to return to more serious matters. This was a conversation that Kimble seemed to care about, so she shouldn’t make too light of her.

So she continued to maintain a firm grip on Kimble’s hand as she shook her head. ”Anyway, I think ‘strength’ is a bit subjective. I’m not physically the strongest, and I haven’t really gotten the opportunity to personally mete out justice on people. I just have some….strong beliefs, and I was lucky enough to interact with people who respected that sort of thing.”

A sigh followed, as she glanced upwards in reminiscing of her own. ”I think everyone is like that. It’s just a matter of finding what that is.”

Kimble smiled, enjoying Alicia’s touch on her head.
“Well, maybe not strong with lifting or punching, but I meant a strong heart. Even when you first went against Justine, you still placed my safety above that. And when other villains have been in sight, you’ve never failed to stay and save those who need saving. I think that’s the sign of a strong person,” Kimble mused.

The two ended up at the city square, where Kimble sat on one of the benches. She looked around, as if to ensure they were alone, before she asked in a soft voice:
”So...Do you think what Rachel is doing is right, with the Ascendancy and all?”

”It’s….complicated,” Alicia conceded, holding back a grimace as she joined Kimble sitting on the bench. ”I think the role they have is necessary, being able to handle things a normal branch can’t. But I don’t agree with their attitude. It’s just a lot harder to argue that after the Rave.”

She paused for a moment, letting her feelings work through before she could begin to speak again. ”The hardest part right now is figuring out where to go from here. I can’t exactly just tell her what to do. But no, I don’t agree with her most of the time.”

Kimble nodded, and placed a hand on Alicia's knee. ”Yeah, I know how that feels. When I first joined Beacon, I wasn't sure what to do either. Everyone kept staring at me like I was a stray animal who wandered into the office."
She clutched at her woolly cap, as if reaching for her former feline ears.
”But whenever I felt bad about it, I remembered my promise to make a real change, and I kept working hard. Things aren't going to change by just being a bystander. I'm sure if you put your mind to it, you could do really big things, Alicia. A lot of people here respect you, and trust in you. You just have to realize that."
She turned quiet after that.
”I didn't mean to sound rude, sorry. I just want you to know you can be more confident in yourself."

“It’s fine,” Alicia replied, shaking her head as she leaned back in her seat. “Though I’m not sure how we got here. Wasn’t I supposed to be the one bringing up your mood? You did get roughed up pretty bad during that fight.”

Kimble giggled.
”The medics over at Beacon did a good job healing my injuries, so I’ll be fine."
She then kissed Alicia’s cheek, a blush on her cheeks.
”Besides, getting to spend some time with you is all the healing I’d need."

“Nope, I refuse,” Alicia declared, shaking her head firmly even as she blushed from the kiss a bit. ”I am going to pamper you at least a little and you are going to like it. Understand?” It was the least she could do given how few and far between these sorts of opportunities were.

Kimble was surprised by Alicia’s assertiveness, and she became visibly flustered.
”O-Okay, Alicia." She then giggled a bit.
”Now you’re starting to get it~".

Kimble’s encouragement earned an eye roll from Alicia as she grinned. “Don’t push it,” she replied, nudging Kimble’s shoulder with her own. These were hardly similar situations, despite the efforts to create some sort of equivalence between them. But for now she’d prefer to focus on something else rather than her difficulties as head of Penrose Beacon.

The next question that arose to her mind was what they should do next. Were this a normal winter, she’d have suggested going to see the shopping mall trees, but that was not in the cards with the state of the city.

That was when an idea occurred to her. It might not be a romantic movie, but it could work nonetheless. “How about we go ice skating?” she offered. It might not be pampering by itself, but it could lead into that in her opinion.

Kimble’s eyes lit up.
”Oh, I would love that. Let’s go!"

Soon enough they found themselves at the ice skating rink; it was the very same place where Alicia first had her meeting with the forces of the Ascendancy. Any cracks in the ice that were made on that day have since frozen over, replaced by the sight of some people ice skating around in a circle. After the two rented some skates, Kimble had put hers on, and slowly slid over to the ice. She was visibly struggling to keep her balance, her arms held out from her sides.

”Y-Yikes, this is diffi-Aaah! She slipped on the ice, about to fall down when Alicia caught her.

Returning to the ice rink, Alicia was not surprised to find that there was no sign of anything that had happened here before. Just happy normal people, skating or trying to skate. Leading the way, Alicia rented them some skates and made her way over to the ice. It had been a while, but she was getting back into it.

Kimble seemed to be having more trouble, abruptly losing her footing and causing her to fall. Luckily Alicia was there to grab her, first by the arm and then wrapping a supportive arm around her waist for now. “I thought cats were supposed to have a great sense of balance,” she teased, eventually letting go once she was sure Kimble would not immediately fall.

"Well, I'm sure even cats have trouble on ice," Kimble responded, holding onto Alicia as she steadied herself.
"Besides, I'm no longer like that, Alicia. I quit the life of a monster." She eventually managed to keep herself up, and made a simple slide forward.
"Now it's working...Oh, it's just like riding the wind." She smiled, and took Alicia's hand.
"This is really fun."

Alicia made sure to keep Kimble close, not doing anything sudden that would cause her to fall again. It made things a bit more difficult, but she didn’t mind. Not with this company. They moved in a wide circle around the outside of the ice rink, staying clear of people for now

“Sorry,” she apologized with a small wince. “Do you want me to stop making jokes like those? I didn’t mean to be insensitive about things you’d rather move past.”

Still, Kimble’s realization earned a happy nod from her companion. ”Exactly. Once you get past that initial part things becomes easier.”

”It’s okay, I know you didn’t mean it,” Kimble responded.
”If you want to, you can continue to make jokes like those. I know I’ve made plenty of terrible puns, haha~”
She giggled, and enjoyed the time the two spent together; gradually, Kimble learned to skate without Alicia’s assistance, and made a graceful spinning jump.
”By the way, I heard from Sally that you two were going to the Christmas party. Could I come too?” She asked.

“Alright. Well, if you’re okay with it,” Alicia mused. She’d at least try to cut back on the amount of cat jokes. Though having thought about it that was low hanging fruit anyway. She could use this as an excuse to improve her game.

Alicia was not as much into the jumps, but she nonetheless spun and made quick turns as she followed Kimble on the ice. They stayed close though, even if they were no longer holding on to each other.

Alicia regarded Kimble with a warm smile in response to her question. “Of course. It’s for Christmas, why would I stop you?” That wouldn’t exactly be in the spirit of things.

Kimble’s smile beamed like the sun. ”Yay! I’ve never been to a Christmas celebration before, so this is great! Thank you, Alicia!” She went up to Alicia and hugged her, causing the both of them to spin in place. She snuggled up to Alicia and looked up to her.

”Do you think anybody from the Ascendancy would want to join too?”

Alicia’s smile warmed all the more with Kimble’s open affection. She might not have succeeded in keeping the city safe from looming evils, but she could at least take pleasure in moments such as these. What else would she have, if not that?

“I thought about going to get a Christmas tree for Beacon, but we can always do that later,” she mentioned with a laugh. “They’re gonna want to celebrate after everything that’s happened over the past couple of months.”

The mention of the Ascendancy earned a hum of thought. “FanFan definitely, maybe Leena if she’s back on her feet. Past that I’m not sure. Maybe Elora? Or the twins? I know I’m obligated to ask Rachel out of respect, but who knows if she’s willing to attend.” Honestly, it was up in the air whether the Ascendancy girls could tear themselves away from working to go to a party held by Dan.

"That sounds good,” Kimble responded. She kissed Alicia's cheek.
”Thank you for being there for me and bringing me to places, Alicia. I promise I'll always be there for you too.”

After a moment Alicia returned the kiss, only blushing a little bit from the public display of affection. “Don’t worry about it. I’d be a poor girlfriend if it was just work all the time.”

There were things to do, things to worry about. But all that was in the future. For now, the duo skated on.
In the Name of Science

Starring
“Slightly Less Deadpool Than Deadpool’ Oros “That’s me!”
“Peeping Tom’ Shion




“It's a shame I've already met all the magical grills outside of the Beacon/Mint clown fiesta... right?”

— Oros



The beginning of this particular bounty was what one would consider to be mysterious. At the agreed upon location, when the magical girls arrived they would each be met separately by a mechanical ball with four legs sticking out of it in the cardinal directions. It would lead them to a nearby building, inside of which was a modestly furbished antechamber.

There they would find their mad scientist….over the intercom. The task was laid out before them. Samples were needed for the purposes of research. Bones, claws, skin samples, blood, these and various other items that could potentially be used to develop an understanding of how these dragons functioned and other things that they had been assured was ‘too complicated for them to understand’. They wouldn’t see much of the lab itself, though bubbling cauldrons and humming tesla coils did serve to cast a certain image of their employer.

However, the two girls would not be ill equipped for this task. The robot familiar they had met before proceeded to provide them with Hammerspace Handbags, for transportation of their assorted goods. Inside they would find surgical knives, flasks and tubes, syringes, that sort of thing.

With items in their possession they would be unceremoniously removed from the antechamber and sent to the edge of the city. There they would await the arrival of the dragons that would be the focus of their efforts today.

“What a silly guy!” Oros looked over the things in her hammerspace handbag. “I’ve already got an assortment of cages and my patented tru-space hammerspace! But if there’s something playing MMO’s taught me, it’s to never say no to free stuff!” She turned over a syringe in her hand. “Besides, some of these quests can only be completed with quest related materials because the developers didn’t think of doing something cool like letting players-” Oros turned to the other girl who was standing in roughly the same place. “Hold on a second.” She stepped closer to the stranger. “You look like a schoolgirl, but that can’t be right.”



How did Shion get into this mess? Oh, right. Greed. That and Ko’s helpful advice that someone was willing to pay for dragon samples. She had just arrived at the edge of the city when someone approached her.

”I… I do, yes? Don’t like… half of us look like schoolgirls? Isn’t that the whole shtick?” She could tell this other girl was there for the same reason, seeing as she had the same gear that Shion had received.

“No no, I get that, but check this out.” Oros pointed at her head. Or more specifically, the cat eared hoodie she was wearing. “I’ve got like, this totally snazzy hoodie, and this sport bra, and this katana that’s also super cool. I look like a thirsty/jailbait cosplayer. But you?” She squinted her eyes. “You like, legitimately look like a school girl. Are you going to transform?”

Shion took a closer look at the girl. She did look pretty cool. Hell, if she were a boy, she might even be into that. But as it was, she was more envious of the outfit than anything else. ”I, uh… am?” she replied, looking down at herself and her definitely school uniform that she was wearing. Though to be fair, she didn’t look any different normally, barring the outfit.

Oros fret her brow. “So this is what you look like when you fight monsters and other magical girls?” She pointed at Shion with both hands. “Just, exactly like this?”

”Yeah? What about it?”

“It’s…” Oros’s face flushed red, followed shortly by her mouth curling into a mischievous smile. “…Totally adorbz!” Oros made grabbing motions with her fingers as she closed in on Shion. It seemed like she wanted to hug.“I’m Oros, what’s your name?”

”Thanks?” Shion had a bad feeling all of the sudden. ”I’m Shion. Nice to meet you?”

The hooded girl’s approach was slow, but when Shion didn’t back away, Oros closed the distance and curled her arms around Shion’s waist. “that’s a very pretty name. Short things are always cute, regardless of what they are.” She released Shion after just a few seconds, and positioned her hands on her hip and chin. “It’s just a shame you’re probably in bed with Beacon or the Mint.”

Shion tensed up when Oros grabbed her, and didn’t relax just yet. ”You’re the second… third? Third person to think that. I’m not Beacon and the Mint was, until recently, after me. Might still be, for all I know. But I’m working towards taking down both of them as a favor to someone. Plus, at least the Mint is going to try to get in my way with something, so I’m definitely trying to get them out of the picture for a while if I can.”

There was little warning before Oros Pulled Shion into a second, much tighter hug. This one pulled her legs off the ground as oros rubbed her cheek against Shion’s head. “OhmygodyouaresopreciousIhavenoideawhywedidn’tmeetsoonerbecauseIthinkit’sreallyhotwhengirlscanstanduptobigfactionsandevengoagainstthemthere’stoofewpeopleinthisworldthatarejustcontenttobesatisfiedwiththestatusquoandwilljustkeepdoingwhatsocietydemandsoftheminsteadofwhattheyknowisrightintheirheartsifanythinghappenstoyouIwillpersonallysetoitthateveryonewhoharmedyouisslainandthenIwillkillmyself! ” With herself (and likely Shion) out of breath, she set the girl down and gasped for air. “I really miss not needing air, *WEEZ*`` After she had regained her composure, she folded her arms. “Well I don’t fully trust you yet. We just met. It’s rare for someone not to be an ally of at least one of those two. But if what you say is true, maybe we can help each other after we’re done here.``

Shion’s eyes practically popped out of her head while she tried to parse what Oros had just said. She held out her arm to keep her away as she collected herself and caught her breath. “Th-thanks. And yeah, I get that. Not trusting me is probably smart; like you said we just met. But if you think we can help each other later, then I’ll look forward to that.”
“ Suppose we’ll focus on the job at hand, then.” Oros drew her sword. “I’ve assessed your fighting abilities through a proven method known as the embrace of jolly cooperation. My estimates place your strength and speed far below mine, but you seem to have a moderate amount of durability.” She glanced at her black sword for a moment before locking eyes with Shion. “The assumption is that you have powerful magic. Is that the case?”

”Fairly powerful, I guess. I’ve seen stronger, but… I haven’t met anyone with as versatile of a magic type as mine, other than M-... a certain person. And she’s practically cheating, so I don’t count her. I do have some martial skill, though.”

“Feel like sharing what type of magic that is?”

”Magnetism.”

Oros’s eyebrows raised, if only momentarily. “We that should be pretty useful for this!” Oros examined her “sample collection apparatuses” again. “Most of this stuff is made out of metal. So if I keep the dragons busy, you should be able to collect a fair bit of samples for both of us! Sounds good right?”

”I mean, yeah, I guess that could work. Seems like it would be easier to do it manually, or try to get on their good sides and ask nicely, but that’s a good method too.”

“Hol- up!” Oros raised her hands. “You, wanna try talking to them?”

”I, for one, have always had the fantasy of talking to a dragon. So yes, if that’s at all a possibility, I’d like to.”

The hooded girl thumped her foot. “But they’re so fun to murder…” With a sigh, she sheathed her blade. “Alright, I guess everyone deserves to talk to a dragon at least once. If a dragon offers up itself to have its body harvested, that might be a conversation I want to hear.” Oros pointed at Shion. “I won’t like it, but I’ll stay my bloodlust until they get violent. But then we’re gunna do something I want to do later, alright?”

”That’s a dangerous compromise, but for a dragon I’m willing to agree.” Shion replied warily.

“It won’t be anything too bad. I would like us to remain allies after this.” Oros grinned.

A few minutes later, the reason that they were here would make itself known. Distant roaring, and the ever softer flapping of wings. High in the sky, those with sharp vision could make out several dragons moving along in a staggered formation. They soon began circling and descending towards a spot nearby, where they could rest and replenish their energy. It was time to put the plan into action.

Shion watched as the majestic lizards… Lizards? Wyrms. As the majestic wyrms approached with awe visible on her face. It was literally a dream come true for her, and she didn’t want to mess this up. She began approaching them once they landed, ready to try and parley with them for what was admittedly a weird request of pieces of their bodies.

Her companion was content to just follow her lead. Or at least, she wasn’t outright protesting. Her far superior physique made keeping up with Shion easy. When they arrived at their location, Oros said nothing. She just folded her arms and stood beside her companion.

Shion took a deep breath. ”Excuse me! Could we have a moment of your time?” she shouted perhaps a little too loudly at the dragons.

The wyrms landed with loud ‘thuds’ at their chosen landing site. They had opted for a decently sized park area, with a modest flowing creek to drink from and some buildings that they could push up against for whatever reason they might have. Luckily the place was empty, since there wasn’t much reason to be out at a spot like this in the middle of winter unless you were a very particular type of person.

The wyrms had spread out. But as Shion made her presence known their gaze turned towards her. The one closest rose up slightly, regarding her with a narrowed gaze and a healthy dose of caution. Their kind survived on such caution after all. “Speak, little one,” it said after a moment. She had not attacked after all, so there was no reason to go straight to fighting.

”So first of all, this is really cool, you’re really cool, and it’s nice to meet you. I’m Shion, and this is… Oros, I believe her name was.” Shion sighed, prematurely defeated. ”We actually have a huge and kind of awkward favor to ask of you. But before that, is there anything we can help with to get off on the right foot?”

“Yea, you guys wouldn’t happen to like cheese by any chance, would you?” A confident grin crossed Oros’s face.

One of the wyrms gave Shion a bit of a side eye as she gushed, but the one who had initiated contact with the two magical girls was more reserved. “We are not our brethren, with hordes of gold and egos to match;. And your kind have not sought to speak with us in some time. There is not much we desire.”

He then looked to Oros. “I cannot say whether we would enjoy your human food. If one had sufficient amounts for us in the first place.” It was likely that they simply had not had the opportunity to try before, if it was something oros truly wished to pursue.

”Well, that’s probably good for us, all things considered. I guess I should get to the point, then? We were hired to get some samples of your species. I wanted to get you something in return beforehand to make sure that you didn’t take the request in a bad way; personally I think we can get by with things that you won’t even miss, but I still would like to make a trade for them if possible so that you get something in return.” Shion stopped for a moment as an idea struck. ”Actually, if there was something you wanted, the person who hired us might even want to meet you if they could provide it. I’d imagine that talking with one of you would be as valuable or more so than just quote-unquote ‘collecting samples.’ Then again, I don’t know if it would be safe to direct you towards a so-called ‘mad scientist,’ so maybe we should forget about that idea. Sorry, I’m rambling, I know. But basically, if you guys happen to have anything we can get for you to trade for some discomfort, that would hopefully work best for everyone.” she concluded, forcing a smile through her dislike of her own talking.

Oros was visibly reeling from Shion’s all-too-honest confession about what they needed, who they worked for, and her rambling ideas. “Y-yea, maybe we shouldn’t take them to the mad scientist. It wasn’t in the job description and like, well, he’s mad! Who knows what he’d do!” Despite her apparent wariness of the idea, the only thing Oros might enjoy more than slaying a bunch of dragons would be to watch a mad scientist fire all manner of experimental weapons at them. Probably. It was hard to tell what Oros was thinking moment to moment.

The dragons continued to look at Shion skeptically, especially as she revealed why she was here. It distracted from Oros at least, though she earned the occasional glance. But Shion was very good at drawing attention as she rambled and admitted to rambling too.

“What sort of ‘samples’?” The lead dragon asked with a rumble deep in his chest. He was not keen on meeting with any human who would perform experiments on him, regardless of how sane they were. What she wanted them to do would dictate what they asked for in response. If they were willing to give anything at all.

Shion shivered slightly. ”Man, your voice is cool. Anyway, lemme check.” She pulled out a list of the items needed. Bone, scale, claw, skin, blood, saliva, and wing tissue. This would probably be a hard sale. ”Well… The easiest ones would be saliva and scales. If you happen to have any scales on the verge of falling off, that’d be easy. Saliva is an obvious easy one, too, and I would think taking a bit of blood would be easy since it’s easy for humans to do... She paused a moment, thinking. ”The rest is a bit more intrusive. If you’ve got a tooth coming out, that would work well. I can’t think of an easy way to get skin or claw samples, and I imagine that wing tissue would be really bad, so maybe we could skip that?”
“Hmmm...” Oros scratched her chin. “Are skin and claw samples that hard? Some animals regenerate that stuff pretty easily, or just naturally shed them away over time. Even a bat’s wings can heal themselves. Though I suppose if they’re too damaged, they can’t feed. But what’s a square inch of wing to a big majestic dragon?” Then under her breath she whispered. “Ya think they’d take a damsel in trade? I’m pretty damsel like, right?”

The leader dragon listened attentively as Shion listed off what was required, letting out a deep huff as she went into more invasive forms of ‘specimens’. Oros then earned another growl as she spoke up, earning a sharp glare. Not that she was likely to care, of course.

“Perhaps I should pull off those poor excuses for claws,” he snapped, leaning towards Oros in the process. “Will those grow back rapidly?”

After a moment he shifted back to Shion, ruffling his wings. “Some of these can be agreed to without much issue. The rest will come with a cost. Do you humans possess healing magics? To fix what you have removed would be reasonable, for a first step.”

Shion looked to Oros. ”I don’t have a Healing Artifact or anything, but I’ve got some raw mana we could use to fuel it if needed.” Shion pulled out a small glowing acorn. ”I got this from a friend.”

"Afraid I don’t have any healing artifacts. My restorative magic works only on myself, as it’s based on my ability to create the tissue of mundane animals and monsters." She placed her hands on her hips and sighed. "If these guys had a healing touch, I might be able to use it. Like…" Her hand turned into a dragon claw. "I could turn my hand into one of their claws and be like, pew pew, healing." She rest the dragon claw on Shion’s shoulder. "But alas, I’ve never seen a monster or dragon use a spell like that. Most monsters I encounter only have regenerative properties."

”Could… Could we just get the samples from you?” Shion asked Oros.

Oros blinked. "I mean…" She looked at her dragon claw and wiggled her digits. "It would probably hurt. Did the request specify the size of the samples? They should be identical aside from the size. I’ve never really cut myself apart for science."

”Hmm… It’s possible that the guy who hired us will be able to tell the difference. I don’t know how, since if he needs specimens, he probably doesn’t already have any. But assuming he can... “ Shion sighed and put a hand on her head. ”There’s a way to do it, but I don’t want to if we can avoid it.”

Oros’s face scrunched up. "This is taking too long! Let me see that acorn! We’re going to go for a 1:1 scale replica!" She leaned forward and bit the acorn straight out of Shion’s hand. With the acorn clinched between her teeth, Oros hopped some distance away from Shion. With a growl, her shape started to change. She fell onto her hands and knees, and a pair of wings tore out of her back. Her outfit seemed to shrink away into nothing, but by that point the form underneath looked more reptilian than human. The transformation was slow, but Oros was trying to make the most of the mana supply she was given. She didn’t want to waste anything accelerating the speed of her transformation. Horns pushed their way out of the back of her skull, her jaw elongated, and before long there was a young green dragon in Oros’s place. "Now." Oros began. "You may not wish to court a damsel, but what about one of your own kind?"

The dragons listened quietly as the two magical girls debated what to do, sharing awkward glances as Oros proceeded to transform herself and then Proposition them. That was fairly unusual by anyones standards, though it was likely that way for the dragons themselves due to how long it had been since they had experienced this sort of thing.

“Calm yourself,” the lead dragon said to Oros with a hint of amusement in his tone. “You humans are very impulsive.”

Luckily for the both of them, what they did not possess did not prove to be a major deterrent. Perhaps it had been a test of some sort to judge their character. Who knew why dragons did anything that they did? After a moment, he lowered himself. “Take your samples and accept what we are willing to give. I shall provide saliva and blood, Leonitarus shall provide a scale I believe.” One of the other dragons off to the right nodded and then crouched, allowing them access. It was not all they had hoped for, but it was something.

”Thank you very much!” Shion said as she readied a few vials and a syringe for the two liquids.

Dragon-Oros reached for the offering dragon’s scale, and plucked it. "These dragons are more courageous than other dragons I’ve encountered." She turned the scale over in her green claw before addressing Shion. "How did you want to acquire the other samples?"

Shion drew the blood from the dragon and injected it into a vial before holding another vial out for saliva. ”Well, without that acorn, I don’t think I can just… well. I’m not sure. If we had some way to tell if getting them from you would be the same thing, we could do that and you could heal, right? As it is… I don’t actually know.”

The impostor dragon huffed. "Suppose it’s worth a shot."

”Well, we need bone, skin, claw, and wing tissue. I suppose the easiest way would be to take part of the wing and a small bone from it at the same time, then get one of your claws and the skin near it? Does that sound possible, Oros?” Shion asked the girl-turned-dragon.

"I can regrow my limbs if you hack them off, if that’s what you’re asking." Oros’s body trembled. "You’d better not rebuff our deal later."

”Didn’t want to go that far, but that means it should work. And don’t worry, I keep my promises.” Shion pulled out a small but sharp knife. ”Do you need a moment to brace yourself or…?”

Before they could get to the limb hacking and what have you, their draconic liaison spoke up. He’d had his attention drawn away by something else momentarily, and now was about when it had returned. “Not to interrupt,” he interjected. “It seems some of your kind are approaching. We have our own ways of dealing with such problems to remain unseen, but perhaps you would prefer your own solution.”

”Oh, uh… I mean, I think it’s okay for you to leave if that’s what you mean. If you mean something else, well… I dunno. We can draw them away if you want.”

"Just get it over with before the magic wears off." she growled. "Then I can draw them away. We’ll run round and round and round before I revert back into a beautiful pink haired princess. Then they will fight each other for a kiss, castle crasher style!"

”Got it.” Shion went to cut off the bottom section of Oros’ wing, then the area around one of her claws for the skin and to be able to pull the claw off. After she finished, she safely put the samples away in small bags and double-checked the list. ”Looks like we’re good to go.”

“We would like some time to rest from our flight,” the leader told Shion and oros, amidst their operation and exercise in deception. It was a bit odd, but again, perhaps not that unusual as far as strange things they had seen. For now he would indicate the direction the humans were approaching from, and let the magical girls get to work.

”On it.” Shion began jogging towards the other humans, her knife hidden from view with how she was holding it.

"It burns, it BURRRRRNS!" Oros curled what was left of her claw, but that did little to stem the bleeding. "Pain, my only weakness!" Oros took to the sky, breathing whatever type of breath weapon these particular dragons were armed with before flying over the incoming people. "Shit on a shingle! That feels like a ripped cuticle times ten!"

You said to do it quickly! Shion thought to herself, lamenting that Oros was now giving away their position.

Oros would see them first, owing to her enhanced vision as both groups neared each other. However, Shion might find that the knife was a bit much, as the humans were approaching in a minivan, all bundled up for a day out in nature or something like that. As normal people they didn’t know there were dragons there after all. But at least it would make getting rid of them easier.

Then again, Oros could probably do that on her own with how she was yelling and breathing some green mist that was probably poison. They just needed to notice what was going on above them.

”Hmm…” Shion paused when the minivan came into her sight. She carefully put her knife away and continued forward, thinking on how to best handle the group. By the time the vehicle got close enough to possibly see that Oros was something other than a large bird, the people inside would find that their wheels had locked up from Shion’s magic magnetizing and manipulating various parts of the minivan’s workings. Meanwhile, Oros continued to scream over head, but the damaged parts of her body were starting to regenerate. As her wounds became less severe, so too did her screaming.

‘Hm? What’s going on?” The car slowed to a halt as a result of Shion’s magic. Not noticing Oros yet, the driver got out and walked around the vehicle, observing and kicking the tires to see if something was wrong. With no visible sign, he’d proceed to the engine, popping open the hood and taking a look inside. Perhaps he was just very oblivious, but that would not last forever if Shion had a next step from this point.

Shion simply kept things as they were. She planned to delay them as long as the dragons needed, or until they called a tow-truck to take them back where they came from, unless something unexpected happened.

Meanwhile, Oros touched down in the distance, her wounds having fully healed. With all the necessary samples gathered, Oros reverted back to her original form. "Hah! Another one for the bestiary!" She thrust her finger into the air. Shortly after her outburst, she sank to the ground and hugged her knees. "Now I’ve got phantom pains running up and down my back, good gawd!"

Grumbling, the driver soon gave up in frustration at not being able to figure out what was going on. One phone call later, and a tow truck was on the way. None of them were happy about it, but when your car suddenly died what could you do?

It would be about twenty minutes or so before the danger passed. The tow truck picked up the car, the civilians headed squarely in the opposite direction, and the duo were free to return to the dragons.

Shion sighed and went back. ”Now hopefully they won’t come back for a while.”

Twenty minutes was about what it took for Oros to stop rolling around and complaining about her pains. "Aren’t we suppose to drop off these samples? One of us should probably do that."

Glancing in the direction that the car had departed, the wyrm seemed pleased that things had been resolved without too much difficulty, and definitely without drawing further attention to this area. “Thank you for your assistance, magical humans. Your solution was much simpler than what we would need to have done. Now we can prepare for the next step of our journey without difficulty.”

He then stepped back, noting that things seemed to be drawing to a close. “If you must depart, then we shall not keep you here.”

”Will do! Thank you again!” Shion checked to make sure the samples were still in their containers, then started towards their drop-off point.

Oros walked away from the dragons without even doing as much as looking over her shoulder. "I’m going to be really disappointed if this doesn’t work." With a huff, Oros pulled up one of the Christmas tickets that Emily had given her. "Anyway, I guess people are doing Christmas stuff at a party. This doesn’t have anything to do with the favor, but you probably wanna come anyway." She poked Shion with the spare ticket. "Just make sure to wear something interesting, okay? Nobody wants to see you in an ugly sweater ‘cept your grandma."

Shion took the ticket. ”Maybe.”

Making their way back into town, the girls would head back to the lab that they had begun the bounty at. It was a simple enough trip, with no danger and no threats along the way from girls potentially seeking to steal from them. Just a nice walk.

Soon they were back at the lab, where they were left in the lobby. The same familiar would emerge, arms extended as it moved to take Shion and Oros’ samples from them. “My assistant will take your work. I will confirm that they are what I sent you to collect, and then you will receive your payment,” the voice said over the intercom, just like the first time they had met.

The hooded girl looked smug and confident on the outside, but she was squeezing Shion`s hand pretty hard. "I hope we did good. I'd like to get paid. Though having to fight my way out of a mad scientist's containment bay might actually be more fun than slaughtering dragons." she chuckled. "Might get to see some of those sweet moves of yours, less he busts out some kind of mecha dragon to seduce you with."
”A mechanical dragon would be much easier for me to fight than a real one, for various reasons.” Shion replied.

After several moments the familiar returned, passing Shion and Oros two silver coins each. “You may leave,” the voice over the intercom told them, with barely a ‘thank you’ to accompany it. Stil, it seemed their deception had worked. All’s well that ended well.

Oros accepted her payment with a nod. "Thank you Mr scientist sir! Anytime you need something, just ask me!" On her way out the door, Oros patted Shion on the shoulder. "I’ll fill you in on the details of our deal later." She departed the room with a chuckle.

Shion stood for a moment, watching Oros leave before leaving as well.
Night on the Town







It seemed that downtown Penrose could not catch a break. They’d dealt with street fights between magical girls and liches, animated armors, rampaging monster girls, and more. Now they were dealing with a whole new threat.

Raucous laughter filled the air, accompanied by the grumbling of metal, explosions, shattering glass, and more. Once again the quiet city streets were thrown into chaos, though admittedly the chaos was less than it would have been had the city not been evacuated. But it was still something that could not be allowed as cars were destroyed, buildings looted, and mayhem sown.

At least a dozen short statured creatures ran about, cheering and causing a ruckus. Some smashed things with hefty metal studded clubs, while others chopped with serrated blades that were closer to meat cleavers than to swords. A veritable ball of destruction moved towards a main street, promising much greater chaos if it was not stopped.

One guy, near the middle, wore a makeshift crown of metal spikes and magical materials. He waved around a legitimate sword, marking him as the leader of this band of misfits. “Tear it down, you hear! The humies don’t want it, that means its easy pickings for us!” A fireball soared over their heads and slammed into a shop front, where it promptly exploded. Would someone step up, and put an end to this chaos and devastation?

… Some things in life were complicated. Like having your brainwashing suddenly removed and learning you were apparently controlled by the one you thought saved you as a child and having to consider that maybe everything you thought you did willingly maybe you didn’t, and having to consider if you wanted to continue that life actually willingly because it was easier or if you were to somehow break free from said controller into a life which you had no idea what the point of it was or how it looked, with the added caveat that then said controller would probably hunt you forever.

This? This wasn’t complicated. This, this was simple. This was evil. And Mariette had a lot of steam to let off.

A series of portals manifested high in the air between the crowd of demons and the store they were advancing on, and numerous beams of light-magic struck down like a fence of light, stopping their advance. On a building next to the store, Mariette strode out on the corner, long white hair flowing in the wind and dark dress similarly being pulled, her hand-mirror weapon in one hand and plushie held with her other arm.


‘I am Mariette Pedersen! Your unopposed wretched behaviour ends tonight! As of this moment, this area of Penrose is under my protection! Leave, or suffer the consequences!’ … There was something inherently cathartic about doing something obviously right. Also, she had to give the option for them to leave, or she wouldn’t look so good.… And consequences there would be, if they stood and fought. She had Absolute Direction. She’d hunt them down no matter where they fled to. Every, single, one of them.

The lasers were an impressive display, to say nothing of Mariette’s declaration of intent. Heads swerved to gaze up at Mariette, and the numerous demons fell silent and let her speak, if only out of awe and nothing else.

There was silence for a few moments once she had finished, before the crowned demon spoke once more. “Oy, you think we’s gonna leave cause you gots some pretty lights,” he yelled back eagerly. “Last I looked, there’s a whole lots of us, and only one of you! Get her boys!”

With the command given, he aimed the sword in her direction. Cheering, the raucous horde charged forwards toward Mariette, slinging fireballs and stones in equal measure as they sought to take her down. No one could fault their enthusiasm, even if they might be lacking in intelligence.

While Mariette was probably more than capable of dealing with all of the incoming projectiles on her own, two figures swooped into view. Like guardian angels the two moved into the path of the shots. Wings spread, they began striking out with their blades and sending the attacks off course with poise and precision.


”Mind a little help?” Rose would ask over her shoulder?

Mariette had a couple tiny portals in the sky connected to the eye behind the eyepatch, and as such had seen the figures approaching. Given that, she did nothing and let herself be rescued from the attacks. She nodded to her momentary guardians.

‘Your help is appreciated. I’ll support with magic from behind. I’m a bit frail up close,’ she said, stepping back and charging some more magic. Before committing, she’d inspect what their foes were doing through her eye in the sky…

Despite the arrival of more numbers against them, the enemy remained undeterred. Mostly this was because they’d already gone in for it, and they weren’t the sort to have common sense that worked on a dime. By the same token Mariette would find that most of them were just kind of charging forwards, though a few split off to try and flank the trio, ceasing their ranged attacks as they did so. Well, they were trying at least, even if they didn’t recognize how outmatched they were.

Each raising a hand, the twin's would summon spirits of light. Two fingers outstretched they would touch the gem on the chappe of their swords and infuse the spirits into the blades. With Mariette set to give them support they dove down to catch those trying to climb up.

Each would prove to be rather alloying in their tactics. Unlike a brute force fighter they didn't commit to heavy blows. Instead they would drive the tip into their target before drawing back and goading out an attack before making another shot. The spirits in the blade caused blinding flashes of magic and a burning to the demons as the cuts had a slight purifying effect to them.

Mariette, meanwhile, raised her hand-mirror. Some of those demons were using ranged attacks, better deal with those first. She opened two portals. One acted as a shield, leading from midair to the floor on the bottom level of the building she was standing one. The other led from right in front of her to in the air behind the demon lines. From here, Mariette unleashed some quick blasts of light to surge through the portal and hit those demons from behind, intending to pierce their chests. She was prepared to have her Tentacles erupt from her shadow to protect herself, just in case any demons managed to get an angle on her.

The trio went to work, Mariette doing ranged suppression while her new allies got in close. They definitely succeeded in infuriating the demons, and some of them were disabled as the burning strikes sent them tumbling to the ground below from being in mid climb. Meanwhile the demons were unprepared to be struck from the rear, and more were disabled as a result of it. Still their morale held and they continued to fight.

Some turned to address the threat from the rear, contesting shadowy tentacles with gouts of flame and cleaving blades as they drew near her portals. Meanwhile the first of the climbers scaled the roof and advanced on Rose/iris, some charging in to meet their blades head on with clubs and hacking tools, while others sought to swarm around and strike them from behind. Perhaps there was some intelligence in them after all.

Oh, no. It seemed like they were being surrounded by demons climbing the building and approaching Mariette’s portals from the other way. If only there was a way to get out of a disadvantageous position.

Mariette opened a portal and walked through while her dark tentacles fenced with the demons, ending up in a room in a building across the street. From there, she turned around and blasted charged beams of light at the roof-climbers that were trying to come after her. She was entirely fine with if the ranged enemies tried to go through the other portals, they’d end up on the roof and right in the place Mariette was currently targeting with laser-blasts.

She opened another portal close to Rose and Iris, also leading to a nearby building. ‘If you need a bottleneck…’ she whispered through a smaller portal, and let them choose if they wanted to go through it or not. She kept an eye looking down to make sure the demons didn’t somehow have a sense for her real location through the portal, would be a pain if they turned around and threw fireballs at the building she was actually in.

The twins would fight off a number of the demons. They were about to take to the air when a portal was opened up to them. Being a better option they would retreat through the doorway. As said the demons coming through were bottlenecked which made fighting them off much easier. One would basically become a pincushion coming through.

Things did not go the demons way, targeted with lasers and finding that the girls they had pursued were retreated or outright vanishing. They didn’t seem to know where Mariette had relocated, which worked in her favor as more fell from her laser barrage. But it did have some downsides as they began randomly targeting buildings with fireballs in their anger. Which did not stand much of a chance of hurting her, but would increase the collateral damage quite a bit.

The portal bottleneck also worked as intended, the first demon going down with a surprised gurgle as he was stabbed. But the others persisted, all but trampling over their fallen comrade as they sought to reach the duo in their anger and ferocity. All while that crowned demon oversaw the operation from the middle of the diminished group.

“Come on,” he ranted, waving his sword wildly. “It’s just a couple of humies! Put some back into it!” Momentarily the assault on Iris and Rose would cease as the demons launched a volley of fireballs through the portal, before resuming their assault.

Mariette noted how the demons had lost her position. Well, guess that was fine. Now to make them hate themselves.

Using her eye in the sky as a viewpoint, she focused her powers and opened portals before their fireballs. She redirected them, through one portal back at the casters, making them flame themselves, and she did her best to catch as many of the fireballs as she could. Now to check; were demons immune to fire? If they were, oh, well. She’d just start mixing in her own portals to right beside her so she could shoot light.

When they started shooting fire into the portal of the twins, she opened a different portal next to them, leading to right above some unprotected attackers. In case they wanted to drop down on them.

These portals were proving to be quite useful. Ducking into the portal, Rose and Iris came down on the unsuspecting demons. Slashing and stabbing they would continue to move around. Stepping where they could see the leader, Iris would hold her hand out to her sister. Nodding the other girl would take hold and the two would blink away.

There were a lot of places they could go, but since their portal hopping they’d drawn off I good amount of the group. A light flash of magic and the two girls would appear in front of the lead demon. Turning in counter directions their blades hummed as they cut through the air. Crossed like a pair of scissors they would try and decapitate the demon. ”Surprise!”

Mariette would find that while the demons were resistant to fire, they were not immune. Shrieks filled the air as the beings were hit by their own spells, sending them flailing in pain and running for cover. “Ey, what’s dis then?” one of the demons yelled at another who had been practicing his archery.

“It wasn’t me,” the demon yelled back, expressing the sort of turmoil that Mariette had hoped for as the argument escalated.

At least, until the crowned demon stepped in. “Get yer heads on straight. It’s that girlie stirring up trouble!’ With order restored the attack resumed, though they were more cautious as they sought out where Mariette actually was.

It was easier on the part of Rose and iris, whose blades were met as the demon swayed backwards and caught their scissor slash with his sword. “There yah are,” he grunted, before letting out a dark chuckle. “Think yah can take me on? Well forget it!’ Wielding his blade with one hand, he manifested a spectral limb over the other that lashed out at Iris with a solid punch, while using the sword to defend against Rose. The real battle was joined at last.

Mariette opened a portal behind the archer. Numerous dark tentacles suddenly lashed out, grabbing onto him and then to pull him back into the portal where he’d likely never see the light again, after which the portal swiftly closed. She opened another under the feet of a different demon, tentacles reaching out to grip and pull him into the darkness that was actually just the apartment she was in so she could light-blast them one by one. Now that the demons were probably realizing she was kidnapping them, she’d start opening false portals to fool them while then opening a new portal behind them as she dragged them off one by one.

She trusted the twins could survive a moment with the head honcho. Mariette was just going to clean out the trash, first.

Reeling back from the punch Iris would have to take a step back and reassess. Releasing the light spirit from her blade she would replace it with another to increase her speed. Thanks to the reach she didn’t have to get in as close. So while Rose worked to keep the opponent’s blade busy, Iris would move around and make quick strikes at the leader's unshielded limbs to try and whittle him down.

Mariette went to work, dragging the demons away one by one. They did their best to respond once they realized what was going on, grouping up and countering the tentacles with their blades and clubs. But there was a limit to what they could do, especially with the false portals.

Eventually it became too much, and those that were left ran away. They had little shame as they cried in fear, seeking just to escape and nothing less.

Of course, the leader was aware of the ignoble flight of his army. “Cowards, the lot of yah,” he yelled, all but dancing on his feet in impotent frustration. “I’ll skin you all, see I will!” But there was nothing he could do while still fighting the Twins. He spun about as Rose and Iris worked in tandem, blocking wildly while his shelled arm flexed to deflect Iris’ blows. Still, it was wearing him down with accumulated light wounds as he punched and stabbed and soldiered forward. There was no doubt that he was a cut above the demons they’d fought so far tonight.

‘Will you, now? With those limbs?’ Mariette asked, having finished her task when the other demons broke away, walking out of a portal a decent distance behind the leader. She kept small, low-energy portals open around, closing and opening to follow the surviving demons so they heard her words as they fled. ‘Let this be a lesson of what happens when you mess with Penrose.’

With that, Mariette opened two smaller portals to the left and right of the demon, and her tentacles charged through, intent on gripping his arms, the shelled one and the sword one, to hold them in place or at least occupy them, to allow Rose and Iris to do their part. Just in case, Mariette had walked out onto a portal of her own, which she could just fall through in a case of emergency.

With Mariette now helping, the twins moved in to make some more bold strikes. They were not going to let up and did their best to keep the pressure on. ”You’re pretty good.” She would admit to the demon. ”But This isn’t a fight you’re going to win.”

Mariettes words filled the air, only spurring the flight of the demons away from the sight of battle. Not that there had been much chance of them coming back, but this made sure that was the case.

The demon that remained snarled, spinning and slashing as the tentacles sought to bind him and the twins ramped up their attacks. He did his best, shelled limb tearing free from the initial grab to lash out at her. Yet he was struck as well, and lost his sword as it fell clattering to the roof of the building.

Faced with this, it seemed the tide was turning. Grimacing, the demon tapped into his inner power and resorted to more drastic measures. The ground below Mariette began to glow before abruptly erupting into a pillar of fire that soared upwards several meters and was about as wide as a tree trunk. More would follow, erupting almost randomly on the roof.

This allowed the demon to shell itself much like it had its single limb. With Mariette having to dodge the pillar and fireballs launched at the twins, the demon would break free. Then it engaged in the oldest and most powerful of demonic strategies – running away. It leapt off the roof and made its way after the other fleeing demons, clearly no longer interested in sticking around here either.

Mariette blinked, startled, as the ground beneath her began to glow. Fortunately, she was already standing on a portal. As she was worried she wouldn’t fall through the portal fast enough had she opened the portal as she intended, she crouched and inverted the portal, meaning the stream of fire shot directly up into the portal which back she stood on and emerged in the room she’d been planning to escape to. The room was unoccupied, sure, but a burst of fire from a window some bit away informed that she’d just turned the inside of a home into an inferno for her own safety.

That… was scary. If the burst had instead come from above her, chances were there’d been nothing Mariette could have done. As it was, she’d manage to weather the storm, but she’d have been very vulnerable had the demon chosen to use this opportunity to leap at her.

Fortunately, their quarry then chose to escape. That meant the battle was already over. Nothing ever truly escapes from Mariette.

‘… I’ll open portals for you to emerge ahead of him,’ Mariette informed Rose and Iris, sighing as she opened such exact portals for the two of them. She then reached her hand-mirror to her right… and formed a ball of portals, forced to take hexagonal shapes, all the portals linking to another in here. From there, she started blasting shots of light into the ball, trapping the blast of light in an eternal loop, and then another, and another, and another… she was going to charge up a ball of absolute power before she returned to the fray. Meanwhile, she used Absolute Direction and her eyes in the sky to follow the demon, every step of the way.

Striking at the fireballs they went off and the two had to shield themselves. Despite the damage they were still mostly unharmed. Iris would point to the portal that opened. "Cut him off!" The blue haired girl pushed off the ground to get a little air. While she couldn't fly without a good amount of effort, she used her wings to get some speed up.

Rose however dove through the provided portal and thrust her sword against the shielded demon. The defense seemed to do its job as the strike didn't get all that deep. Iris had other ideas as she teleported in behind the leader with her momentum and went to kick him in the back. Bracing herself, Rose held her stance as the twins attempted to pinch and drive the sword through the creature.

While Mariette went to charge up her extra powerful finishing move, the demon engaged with Iris and Rose. Some might argue that it was pointless with an ally that had portal magic and Absolute Direction, but that was besides the point. They fought on nonetheless.

Things were difficult with this magically armored foe, who used this to increase his strength as well as his speed to some extent. He blocked one blow, launched a wave of fire at the other, took hits and just kept on moving. The clash of metal, the exertion of muscles, none of the trio gave as they sought to hammer and anvil, and he darted to the side. Yet as they wore down the demon the ground began to rumble. Unlike the fire pillars from before they could start to see space warp and twist. If they did not act fast then the demon would escape back to whatever realm it came from. Presumably they wanted to avoid that.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Mariette asked through a portal that manifested within the demon’s sight, aiming a hand at him and firing a blast of light. However, this move was but a distraction. By making him dedicate himself to a means of defense, be it dodging, defending or counter-attacking, Mariette could know where he’d be the next second. That’s when she opened a different portal, the one leading to her ball. A wall of small portals opened, directing all the gathered blasts into a single beam. With Iris, Rose and Mariette all walling off options there were only a few options available to him, and Mariette made sure the beam came from behind as it surged to punch through his back on an angle that wouldn’t hit Iris or Rose as it passed through.

The demon’s eyes widened as Mariette surrounded him in portals.He blocked the blast of light, but that ended up being a distraction as her accumulated spells gathered into a single beam and struck him. Eyes widened as a ghastly scream filled the air, and the demon vanished in a blaze of light and energy. He had been incinerated outright by the power that had struck him.

With that and the flight of the remaining demons, silence fell over the city streets. Victory was theirs.

”Whoa.” She would stand still for a moment and look at the space where a demon used to be.

”That was cool!” She would look back and it seemed that most of the other demons were either running off or just gone. The job done the two would sheath their swords and look around for the girl that they came in to help.

Mariette sighed out as she stepped out of her portal. That took more effort than she liked. That didn’t feel like a C-rank bounty. B, at least. Wasn’t C-rank supposed to be those that aren’t dangerous at all? She just wanted to unwind… Regardless, she shook it off as she inspected the two other girls that were here.

‘… I am Mariette Pedersen. Who are you?’ she asked, idly curious about these girls she couldn’t remember ever seeing before.

The two would step over to Mariette. ”Nice to meet you Mariette. My name is Rose Silva and this is my sister Iris.” She would motion to the girl next to her. ”Hey, how did you do all those portal things.” She would gesture like she was opening portals with her hands.

‘It’s my specialization. An Oddball one, I believe is what it’s called,’ Mariette answered. ‘Penrose has been dangerous as of late. Are you new magical girls, or have you travelled here for some reason?’ Mariette asked, momentarily forgetting that girls have been changing their appearances frequently around here nowadays.

”We’re new. Still getting settled in.” Iris would explain.

Rose would hold a hand up to Mariette for a high five. ”Great job by the way. We made a good team!”

Mariette nodded to Iris, and then stared at Rose like she was an alien or something with the raised hand. She nodded to her too. ‘You did pretty well. If you need allies, I can point you the way to some friends of mine. How many have you met, yet?’ she asked, idly bothered by the thought that if they were entirely new and didn’t know anyone they’d be high on a possible to-potentially-kidnap list. Not that Mariette kidnapped people still, but the thought occurred.

After getting nothing from Mariette, Iris would high five her sister. Rose would think for a bit. ”Hm, we’ve met a few people. Some people at the Sanctuary and a Beacon girl. Our leader usually arranges that stuff though.” The girl said happily. She didn’t seem the particularly secret type as she spoke and hopped from one foot to the other on occasion. Clearly the bubbly twin that kept all the social energy.

‘It seems you’ll do fine, then,’ Mariette concluded. Still… ‘Who is your leader? Is there others in your group?’ If there was a new force in this world then Mariette wanted to know about it.

Nodding the blue haired girl would answer. ”Our leader is The Keeper of the Keys, Kayli Devon. She’s another magical girl. We’re here to get a better grasp of things going on and protect the city. From what we understand there’s a lot of fighting and tension between a bunch of the groups. The Keeper would like to see a more peaceful resolution if possible.” Even though Kayli wasn’t here didn’t mean the twins couldn’t try and build a bridge with some of the other girls around.

Mariette held a very neutral expression as Iris explained who Kayli was. ‘… As would a lot of others in this city, yet there’s always those who’d prefer it otherwise…’ she replied, with a gentle sigh. ‘Everything would become much easier if such a thing was proven possible. I wish you luck,’ she continued, having ran out of her current questions for now.

Iris would nod and sigh a bit. ”Yes, from what I understand of the matter. But meeting with the various leaders first is a start. We try and stay neutral parties. I’m sure the Keeper would be willing to meet to talk with you as well.”

Mariette gave her an inspecting look, then decided to ask a very simple question. ‘Do you have a plan of some sort?’

”Mmm, the Keeper might. With Penrose in as much chaos as it is it would be tricky no matter what I feel.” From what they’d discussed with Kayli, she had some ideas that weren’t quite confirmed possible yet. And even then there was no guarantee it would change anything ultimately.

Mariette tilted her head a little, inspecting her…

‘Get Beacon to stop attacking me. Let me hear their set of demands, if they have them, and I’ll see how possible they are. Anything that involves the purification of me or my allies is rejected outright. Then, I’ll be impressed,’ Mariette said, her tone maybe just a bit darker than before.

Despite the less that friendly tone, Rose would smile. ”We’ll see what we can do.” It felt like things were getting just a little tense, but she would still ask. ”Anything else?”

Mariette looked over at Rose with a neutral expression. ‘… If you somehow succeed with that, making peace with the Ebon Mint would be the next step. Oh, and if you could convince my patron to-’ the portal girl caught her tongue, she probably shouldn’t be saying that. ‘… Some patrons are naturally inclined to inspire violence. As are some people. Justine von Visceral is a recent example, but I hear she’s been dealt with. Peace can only be maintained for so long. But, I suppose my immediate concern is that Beacon’s trying to kill me. Any offense I commit to will be with the interest of keeping myself alive. If I am no longer in danger, I will not attack. My patron can be satisfied by me feeding him monsters. So, that’s that,’ Mariette said, ending it with a sigh.

Rose looked concerned. For the most part she didn’t really know all that much about Mariette. Probably the main thing she could recall was Janet and Jenna attempting to help her. ”Goodness. Well you seem nice enough to me. We’ll try and talk with some Beacon people for you.”

‘…’ Mariette was quiet for a bit, then turned around. ‘I should tell you, then. The reason they want to kill me. I once kidnapped a series of Magical Girls in a deal I’d made with Justine. I was a young Magical Girl, I didn’t realize the ramifications of my actions. They were claimed by my patron, I can no longer give them back. I regret that,’ she said, shaking her head a bit. ‘… But I can’t afford to pay the price. Hence, I am on the run, and Beacon’s after me…’ She gave the slightest of a chuckle, and then looked back at them. ‘Do you still think you can do it?’

The two girls would look at each other for a bit. That potentially made things more difficult. Still… ”Never know until you try. The Keeper is already working to get old enemies to at least come to the table. Perhaps if they better understood the situation then we could work to some compromise?” It was more of a rhetorical question than one meant to be answered here and now. There at least seemed to be some regret in the girl’s mannerisms. This detail about the patron was just one of many reasons the trio were solo as they were.

Mariette kept her eyes on them a bit. She really wasn’t expecting much. Still…

‘… Penny has my number,’ she said, pretty simply. ‘Good luck.’

Rose would wave, since it seemed like Mariette was wanting to leave. ”Thanks and you too. It was nice meeting you.” The two prepped to leave themselves.

Mariette nodded, and a portal manifested in front of her. With that, she wandered through it, and the portal closed behind her…

And then she used Absolute Direction to see if any of the demons were still in this realm. Because if they were, she was going to portal over and disintegrate them. One at a time. Acceptable targets. The twins themselves would also make a couple passes in the general area to be sure things weren’t burning. Before long though all would part and go on their own ways.


&



Penny was knee deep in half destroyed electronics trying to repair what she could of the Media room when a thought occurred to her that had her cursing internally.

It had been just about a day and a half since the Sanctuary had been attacked. Which meant it had been that same amount of time since the Assault had failed. And Penny hadn't yet talked to Alica.

Gods she felt like a poor friend.

Not bothering to extract herself from the spot of her repairs Penny pulled up her comms system and set Alicia a call. It wasn't like what she was working on was particularly complex tech at any rate.

'Pick up, please' she would murmur on the line.

Things had been a bit more sedate for Alicia. She did not have bases to rebuild, or challenges to her leadership that she needed to deal with. There were the wounded, but she did not do that personally. All she had was the paperwork and the gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction inside of her.

As such, the phone call was a welcome distraction. She was quick to pick up the phone at her desk, a smile lighting up her face with the sight of the Caller ID. ’Hey Penny, how’s it going?’

Hearing Alicia's voice lessened a knot in Penny's chest that she'd hadn't even realized was there. She let that relief bleed into the call as a relieved sigh [color=9e0039]'Bit better now' She would respond 'Realized that I hadn't seen how you were doing yesterday and I wanted to check in on you.'

'Downside to having a high speed brain, you can think more troubling thoughts in less time' She would quip with a chuckle.

Smiling mostly to herself, Alicia chuckled at Penny’s joke. ”I can see how that might be an issue, she agreed with a small nod of her own. ”Anyway, that’s good. Things are calming down. Now it’s just dealing with paperwork and figuring out what to do next.”

'Good to hear that, I know things didn't pan out like you were hoping, but I'm glad that you made it through whatever it was that happened out there.' Penny didn't know all the details. The file on that Op was above the mechanical girl's clearance, and while she could slip in anyway doing so seemed like a good way to piss off Elora.

'While I've got you on the line, how would you feel about meeting up? It's been a while since we've had a chance to hang and we could probably both use the chance to unwind.'

Alicia shrugged, once again mostly to herself. Penny always had some good sense of her feelings, and this was just another example of that.’Sure, that sounds fun.’ she quickly agreed. Like Penny had said, it had been a while. She could use something a bit more casual.

Of course, they couldn’t just leap into it. Not with the responsibilities both of them had. ’So where did you want to meet up?’ she asked. ’It’s a bit cold to be hiding on the roof of my house again’

'Sadly true, but the stargazing then is still one of my better memories from when I was back seating.' Penny would muse aloud as she sifted through ideas.

'We could hunt down a cafe in the Overcity' She would offer 'Or I could find a space heater or something like that and we could meetup Downtown at one of the skyscrapers, if your wanting to stay in the city'

’I’m not even sure what stargazing would be like in the Overcity,’ Alicia admitted. She’d been there before of course, but she had not thought of doing that sort of thing there. Would they be able to recognize the constellations there, if there were even stars at all? ’Skyscraper could be fun, as long as you promise to catch me if I get too relaxed.’

‘I think it would depend on where in the Overcity you are’ Penny would reply, even as she too pondered that thought. She’s rarely had reason to look up while in the Overcity after all. Always fighting or on the move when she is there.

‘And I promise, If I can get you relaxed enough to forget the drop I’ll be there to catch you’ She would remark with a smile. It was nice just talking with Alicia. ‘When do you want to meet? My schedule is pretty open so I’m free whenever.’

Alicia nodded along to herself as Penny assured her that there wouldn’t be any problems with their high rise perch. Asked about timing, she glanced at the documents she was working on and considered the time her responsibilities would take before providing any answer. ’I should be free around 8;30 or so? Just got a few things I need to wrap up here.’

‘Sounds good’ Penny would reply ‘I’ll send you a text with the location once I get set up?’ She would state more than ask, but the question was still notable.

’Sure,’ Alicia agreed. She would be able to manage that. After all, what good leader could not delegate?

‘See you soon’




It was well past sunset by the time they were able to meet up. The winter season was in full effect after all, but the cold hardly bothered Penny as she set about setting up. Clearing a bit of snow from the rooftop of choice, she set down a tarp she had brought along as well as her jury rigged heater. It worked well, and was safe, it just didn’t look all that elegant. The rooftop was part of an office building Penny thought, she had never been inside. So she was only guessing from the looks she got from the windows. It was one of the taller buildings in Penrose, and she chose this one because of the small lip around the rooftop itself.

With one last look about the place she would send the location off to Alicia, before sitting down to wait. Idly she wondered if any of the other supplies she brought would see any use, but would worry about that later.

It would take several minutes for Alicia to arrive, having made her way downtown in anticipation of Penny’s message. Just because she was not the one deciding the location did not mean that she could not be proactive. Once she did know the location there was not much time wasted as she parkoured her way up to the roof. She could probably have used her wings, but that wasn’t very subtle and she would like to avoid the extra attention from other magical girls.

Arriving at the top of the office building, Alicia smiled and waved to Penny. ”Well, fancy meeting you here,” she said with a laugh to accompany it. ”It feels like it’s been forever, doesn’t it?”

Penny bit down on the desire to flirt back and simply waved as Alicia came over. “I know what you mean” She would agree instead “Feels like a lot more has happened then really has.” She shrugged, last time they had gotten together was when they had sparred, which wasn’t all that long ago, but it felt like it had been longer than it was.

“On that,” she would shift to give Alicia a more critical look “How are you holding up?” She would ask genuinely concerned for her friend. “I’ve not read the report, didn’t want to step on Elora’s toes to get it, but Mariette did make a brief appearance while I was dealing with an issue. That’s how I know things didn’t pan out like you were hoping”

Stepping away from the edge of the building, Alicia glanced around at everything Penny had brought with her for this meeting. Trust her to have everything covered. They’d just need to see how the heat worked out up here.

A sigh escaped as Penny brought up Mariette. Alicia idly kicked her feet, and she scratched at the back of her neck with a frown. ”Turns out Mariette has a lot of friends. A lot of familiar faces among that number too. She got away, material losses are unclear but can probably be recovered from in time. She may have been purified but she’s also still with Asengav so who knows how long he’ll let her stay that way.” She was still subservient to a Horror after all. Independent thought was something of a premium there.

As if that were not bad enough, that was not the end of the story. ”Oh, and Leena’s seriously injured and won’t be able to be out in the field for a while, the rest of the girls involved also had it rough, and Justine was captured by the Cradle so there’s no way we’ll be able to do this again if we have to.” There were no tears shed for the vampire. Only frustration at being so deprived of resources when they had not secured what small victory they had.

Penny withheld a wince. As there was another, less charitable, way to describe the outcome. A total loss. Which couldn't be easy to swallow after all the work that had been put into the assault.

"I'm sorry to hear that" She would say, which felt inadequate. "I might be able to help Leena, assuming that she'd be willing to trust me." She would offer. Information on Mariette's friends or the Cradle was also on the table, Penny supposed, but neither of those would be as instantly helpful.

"All things said, I'm glad that you didn't get hurt." She would go on to say as she pulled the heater over and started it up. Less for her sake and more to do with the fact she could see Alicia's breath. "And as much as I wish I could say I wanted to be there, I'm more glad I stayed behind." She would set the heater on the edge of the tarp once it was up and running, pointing more towards Alicia than herself.

"Mint tried to trash the Sanctuary, but something botched their plans so only structural damage stuck around."

Alicia was grateful for the offer, and Penny’s continued willingness to help despite all the difficulties that the Sanctuary had introduced into their relationship. Aside from the other difficulties, of course. ”Well, she’s on the mend. But I’ll let her know you offered.” If Rachel would allow it of course. That sort of thing wasn’t her decision to make.

Penny’s gratitude then earned a wince and a look of chagrin. ”Well, what’s a couple broken ribs in the grand scheme of things.” she observed. Alicia had given as good as she had gotten, so she could take some comfort in that despite their failures. The heater hummed to life, though it would take a few minutes or so for it to really alter the temperature here.

She tensed a bit at the mention of the Mint, though at least it seemed like things had not gone too badly. ”Any idea why?” she asked. It didn’t seem like the sort of move they would pull.

“Hurt too badly” Penny corrected with a roll of her eyes, hoping to hide the flash of red in them after hearing Alicia did get hurt. It was irrational, and she knew it. But Penny still cared for Alicia deeply.

“And because the Sanctuary is a massive threat to their normal hiring scheme” Penny would continue with a grimace. “It’s not something I feel that most people at Beacon would think about, especially no one from Ascendency, but most girls of the darker persuasion don’t really have a lot of options.”

“On the streets everyone kinda knows that the Mint is a terrible idea, but for those that need to eat or other specific needs there isn’t really anywhere else to turn to. Normal girls don’t have the resources to help, if they care to figure things out in the first place, and outside of Penrose Beacon oaths kill any cooperation.” She would explain leaning back to gaze up at the stars. It wasn’t a good situation for the Dark or Monster girls out there, and Penny knew that because she had lived it.

“So Mint offers them just enough rope to hang themselves. But morals get hard to hold on too when you’ve not eaten for a few weeks” She gave a sorta helpless shrug “Not everyone has it bad, some have Patrons that are willing to take care of them, but for the rest? Before the Sanctuary there wasn’t anywhere they could reliably turn to for help.”

“That’s my guess anyway” She would add after a moment “Didn’t exactly get a chance to beat any answers out of the bastard before they ran.” She didn’t bother to hide the flash of red or the growl in her voice at that declaration. They attacked her home, that would never be something Penny would take lightly, even without the Sanctuary added on top.

”Fair enough,” Alicia conceded as Penny laid out the reasons for the Mint’s attack. She would admit, her own perspective usually came from the notion that the Mint only ever sought to increase its own power. She was less informed on how it interacted with normal magical girls, and the sort of methods they would use to recruit someone. If Penny said it, then she had little reason to doubt the veracity of her statement.

Still, at least they had come out of the attack alright. Damage could be fixed, given enough time. ”Between this and the Rave, they’re getting pretty proactive. I’d say they were getting spooked, if we weren’t doing so badly ourselves.” It had been hard to go after the Mint following the Rave with everything else that had been going on with Justine. Now there was the opportunity again, but she wasn’t sure where to start. It was the same old problem.

“It almost seems like they are trying to provoke a reaction if I’m being honest.” Penny would claim. “Not sure if it’s because so many of us came back, or it just took them time to get set up, but they just seem to be trying to stir up conflict.” Perhaps it was simple paranoia, but the mechanical girl couldn’t help but assume that all of it was building towards something. Only question is what.

“Tracking them down is a pain as well” Penny would continue on, unknowingly voicing Alicia’s thoughts “I might be able to scrounge up one lead but if it doesn’t work I’m in the dark unless I want to go asking for favors.” Which Penny really didn’t want to do, but she also really, really, wanted to put some hurt towards the Mint for their attack.

Alicia nodded along as Penny laid out her thoughts. She moved at last, going to take a seat at a spot where she could enjoy the warmth of the heater while still having a good view of the city as they enjoyed their rooftop perch. That was what they had come to do after all, so it would be a shame to just stand around and converse.

Feet idly kicked in time with the frustrations she had. ”Well, if that’s their plan then it’s working,” she grumbled. If Penny had a lead, it was more than what she had at the moment. ”I had hoped we might find something by targeting the Independent, but that’s come up as a bust so far.” Not for lack of effort of course. Beyond that, they could just keep patrolling and responding to things as they happened. Not exactly the sort of mindset she had gone into leadership wanting to have,

“Really?” Penny was honestly a bit shocked at that. “I would have been willing to put coins on them being a part of the Mint.” She mulled over that for a moment, wondering if it was something they had interrupted or if the PI just had different goals in the first place. “Means that buying it up isn’t as bad an idea as I thought it might have been.” She would muse aloud.

“My lead” She would go on to say using air quotes “Might not even be of any good anymore. But I was given a location I could go too to try and get in contact with the broker I was under. Only problem is that my Broker was the one who split off to make the Crimson cradle so following that line might just blow up in my face worse than leaving it alone.”

“And tracking her down to get leads on the Mint is the realm of favors that I don’t want to touch.” Penny would let out a sigh. “Surprised that Rachel isn’t more interested in hunting them down herself.”

Alicia shrugged. ”I thought so too. But if they’re connected then someone did a really good job of hiding it.” She didn’t claim to know the full circumstances yet, but this was just what her investigation had uncovered so far.

A twitch ran through her as Penny mentioned who her ‘source’ was. ”Probably for the best. Between helping Mariette and everything else, the cradle seems as shady as the Mint ever was.” Maybe she was just being bitter, but after what they had gone through it felt like it was a deserved anger.

As for the mention of Rachel, she met that with a shrug. ”She cares, but in a more general sense. If an opportunity arose I’m sure she would take it. But right now she’s more concerned with order in the streets and preventing stuff like the Rave from happening again. You know, priorities.” Where once she had thought they could remove the Ascendancy easily, that was no longer the case. Alicia wasn’t sure what would happen from this point on.

“Hah, you don’t know the half of it” Penny would let out a bitter chuckle “Joining the Cradle gives access of all of your memories to the founder of it. She claims it’s to help keep everything transparent but it just makes my skin crawl” She would shudder for effect. “At the very least I trust them to hate the Mint, but they haven’t differentiated enough in my opinion to fully trust them.”

She would flop back onto the tarp with a sigh. “And I wish that didn’t make as much sense as it did” Penny didn’t want to like Rachel, but knew that the Inquisitor had a point. After all neither Penny nor Alicia had any solid leads on the Mint either.

Reaching into her leg compartment she pulled out one of the varied goodies she had stored away, a large D battery which she tossed up and let fall into her mouth. “You ever think about moving?” She would ask, her voice not affected at all by the battery she was crewing on.

“Getting away from Penrose and all of its insanity?”

Alicia shivered along too, unnerved by Penny’s revelation. ”I’m not sure if that’s paranoia, or just excessively controlling. It’d explain why she broke off the compartmentalized Mint at least.” It definitely did not do anything to endear Veronica to her, that was for sure.

She leaned back slightly, and moved to avail herself of one of the drinks that Penny had brought for her. As opposed to Penny and her taste for mechanical parts, though that was not exactly unusual by this point. A hum escaped as Penny raised a question, and Alicia paused for a few moments to think about what she wanted to say and how to say it. ”I’ve considered it,” she admitted as her head fell.

Memories flashed by, of everything that had happened since her journey began. ”Sometimes it gets unbearable, with all this bad stuff happening and people turning against you. But Beacon wants me here and thinks that there is still good that I can do. The Ascendancy stuff sucks, but if people like Cardinal ishtar still have faith in me then I can’t give up.”

“I know what you mean” Penny would admit “There was a long minuet after my reforging where I was so very tempted to just leave. Go somewhere, east maybe, or into the Overcity. Somewhere no one knew me, so that I could find myself without Jason’s memory lingering overhead.” It was one of the first thoughts that Penny had once she was whole again. One that didn’t get easier after finding the override chip.

“I’m glad I chose to stick around though” Penny would keep her gaze up at the distant stars and pointedly not mention that Alicia was one of the key reasons why she had stayed. Any chance of that had passed, ruined by Jason’s thoughtlessness.

“What’s the Cardinal like?” She would go on to ask. “I’ve been thinking of trying for a meeting with her like I did with Rachel”

Alicia nodded along, glad that penny had stuck around as well. It was good to have friends here, and without her around she would be that much more isolated. And probably the worse off for it too. But there was no use dwelling on what might have been. At least, those sorts of ‘might have beens’. There were others that she did not mind dwelling on though, like the most recent raid. But at least she had plenty of distractions on hand.

She grinned as Penny asked about the Cardinal. ”Honestly, I’m not sure what I can say without it sounding like a cliche,” she mused aloud. ”She’s compassionate, considerate, a lot less hardline than Rachel is, and she walked to that park meeting despite knowing it was probably a trap because she believes that much.”

"Huh" Penny would muse over that for a moment. "Sounds like the kind of person we need more of in Penrose." And while it was cliche, sometimes that was the truth of the matter.

"Oh!" Suddenly sitting up Penny would be grinning, "That reminds me." She would say before plunging her hand into her chest, the plates and other mechanical parts seamlessly parting.

A moment later she pulled out a small glass looking orb that was filled with streaks of white plasma. "What do you think?" She would ask Alicia, offering up the glass orb for her to hold.

Alicia was about to agree with Penny when her friend suddenly seemed to remember something. Bracing herself, Alicia’s eyes widened as she beheld the glowing orb that Penny produced.
”Wow.” she took the orb, lifting it and examining it from different angles while also feeling what it was like. ”You’ve been busy with more than just repairs.”

“That one is on you actually” Penny would say with a smirk. “I always got the impression that my magic is fundamentally different than most peoples as far as I can gather, pulling that up just proved my theory” She would explain as Alicia examined it.

It felt slightly warm to the touch and carried a sense of purity that was strangely familiar to the angelic girl. It also felt slightly unreal, like a held dream or physical idea.

“It’s also physical proof that Rachel and the Ascendency is wrong, same with most of Beacon if I want to be petty.” She would go on to say drawing out the tension about what it was that Alicaa was holding.

“Because, that’s my Shine Spark”

Alicia’s eyes widened as Penny revealed what she held, and the girl suddenly found herself a lot more self conscious about what she was holding. She subtly adjusted her grip, just to make sure that there were no accidents atop this very tall building. That would have been very awkward.

After a few moments she gingerly passed the orb back to Penny. ”So you pulled out part of your soul to prove a theory about magic. What are we proving Rachel wrong about again?” she asked, figuring she might as well get this out of the way before they got much further.

“Give me some credit” Penny would scoff as she accepted the Spark back “My soul is damaged enough I’m not going to go tearing it more. Especially since I don’t have that Spec.” She would shake her head, though she got where Alicia was coming from “All I did was give it a physical form, that was what I was proving about my magic.” She would go on to say holding the orb up so that Alicia could clearly watch it as it slowly sublimated back into her. “Not saying that someone couldn’t do some serious harm to me if they got their hands on it, but normally it’s not actually a physical thing for them to grab. Though I will admit how that works isn’t something I’m really sure on other then ‘Magic’”

“As for what it proves Rachel wrong about, that’s simpler” She would go on with a shrug “That Monstergirls aren’t inherently evil. Shocking revelation I know, but I can prove conclusively that the Spark doesn’t clash within a Monstergirl.” Granted Penny knew that the odds of another Monstergirl mimicking what she was capable of when it came to adaptation was effectively zil, but it was still proof that being a Monstergirl wasn’t an automatic exclusion from having Humanity.

“Though I’m still half way conceived that if I showed Rachel that, she would just straight up punch me”

Alicia watched as Penny returned the Spark to herself, a bit more relaxed for it but still with a heavy helping of disbelief that it had been there in the first place. ”Oh definitely,” she agreed with a quick nod. ”I’m pretty sure that’s super heresy or something.” She wasn’t sure how else one would label physically manifesting a Spark.

She sat back to relax once more, though it was a gesture which did not make its way through her entire body. ”Well, at least you’re making some progress. I’m a bit frustrated right now, though admittedly for selfish reasons.”

“Perhaps” Penny would say bobbing her head side to side, “Kinda just feels like I’m spinning gears most of the time if I’m being honest.” Because yes she was getting work done, but it didn’t feel like it amounted to much some days.

“But enough about me, what’s got you frustrated?” Penny would ask as she settled down once more. “And I’ve got a flask of rum if you're wanting a drink.” She would offer. Most of the stuff she had brought was simple snacks, granola bars, couple juice pouches and the like. Same foodstuffs at the Sanctuary, but she also brought along a flask or two of alcohol. As she did still have some of the stuff hidden away from when she was under Laat. Stuff was a good firestarter in a pinch.

”A drink would be good,” Alicia agreed as she extended a hand towards Penny. Maybe she didn’t need it, but it would make her feel better.

She would take a sip before elaborating. ”I just feel like I’ve wasted a lot of effort, you know? All that stuff to deal with Mariette, and I guess Janet went behind my back and fixed it with Ronin. The Cradle dealt with Justine, the Bates got handled offscreen, Eden’s gone. All these times when I got so determined and angry, and they just ended up getting solved without even being around. It wears you down, you know?’ The same with Chloe, though she didn’t mention that with Penny here. She still had some level of tact after all.

“First conflict with Justine was that way as well, and can’t forget Chloe up and vanishing.” Penny would add, because she didn’t care for tip-toeing around her own faults “Cindy and her whole dieing and not being fully dead thing going on. The absolute mess that was the Rave operation.” She would let out a sigh. “Yeah I can see how all of that would be exhausting.”

“Not much at the moment, but I’m sorry for my own role in some of those.” She would go on to say “I know I wasn’t the cause of them, but I sure didn’t help make many of them better”

”Getting frozen in a block of ice for most of that fight was pretty awkward. And what came after it…” Alicia fell off, doing her best not to think of the girl she had killed, before she knew Justine’s minions had been mind controlled. Just the first she had to make up for.

She shook her head after a moment, and took a sip of her drink, before she responded to Penny. ”I don’t think I’d have had the strength to make it this far without you, or the lesson you provided. I’d probably be just as eager as the Ascendancy is.”

“I’ll drink to that having helped you from that” Penny would say hoisting up another battery, more in the spirit of the statement then anything else. “And one of my own, for without you I’d still be stuck with Jason” She nearly spat his name, yet it was also spoken with an odd mix of nostalgia and affection.

“That would be the darkest timeline I’m sure”

Alicia shook her head. ”I think the worst timeline is the one where we’re all dead and darkness rules unchallenged, but that would be pretty bad.” she lifted her drink in a salute as well. What else needed to be said? They’d taken the paths they could, and history could not be changed. They just had to live with the consequences as best they could.

Penny would shudder a little at Alicia’s proclamation of the ‘Worst Timeline’ because if Oros and her Patron were to be believed she had seen that, or at least a version of it. Reviewing those events did make Penny sit up a bit straighter though. “Been there, wasn’t pretty” She would say with a shrug knowing she would need to explain that eventually “But I was able to snag somethings that might help us make sure that we don’t find a new way to cause that outcome.”

“It’s out of date, and unverified, but I do happen to have a glimpse into what the Ascendency is up to. Plus a lot of other stuff as well that I've not fully sifted thought”

An eyebrow rose as Penny revealed she might know what the Ascendancy had in mind to do in penrose, among other things. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but Alicia would admit that it was not the sort of thing she felt was particularly urgent these days.

For now she took things casually. ”Does it involve a city shattering laser? Because I knew about that already,” Alicia asked calmly, glancing over at Penny as she waited for her response.

“Weaponizing Purification” Penny would reply dryly “And the retaliation of such” She would shake her head to focus “Got kidnapped to another dimension where the worst timeline came true. Over there, shortly after the Rave, things went downhill fast.”[/b][/u][/color] She would explain quickly, now wasn’t the time for a deep dive into all of it “An arms race started up between Purification and Corruption. Pretty sure you can guess what the fall out of that would be” She would explain.

“If the data I got is valid, this gives us a chance to stop a catastrophe before it happens.”

Penny’s explanation was unexpected as well as curious. Alicia could see how what she was saying might be the case, but at the same time it also seemed fairly far off. Unless the Ascendancy had more resources devoted to that than she knew of.

”I see. Still, from what I’ve heard Janet and Jenna have been having trouble making a Purification weapon. I’m not sure how feasible an arms race is if we can’t actually get our side of the race off the ground.” This was probably classified or something but it wasn’t as if Alicia cared. Penny could keep a secret.

“Huh” it was obvious that Penny was a bit flat footed at this. It was ostensibly good news, but she couldn’t help but feel like they had been robbed of a chance to do some good. She took a moment longer, before blaming it on the horror that was lording over that dead realm. “Well I’ll keep an eye out for the other side regardless, but glad to hear that there is one less problem for Penrose at the moment.”

“You get an Invite to Dan’s party?” She would go on to ask after a moment of quiet.

Alicia did not have much more to say on the matter of Weaponized Purification. It was entirely possible that the Ascendancy was still working on it, or that Janet and Jenna had been stonewalling on purpose, but she was not in a position to dictate whether that was true or not. For now, it seemed to be a dead end. ”Sounds good.”

For now the topic shifted, and Alicia quickly nodded to confirm her situation. ”Yep,” she replied. ”I’ve been assured that we won’t get time warped this go around, though sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if we were.”

“I wouldn’t be opposed to gaining time” Penny would say “Go in for three weeks come back and only an hour has passed kind of thing.” She would explain with a shrug “I didn’t really notice until I was looking at Dan again, but the stolen time really got to me. So not looking forward to a repeat of that anytime soon.”

“A chance to avoid all the drama of Penrose is still tempting though” Not that Penny would take such, she wanted to be involved regardless of how it eventually panned out. “Regardless I’m curious as to how we will end up dressed this time”

Alicia nodded along, sipping her drink as Penny ruminated on the nature of lost or gained time via magic. She found it hard to argue the point, though at the same time she got the suspicion that there was a bit more to it than that.

“Why do I get the feeling that we wouldn’t be saying that if we didn’t have so much responsibility now,” she observed with a chuckle. “We’re our own worst enemies.” Admittedly they had not invited all this responsibility on themselves, but they had not refused it either. So here they were now, amidst a burden of authority while they sought refuge in this tiny way.

For now they had the party to look forward to. “Well it is Christmas themed,” she pointed out, extending a hand over the edge of the building. “I expect a lot of Santa Claus outfits, ugly sweaters, and a lot less keijo.” Admittedly she could be wrong, particularly on the Keijo from, but she was fairly confident with making that guess.

Penny agreed with Alicia, if they weren’t under the yoke of leadership neither of them would be as stressed, yet there were few people in Penrose that Penny really trusted to be in these leadership positions. So hopefully together they could plot a better way through all this mess that seemed to fall onto Penrose every other day.

“Well, I’m going to build a Snow Castle and throw snowballs at everyone I’m annoyed with while ensconced within it, and not even Dan will be able to stop me” She would say with an over the top haughty expression on her face. Being a leader could wait for a bit longer, now it was time to plot out snowy shenanigans.

The notion of Penny building a Snow Castle seemed to hover near the absurd, but Alicia could picture that pretty well. Though it might just be because she knew Penny was fond of building things. There was no doubt that she was going to terrorize the party later.

“Really, you’re going to throw them?” she asked with a laugh. “I figured you’d have a catapult or a cannon or something for more volume of fire.”

“Well, now that you mention it…” Penny would say with a sly grin “Think that Dan would let me summon the Earthbastion again?” The cannons on that would be able to output a lot of snow power. Otherwise, Penny would just have to figure out a way to make a catapult out of snow.

Alicia scoffed, face twisted in amusement at the thought of the Bastion delivering powdery snowball justice en masse. But as amusing as it might be, she had the feeling that using it in such a manner would probably not be approved by the Dolphin.

“I don’t think he’s going to go for that,” she mused thoughtfully. “After all, the last time it was at least thematically consistent with the atmosphere that he was going for on the beach. A giant mechanical pirate ship thing isn’t what I’d consider ‘Christmas Spirit’.” Not that Penny was going to have much trouble coming up with a catapult. She just needed to make sure she had a spot inside the snow fort rather than being the one to try and take it.

A large sigh of disappointment would follow that proclamation “Drat. Well at least he can’t stop me from just using Gravity to fling it at people” Penny would say with false dejection. She already figured, but the mental image was just too fun not to bring up at least once.

“Wait…” Penny would turn a suddenly bewildered look at Alicia “The Ascendency has a city shattering laser!?”

“No comment.”
Green Warrior

With Shane and Gaia


The beginning of this bounty was a fairly simple one. The boy and girl that had agreed to it had received a message with the general area being affected upon confirmation of their participation. They were able to meet up there, and undertake the mission at their leisure. With a bit of pressure of course, given the danger that was being posed to the civilian populace.

The coordinates they received would direct them to a spot some distance from the Sanctuary in the Industrial District. There the sewers that ran beneath the Sanctuary empties into the river and were carried to the coast beyond. That would explain why it had ended up here. The river was fairly deep, though cleaner than it would have been otherwise with the disrepair of the city and lack of continuous pollutant output. It wound forwards in a slowly curving path with little in the way of immediate surprises. Aside from the obvious of course. They just had to locate what they were here to dispose of.

Borrowing the Nature's Staff that he usually left for the Sanctuary, Shane spent a little time after the attack tracing where the drainage went underground. Most of that he was able to scrub up himself with Earth magic. The runaway was more to go after and once he had word of effects of the magic he went to find and fix the results.

The boy would be at the bank of the river feeling out the ground nearby. Most of this area was built up so there wasn't much vegetation, but he would be able to find any oddities below the water's surface while he awaited another for assistance.

For her part, Gaia had been notified of the river’s recent contamination by her Patron, and as Mother Earth’s representative, it was only right that she should assist in the waterway’s restoration. Seeing that a young man had arrived before her and was already at work, she called out to him in a serene voice, “Good evening. Am I to assume that you are also here to cleanse these troubled waters?”

He looked back to see Gaia. Given the type of work to be done, she was a perfect partner to handle the potential plant life. He raised his hand and waved back. "I am indeed. I'm glad to see you answered the call. I'm not quite sure what to expect yet and I can only do so much with this." He would point to his magical staff.

“Ah, I see that one of Mother’s blessed implements has found its way into your possession,” Gaia noted with an approving nod. [color=SpringGreen]“I believe it shall prove more than sufficient, especially when coupled with my own abilities,” she added, conjuring Nature’s Blossom. The moment the leafy staff touched the ground, dozens of flowers and other small plants sprouted up through the pavement. “Although I am curious as to who I shall be working beside,” the verdant magical girl said after a moment. “May I have the honor of knowing your name?”

"Shane Brahm. It's lovely to meet you miss?" Upon being given a name and a bit more time to look him over, Gaia would recognize him as the boy that had joined them for the movie night.

“Gaia, Daughter of Mother Earth,” the verdant magical girl introduced herself with a graceful curtsy. “It is my most sincere pleasure to make your acquaintance. Although…” she added, while placing an elegant finger below her chin in a gesture of contemplation. “If memory serves, you attended Miss Sakura’s movie night, did you not? I trust you were able to extricate yourself from your budding relationship with Shoggy without too much trouble?” Her serene voice took on a slightly playful tone as she said that last part, while her emerald lips gave the barest hint of a smirk.

While Shane kept his cool for the most part, he did have a slight blush. "That was awkward. But yeah,her patron eventually took her away. I'll have to be more careful about who I shock from now on." He would offer as some explanation.

“I am glad to hear it,” Gaia replied with a melodious giggle. “Shoggy is a sweet girl, but I fear she is still rather unaccustomed to the ways of humans. We can only hope that she will improve with time, hmm?” the nymph-like girl observed, giving Shane a sympathetic smile. “In any case, shall we get to work restoring this noble channel to its former glory?”

Returning the smile the boy nodded. "Yes, I've been trying to track this stuff down for a while. I hope it hasn't caused too much trouble." He would start to make his way down stream, slow enough to allow Gaia to catch up.

The search began, the magical girl and boy working in tandem as they swept the river near the position they had been given. It was not incredibly difficult to determine what they were looking for, as the abandonment of much of the district had left the river relatively clear. A welcome change from how things usually were, no doubt. Normally it would have been extra difficult because of that,

Soon, the duo came across their first sign of the magical influence. The walls and bottom of the canal the river flowed through had been altered and warped, twisted and now stained in colors far from natural. But that was mere traces of it, not the main portion they were looking for. That would be further on.

“What a hideous sight!” Gaia declared after taking one look at the waterway’s defilement. “If you do not mind, I should like to begin the river’s purification here. We can then proceed systematically, until we reach the source of this foul corruption.”

A moment later, the verdant magical girl produced the Orb of Spring, and, placing the flower-covered purification artifact within the large flower atop Nature’s Blossom, dipped it into the murky waters.

“Healing power of Mother Earth, flow through me, and cleanse this suffering stream of all its impurities! Let it once more bring life to all it touches! So commands Gaia, Daughter of Mother Earth!”

With that, a massive pulse of emerald green life energy expanded out from the submerged Orb, spreading across the water in waves of shimmering sparkles.

“Soon, noble torrent,” the verdant magical girl whispered gently. “Soon you shall once again become the source of refreshment you were created to be. This I promise.”

Since Gaia was much more adept at cleaning up the water, Shane focused on scraping up what there was on the surfaces and using the staff to eat away at the gunk. This little stretch was done pretty quickly and the two would move on. "Good work. Let's see if we can narrow down where this stuff went." As they moved he would stop and cast a spell to sense any unusual changes in the Earth. Knowing that plants were involved he especially was looking for root systems.

“A most excellent idea,” Gaia concurred, giving her partner a radiant smile. With a graceful motion, the verdant magical girl cast a handful of seeds into the water, where they immediately grew into what appeared to be a cross between a lily pad and a jellyfish. Infused with Gaia’s mystic power, they would be protected from the slime’s ravages, while they sought out its source. Noticing Shane’s spell, Gaia would proceed to aid him, supplementing his staff’s power with her own.

Working in tandem, the two were able to make quick work of the magical refuse. Some care needed to be had of course, but in a spot like this there was little chance that they could be affected by what they were cleaning up. They worked methodically and made their way up stream, nearing a collection pool in the stream. As they did so the signs of magical contamination grew more pronounced, forcing more time to be taken and indicating that this might be the source they were looking for.

The Earth at the bottom of the stream raised to surround the pool to prevent more from running off. Creating something of a dam the sediment would loosen and shake to allow water to seep and filter the contaminants while they continued on. "We're getting close. This will keep things contained while we clean up." He would begin to move around to the other side of the pool to see what else there might be.

“My, how talented,” Gaia noted approvingly after Shane used his Earth magic to contain the corrupted water. “And I concur, this does indeed appear to be the source of the blight. Let us discover what lies at the bottom of this poisoned pool,” she added, while commanding her botanical constructs to dive into the depths of the murky water. Employing her connection with them, the verdant magical girl attempted to locate the best target for their purification efforts.

”I have some experience.” He would give in response.

The dam was successful for its purposes, blocking the flow of water and keeping the ooze contained. It might seep through eventually, but that would not happen if they were not delayed in doing so.

As for Gaia, her constructs would make it some distance into the murky depths. They would spot an orb of waste floating suspended in the water, but before they could go further they would find themselves suddenly and viciously attacked. The snapping of teeth, and the barest glimpses of fish with double mouths, extra eyes, tentacles, altered by the very magic they came to clean up. Those could make things difficult.

“Mother’s Mantel!” Gaia gasped as her constructs were torn apart by the mutated wildlife. “It would appear that the river’s corruption has spread to its denizens as well,” she observed, turning to Shane. “The, fish, in particular, have been twisted into truly horrific monstrosities.”

Unfortunately for Shane he didn’t really have a way to tell what was happening in the water. He would turn and step a bit closer to the pool he created. Oh boy. Well… ”Let me see if I can scare them off without hurting the thing too much.” He wasn’t completely sure what it would do if they tried to restore the creatures. Building a charge he would hold his hands out and send a shock through the water to try and drive them away.

Unleashing a burst of magic into the water, Shane would find his efforts less than successful. While it did temporarily force them back, the fish would just swim right back now that they were alerted to the presence of something. A more forceful touch might be needed. But at least they weren’t jumping at him yet so that was good, right?

”Might need a more creative solution to this one.” He would say as he took a stepback. Stopping the water filtration and using it simply as a dam he would redirect his efforts to a bare patch of earth nearby. He only had the chance to work out a few old spells since getting back his Earth magic. Flipping through he would cast one that would allow him to lift a decent size chunk of the ground and move it off to the side. ”It might take me a bit but I should be able to make a deeper spot for the water to drain into.” He would have to cast this spell a few times before it would be well and deep enough to drain all the water so they could get to the bottom of the original pool.

“I see,” Gaia observed with an approving nod. “Most creative indeed.” Standing by while Shane completed his task, the verdant magical girl would keep careful watch on the gradually emptying pool, ready fire off a blast of mystic energy from her staff, should any of the pool’s corrupted denizens decide to attack the Earth mage.

It was a creative solution to employ, one that began to pay dividends as the water level sank and more of the corruption was revealed. It took a bit more time, perhaps, but it was definitely safer for the both of them as well.

Meanwhile Gaia stood on guard, a wise choice as the forceful reshaping of the earth stirred the mutated fish. They leapt upwards as the water sank, jumping and snapping. A few were even able to musters blasts of corrupted water, lightning, and the like. They snapped with sharp teeth and sought to strike them with whip like appendages. If Shane was to complete his task, Gaia would need to be alert and do a good job as he was the main focus of the fishy attack. Hopefully she was up to the task.

Gaia was somewhat surprised by the array of offensive abilities possessed by the mutated fish, but that did nothing to hinder her ability to defend Shane from their assault. Arcing Nature’s Blossom across the fish as they leapt from the pool, she unleashed a torrent of arcane energy, the emerald bolts shooting out with the speed of a machine gun. Striking the twisted creatures with enough force to stun, but not kill, the bolts would hopefully suffice in keeping them from interfering with Shane’s work. In the event that greater firepower was needed, Gaia would scatter several seeds around the edge of the pool, from which would sprout odd plants that almost resembled small green cannons. These would proceed to fire a stream of green orbs, which exploded into clouds of potent sedatives upon striking any of the corrupted fish.

The water continued to drop, but the fish remained no less vicious. That was where Gaia came in. Her bolts forced them back, rebuffing their attacks and forcing them to look for an opening. Even if it felt like she was almost at the point of being overwhelmed, her seed cannons helped to turn the tide in their favor.

At last the water was in the hole that Shane had been crafting, the fish either flopping uselessly on land or contained in it. But the duo had not emerged unscathed. They had been struck by some of the tainted water, delivering unto them some unexpected magical effects. Gaia would find her feet leaving the ground, hovering in midair without any active effort on her part. It seemed the magic had rendered her able to fly, at least for a short period of time. Shane was more dramatic, as he proceeded to burst into flames. But...they didn’t burn him. He was just perpetually on fire.

Aside from how awkward that was, they had succeeded. It would be a simple matter of removing the magical refuse and completing the bounty. However, Gaia would notice something amiss. It was as if the energy from her plants was being drawn away further underground. There shouldn’t have been anything down there with that sort of ability, sure to kindle her curiosity. She did not need to do so, of course, but did she want to leave this mystery uninvestigated?

“Well, this is rather peculiar, I must admit,” Gaia observed as she felt herself begin to hover above the ground. Catching sight of Shane, she gave a startled gasp. “Shane! Are you all right?!”

Upon receiving confirmation that her companion was not being harmed by the flames that seemed to cover every inch of his body, the verdant magical girl gave a relieved sigh. However, she would soon have a new mystery to deal with. As she and Shane finished purifying the last of the corruption, Gaia noticed that the various plants she had been employing to aid in the cleanup seemed to be having their energy leached away by something deep underground…

“Pardon me, Shane,” she asked the earth mage. “But would you be so kind as to do me a small favor? Something beneath us appears to be drawing mystic energy from my plants. Do you think you could possibly employ your Earth magic to locate whatever it might be?”

After an initial panic of spontaneously combusting the magical boy managed to calm down a bit once he realized that he was not burning to death. ”Good grief, this magic is all over the place.”

Cleaning out what he could with Nature’s Staff to help Gaia, he would return the fish to the water. Things looked to be pretty much done until his companion requested checking for a potentially other issue. ”Right, let’s see.” Casting a spell a small seismic wave would go out to allow him to sense out what was under his feet.

The seismic wave revealed a large underground cavern, built into the dirt underneath the river. There was a tunnel that served as an entrance, which dipped down and went underwater so you’d have to swim under rocks and then go up to reach a surface and enter the cave. The seismic wave also revealed a chaotic root-system in the earth underneath and around the cave; whatever was within that cave had a lot of roots.

“Most curious,” Gaia observed after Shane had reported his findings. “Although it may lie beyond the scope of our task here, I should like to investigate this matter further. Would you care to accompany me?” she asked the Earth mage.

Nodding, Shane would begin to move toward the water to begin swimming. He didn't want to open up another entrance below in case it caused an issue. "I think whatever this is needs to be dealt with."

The two would swim their way down into the cave and into the subterranean space below. Following what his survey had told him they moved toward the mass of roots. Funny enough once Shane dried up a bit he set on fire again which worked wonderfully for lighting the way.

“I am glad to see that your spontaneous combustion problem has at least one positive use,” Gaia noted with a playful giggle.

Expanding her awareness, the verdant magical girl attempted to commune with whatever plant the tangle of roots belonged to, in an effort to assess its health and discern if it, too, was in need of purification.

Diving down, the two found the underwater entrance to be pretty well camouflaged. There was nothing there telling that there was a secret entrance until they had actually entered the little pocket in the rocks. From there, they could swim upwards and reach a surface in the water, the water-level ending lower than the level of the river outside and just as the tunnel smoothly panned out to be horizontal again. Then they could continue following the tunnel, towards a place where the cave opened up to a large chamber.

The place was overgrown. It was like they had walked into an underground jungle. Green spiky leaves stood out in all directions in a place where there was no light other than the fire Shane brought with him. Wooded trees proudly stood, covering the ceiling with their large crowns and branches, with vines hanging down from them. Bushes and moss covered the floor, it was hard to look anywhere without seeing something alive… except there wasn’t a single animal in here. There weren't even any bugs. It was all plants. Very healthy and not corrupted at all plants, as Gaia would notice.

Yet, there was something else in here. Something lightly tugging at them, or more accurately, at their magic. Far in the back, there was something unnatural. Standing by itself, built seemingly in black rock, was a large, bulky round frame. Attached to the top of it was a smooth, red jewel, clearly visible through the green jungle as it lightly glowed. And within the frame… was darkness. It was a passage somewhere, but only darkness could be seen, and it was unlikely shining a light on it would clear anything up. The tug of magic was heading for there…

A tree next to the frame suddenly moved. Something severed from the tree, revealing itself to be a humanoid shape. It took a couple steps to stand between the new arrivals and the black rocky passage. It gave them an expressionless stare, as her feet implanted themselves into the ground where she now stood, her whole body seemingly built out of wood.

Gaia had seen this person before. In a painting in the foyer of a mansion. At the beach resort that followed.

A pulse of magic shot out of the wooden woman, which could only be seen because each plant in the vicinity reacted to it. Only that which responded to the spell’s own strain of magic reacted, and as such, the bearer of Nature’s Staff and someone with the appropriate specialization felt it too. It contained a very simple message.



Leave

Gaia’s eyes widened as she beheld the subterranean jungle, and grew wider still, upon catching sight of the strange frame and the glowing jewel atop it. It was only when the dryad-like woman emerged into view that the pieces of this puzzle finally fell into place.

“Greetings, Lady Esther,” Gaia told the tree-woman with a graceful curtsy. “Please forgive our intrusion, my lady. You have my word, as the Daughter of Mother Earth, that we do not wish harm upon you, or upon the wonderful garden you have so lovingly cultivated here. We were simply purifying a local river of corruption,” Gaia explained, “and we wished to insure that what you have created here had not also been tainted by it. As that is clearly not the case, we shall now take our leave. I only wish to make one small request of you, on behalf of Mother Earth,” the verdant magical girl added. “Please refrain from causing harm to those who dwell in the city above us. As long as you confine your garden to these subterranean caverns, I myself shall ensure that none shall disturb you. Does this meet with your approval, my lady?”

With Gaia’s words, Esther gradually changed her pose. She’d held a bit of a hostile pose, but when Gaia made it clear she wasn’t intending on having a battle, she adjusted, losing some tension and some more wild branch growths settled down on her. Her face remained as expressionless, however, made out of wood and all. Instead, she gently nodded, accepting Gaia’s words but still wary of them. The dark passageway remained open behind her.

It was moments like these that Shane wished he had Third Eye or the like. Most everything around seemed perfectly fine. The plants and everything was actually quite beautiful and magical. Though the framed darkness gave him an uneasy feeling. He had no real way to know what it really was or its purpose sadly. ”Forgive the fire. The magical waste apparently has bizarre effects.” He would look around casually. ”I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t mind an environment like this. A lot more relaxing than the cold and ruckus in the city.”

“Agreed,” Gaia replied with a blissful sigh. Indeed, a part of her wished she could remain in this wondrous refuge of nature. “Although we should probably be heading back there now,” she added with some resignation. “After all, we must respect Lady Esther’s privacy.”

Esther just stood back there. Staring at them. Not moving. Like she was now just another tree among many.

Seeing there wasn’t a response, Shane glanced at Gaia for a moment before shrugging. He would turn back to Esther. ”Alright then. Stay safe.” It was a little awkward of a moment, but he would turn away and start making his way back down the tunnel with Gaia. He wouldn’t say anything on the way out until they were well and outside. It was also something he would have to think through first anyway.

“My apologies if that was a bit awkward for you,” Gaia would tell him, with a sympathetic smile. “Lady Esther is a very powerful being,” the verdant girl explained. “From what little I have been able to gather, I believe she was once something not unlike Mother Earth for her own world, a caretaker and protector. I, too, am slightly concerned by that strange arch we saw,” she confessed, “but this was neither the time, nor the place to address such a potentially weighty matter. Lady Esther is an associate of Miss Mariette, whom we shall see at the upcoming Christmas Party. Perhaps I shall have a chance to discuss the matter with her then. Oh, that reminds me,” she added, retrieving a colorful slip of paper from the folds of her voluminous tresses. “Have you received an invitation yet?”

While the boy was listening he didn’t seem as engaged as he could have been. He had taken out his tome and was working on something. At least until his attention was drawn by a question about the invitation. ”Huh? Oh, no I haven’t.” He would accept the invitation. ”A Christmas party at Dan’s place huh? Well that should at least keep people from fighting too much.” Something else occurred to him. ”Speaking of, apparently my patron arranged for me a little R&R there and said I can bring a guest. Kind of out of nowhere but you’re welcome to join me if you’d like.”

“Why Shane!” Gaia exclaimed in mock surprise. “Are you asking me out on a date?”

”I am.” He would offer a smile. He didn’t seem particularly embarrassed about it.

“Truly?” Gaia asked, slightly taken aback by his earnestness. “In that case, I would be most honored to accompany you, Shane” she told him, after regaining her serene composure. “Especially since I was planning to attend already,” she added with a playful wink.

The boy smirked, having somewhat turned the tables on the girl. He wouldn’t revel in it though, that would be rude. Gaia mentioning she was already planning on attending he raised an eyebrow. ”Oh? Did Paree talk to you already?” For real it wouldn’t surprise him if his patron had gone and set something up without telling him. Thus was their relationship as it were.

“I am afraid I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting this Paree,” Gaia would reply. “I received my invitation from Miss Mariette. I was in Dan’s beach dimension with some friends, and she handed them out to everyone present,” the verdant magical girl explained. “I believe Dan’s intention is to create an opportunity for otherwise antagonistic factions to come to a peaceful coexistence in a relaxed, non-threatening atmosphere. Quite ambitious, I know, but I really must commend him for making the attempt.”

”Oh, you’re talking about the Christmas party. Let’s see.” He would focus for a moment and then his patron would appear on the mound of dirt they’d excavated.

”...May I help you?” The creatures would cross it’s tiny arms.

Shane would cough slightly. Same old mood as ever. He would hold up the invitation he had. ”The agreement with Dan was for this event right?”

Looking at the envelope for a few seconds the puchuu scratched the side of its face. Was this really why he was called? ”Not to my understanding. It will be for you and your…” His eyes would drift over to Gaia slowly and look her over as if trying to come up with the right way to describe the girl. ”...Mate, suitor, girlfriend? Whatever it is you call it this century.” He didn’t seem bothered getting it right or if his choice of words were not appropriate for the circumstances.

“Pardon me, but, am I to understand that you have arranged for Shane to have a, shall we say, ‘couple’s trip’ to the beach dimension?” Gaia asked the small creature with a cocked eyebrow. “I must say, that is awfully generous, and I am very honored to be chosen as your consort,” she added, while giving Shane an appreciative smile.

"It may be whatever you wish to call it. I simply arranged for Shane to receive a reward for his work. Whom he chose and for what reason is none of my concern." He would look at Shane. "So long as it does not interfere with your tasks in the future."

"You don't have to be so dramatic, Paree." The boy would blush a bit at Gaia's phrasing. Seemed she was more than open to going on a date so that was good to hear. "Alright then, it's a date. I'll talk with Dan and let you know when we'll be going." He would take out his phone to take down Gaia's number.

“I shall look forward to it,” Gaia told him warmly. Although she didn’t like to carry her phone with her while doing magical girl work, she had memorized her number well enough to tell Shane. “You know, I don’t normally give my phone number out to just anyone, she teased. “And especially not to handsome boys, so I trust you won’t make me regret this.”

He would send a text so she would have his number whenever he got back to her phone. ”I certainly would not want to disappoint.” He would say cheerfully.

That done he would raise a finger. ”One more thing while we’re still here.” Setting his book down on the bank of the river he would channel some magic in order to create a map of the terrain below, and notably where the mirror was. Should they tunnel away or change something he should now be able to tell if he ever came back. Taking up his tome he would tuck it away. ”Just in case we need it.”

“A very wise idea,” Gaia commended. “If that is all you wished to discuss, then I believe I shall bid you farewell for the evening. It truly was a pleasure working alongside you.”

”You too. Have a good night.” He would say as they parted. He stayed just a little bit longer to clear up the earthen mounds and dam he’d made so it looked mostly like it did before they arrived. And now he had a little planning to do for his date.



Back in the cave, Esther still stood immobile, staring ahead at the exit which the two had left through. There was a bit more movement suddenly, as something slid down a tree to her left, having been hidden in the thick foliage of the trees.


‘Fortunate, that they would have the good sense to leave. Still, unfortunate, in another way. Why did that corruption have to appear so close to our base? How very annoying…’ Freya said with a sigh, sliding up next to Esther, frowning and crossing her furred claw-hands under her chest, thinking about this. Esther didn’t move the slightest.

‘We’ll need to warn Mariette that the mirror has been seen. This base is compromised, too. Guess we’ll need to move it…’ Freya said, sighing again. Esther now suddenly turned her head to look at Freya, who was a bit startled.

‘Er, don’t worry, I’m sure you can keep your garden,’ Freya quickly assured, and Esther responded by turning her face back towards the entrance. The furred lamia breathed out a bit in relief. ‘I’ll go make the report. You stay, just in case someone comes back. It’s your garden and all…’ Freya said, turning around and looking at the lonely-looking Esther, who’d she’d never ever heard talk. Shrugging, she skipped through the dark portal, leaving Esther standing alone with her jungle, not to move until the next time someone came in.


&



Sometimes, ruling did have their own sort of unsavoury things and awkward bed partners. It had been a while since Penny had decided to make her an important person in her cabinet. Of course, the memories of both the Mariette raid and the subsequent attack were fresh. Above all, Dina was becoming painfully more aware and aware that Cindy’s demise had not been the opportunity she had once hoped to be.

It had been a very dire warning. One that made her rethink the whole status quo of the city.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing“ Dina said, she sipped her iced tea on one of the still shops that like weeds, still stubbornly surviving in the near empty city. This reeked of a warzone to her memories, albeit one of a shadow war. While her appearance as a monster girl was not usually a concern, she had taken extra care to make an effort and appear as a human girl this time.

“Well, we’re not exactly men, but we must give it a shot I think.” Dina said, as she awaited. She had pulled this unlikely information out of the Queen herself. And the first time they saw each other, they were on opposing sides.

And yet, they had almost reached a compromise. She had felt bad things had fallen through. And Mariette, as bound as she had been bound to help her, had a terrible master who had actually tricked the well-meaning but utterly clueless Beach Guardian in a conflict that had been Anathema to it all.

So, it was time for a chat in neutral territory. With Alicia. She had laid some groundwork, but she did not fully expect her to show up.

it was interesting, Alicia noted to herself as she walked down sparsely populated streets. She was used to being contacted by Penny, but being told that there was someone in the Sanctuary who might want to speak with her was a bit more unusual. That it had actually happened even stranger still. From what she’d been told, the two groups rarely found reason to intermingle, aside from coincidence.

Dressed in a heavy coat to brace against the cold, Alicia made her way to the cafe that she had been directed to in the message. Truth be told, she wasn’t sure what she intended to accomplish with this. Humor a friend/ Make new allies? Raise the flag? It was all kind of up in the air. So she resolved to be flexible and play things by ear. It was the best way to approach an uncertain situation

at last she arrived at the cafe. It was not hard to figure out who she was here to meet, given there was basically no one else besides employees around. ”Dinah, I assume?” she asked as she took a seat across from the tea sipping girl.

“Indeed.” Dina said as she called the waitress to serve Alicia. “As surprising as it might be, lady Hayden.” The disguised catgirl said. “It’s a change...from how we first met, don’t you think?” She added, offering a small smile.

”Most situations are pretty different from that,” Alicia observed as she glanced at the menu. She settled for some hot chocolate, to balance out the cold that currently afflicted them outside. ”So, what did you want to talk about?’

Dina raised an eyebrow at the choice of the senior Beacon leader, but did not comment further. Trust youths to have a sweet tooth. "Take a look around. What do you think you see?"

Alicia glanced out the window before returning her focus to Dina. ”So, cooperation to get the city back on its feet then? Or is this about the Ascendancy?” Those were the two things that immediately sprang to mind based on the prompt she had been given.

"The second is merely a consequence of the former." Dina said. "This city's future...does not bode well at all. High handed has become the common language… and as such, everything suffers. Both magical and non magical worlds are intertwined like vines." She added. "And a difficult choice is slowly but creeping in. Peace paid in blood, or Justice over ashes."

An eyebrow rose as Dina laid out her view in eloquent language. Still, Alicia did her best to cut through that to the heart of what she was trying to say. ”And which of those do you value most? For those who would disturb the peace must be brought to justice, lest they continue to scheme unchecked.” Like Mariette, or Justine.

Dina said. "It's a terrible choice, indeed… but If I were to say I prefer to bring the former. Scheming is part of any being, and there will be no shortage of schemers. All doctors seek to undo all ailments, but sometimes a triage has to be made."

"Would I ever meet with you if I did not think that sometimes It's better the evil you know, as they say?"

”I see.” Alicia did her best to overlook the fact that she was being described as an ‘evil’ in the first place, albeit a lesser one. ”I take it that’s why you chose to join in the defense of Mariette the last time that we met? She is one of the more egregious schemers after all.”

Dina's lips curled in a slight frown. "My patron was not the smartest tool in the shed. He was tricked in believing it so. And I honour commitments. Nevertheless, Dan has taken one of Mariette's most powerful artifacts and locked it down until she behaves. Trickery comes at a price."

An eyebrow rose as Alicia took in what Dina had said. She recalled Janet mentioning something like that, though those details had been from a different perspective. Interesting to know, though perhaps not that helpful at present. At least she knew a bit more than she had before.

For now she left that behind, to approach the actual details of this plan. ”So how did you intend to go about creating this peace? Some sort of conference of big factions, or playing middleman to keep people from taking shots at each other.” Even if Beacon agreed after all, one would still have to convince everyone else who might ruin that peace.

"That would be ideal yes, but not all factions care about reputation in that way to work… unlike real world state affairs." Dina said. "We cannot be at peace… but we can scale things down to a cold war."

Her gaze became unfocused for a brief moment. Those words brought bad memories. "Standoffish attitude is already taken care of, unfortunately. We need a sort of Red Phone to avoid escalation."

"Like Mariette calling friends, Justine calling allies… What was a feud between two magical girls dragged half of Penrose with it. I am sure you did notice."

Dina then looked at the rest of the cafe, and the lack of crowds."I am not sure how many of these escalations this otherwise industrious city can take, If I am being honest with you."

”Yes, I noticed,” Alicia replied, verging on a grumble without entirely expressing that exasperation. So she could see what Dina was going for. That said, it was not necessarily a foolproof decision. ”That only worked because of the threat of mutually assured destruction. There is no verifiable way to claim that the destruction of Penrose is assured, aside from personal feelings. And there’s enough people who don’t respect Mint or Beacon that a ‘Red phone’ would only be of limited use. Unless i’m misunderstanding what you’re aiming for.”

“The scale of it, mainly. We need to round up as many pragmatic people as we can across factions, and get them in touch. It’s true that there’s no shortage of rash individuals.” She placed the teacup on the saucer dainty, with a small clatter. “People like you are far rarer.”

“We have had attempts to reach out in the past… but how do I say, they seemed as if they were meant to appease someone’s conscience rather than actually helping a fellow. They did lack the weight of commanding.” She stared at the Beacon girl.

“I was that hydra, you know.” She then promptly revealed.

Alicia barely reacted as Dina revealed the other role she had played in the last fight. ”So you were,” she answered, her tone measured and calm. It wasn’t as if that hydra had fought her, and it only played a small part in her general frustration with the event.

For now, she did her best to move on. ”Regardless, I am open to the idea. If you can provide proof that it will work as you hope it will.” She had been led astray by words before. She would be a fool if she let it happen again.

Dina sighed. "If i was able to produce proof beyond doubt, would I even be talking to you and not your superior?" The catgirl said. "Fortunately, It is not as the world will end tomorrow. I may be able to gather some good will in the meantime." She paused. "I heard that there was a nasty attack on the Cardinal. How is she?"

While Dina pointed out the fairly obvious, Alicia found it hard to be sympathetic. After all, her weight was only really good with the Sanctuary, and if that were a problem then Dina wouldn’t be here. ”Well then, let me know if you make any progressOur word may not be all that much in bringing people on board.”

Sipping her drink, Alicia turned to the matter of the Cardinal. ”On the mend. Things were tense for a bit there, but she was able to pull it out with some help.” Luckily for everyone involved. Otherwise there would have been no check on Rachel’s authority

"Hmm, less bloodshed. That is… good." Dina said. She then pulled a pen and some paper from her purse, and began scribbling in exquisite penmanship, before she handed the paper to Alicia. "My contact details." She added.

Alicia took the paper, glancing at it before slipping it into a coat pocket. ”Do you want mine?” she asked, more out of courtesy than anything. After all, Penny had her number, so Dina could always just ask her if it was needed.

“I could use it. Her highness it’s not a phone company… I mean, she might as well be, but that is beside the point.” Dina said, tilting her head.

Nodding, Alicia picked up a nearby napkin and jotted her number down on it. Once finished, she passed it over to Dina. ”There. Now you can skip the help line.”

“Brilliant.” Dina said, offering a smile. If her ears and tail were out, her tail would be stiff and up like a pole. “Here is some little extra. From Saladin to Richard.” Dina added as she pulled a small bag, with a glittering substance. “Some fairy dust. I could get some unicorn horn if need be. For your leader.” She added.

It took Alicia a moment to figure out what reference Dina was making, partially because she wasn’t that old and partially because the normal school system didn’t go that deep into the crusades unless you were taking a particular class. But once she’d figured it out she would nod and take the offered bag. She didn’t imagine it would be needed, but it would be rude to refuse.

”Thank you, but this should be alright,” she assured Dina. ”I’m afraid I didn’t bring anything for you though.” she might need to start doing that in the future, if these sorts of diplomatic meetings were to become more common.

“Your presence is a good enough gift.” Dina stated. “I do like these sorts of meetings… unlike most girls with my condition. Mine is surprisingly much more manageable.” The catgirl said. “I’d love to stay and enjoy more company, but I am afraid we might be accused of colluding.” Dina said, waiving the waitress for the bill.

””Fair enough,’ Alicia agreed with a shrug. That was probably more of a problem for Dina than herself. It wasn’t as if she had not dealt with those sorts of accusations before. ”I’ll look forward to your next message then. I hope you find success in your project.”

“Be well, this city needs you.” Dina said, as she paid the expenses, before draping her skirt in a curtsy and leaving with measured steps.

Alicia observed Dina leave, taking some time to finish her hot chocolate before she considered doing the same. ”No pressure,” she muttered, with the hint of a smile to accompany it. It seemed there was still plenty going on these days.
Yet Another Escort Mission

Starring: ‘Kill Bill’ Ronin
"Yakuza series protagonist" Sakura


A foot tapped against concrete, a hand adjusted glasses as they fogged from the mixture of cold air and warm breath. The brick wall supporting her back sent chills along her spine, but that was not a discomfort for the girl. There were worse things to deal with than cold weather.

Once more blue eyes swept the square as Lysandra searched for any sign of the girls she had agreed to meet with. She would have preferred to convene in the Overcity, but apparently her companions did not naturally have access to that dimension like she did, so they would meet here first before going there together.

A sigh escaped as she glanced at her watch before once more sweeping the area, trying to recall what she knew of the girls she was meeting with. Ronin, short girl, black hair, one of those ‘for hire’ types, though she did seem to have standards beyond simply getting paid as far as their interactions had indicated. Then there was Sakura. Light hair, a brawler, the sort who didn’t waste time in small talk but who also sounded like she’d been a sailor in a previous life.

Hopefully they were up for the task ahead.

For now, Lysandra continued waiting. She’d give them another half hour before moving. As it was though, her magic tended to make her...easy to overlook. She might have to approach them first, so she’d keep her eyes peeled for their arrival just in case.

Sakura arrived in full regalia, the pink motorbike stopping with a skillful skid mere inches away from Lysandra, her eyes scanning the other magical girl before smiling softly, running a hand through her unfortunately always gorgeous hair as she stood in front of Lysandra. She was a bit of a gray character, but Sakura was sharp.

"Fucking traffic motherfuckers."

If there was any illusion of cuteness it was promptly ruined.

"You the Lee Sanders girl?"

At some point within the time-limit, a girl in a samurai-inspired state of dress dropped out of the sky as she'd been practicing her “running in mid-air technique on the way, grinning as she did a perfect “bent knees” landing. ‘Ronin has arrived!’ the visually seven-year-old called excitedly.



‘Now, where is- Oh…!’ she sounded out, looking around and suddenly fixating on Sakura…’s bike. Ronin promptly jumped over, eyes beaming. ‘Oh, man, that's a sweet ride, both in senses of the word! I'd have wanted one for myself, but it might clash with my aesthetic. Teh-heh, Motorcycle Ronin. That's a TV-series just waiting to happen~’ Ronin said with a grin, now giving room for replies.

Lysandra’s gaze narrowed for a moment as Sakura approached and made her introduction. Though she did not say as much, she was clearly not impressed. “I am,” she replied with a curt nod. “But we’re waiting for one more. Then we can get down to business.”

Fortunately Ronin did not take much longer past that. Admittedly she did fixate on the bike first, but that was fine. She seemed a bit more professional at first impression. “Hello,” she said to Ronin before looking between the two magical girls who would serve as her escort on this trek. “Thank you for agreeing to my contract.”

Sakura tilted her eyes, and then eyed the newcomer with a raised eyebrow, before beginning to speak in a different language, Japanese. <<”You know, you look more like shinobi than Ronin. Where’s your armor. And why the flashy jump? Disgraceful”>> She said addressing Ronin.

“Heh, don’t mention it, Lee.” She quickly switched to address her employer. “So how many fools do we need to turn into burgers?”

Ronin froze up when the bike-rider spoke to her in what she definitely absolutely recognized as Japanese. That didn’t help the fact that she had no idea what Sakura had just said. Oh, shit, it’s the real thing.

Fortunately, Sakura had turned to speak with… “Lee”? Oh, well, anyway!

‘No problem! And, heh, more than turning others into burgers, we’re to prevent HER from becoming a burger! Anyway, hello! So, what will we be doing in the Overcity?’ Ronin asked, smiling happily, inwardly panicking about being revealed to the authentic Japanese to be the pretender she was.

Sakura’s eyes narrowed, upon seeing the reaction. “Oi, you would not be one of those gaijin pretenders who just slap ninja, samurai and ronin just to look cool?” The pink-haired girl quickly switched to english as she bore a hole in Ronin’s head with her glare.

Ronin positively winced. ‘Noooooo, that’s not it! I just picked a suitable moniker for my appearance!’ the tinier girl waved her hands in panic. ‘Look, I didn’t even realize I was picking my Magical Girl appearance at the time! Call it a homage! A sign of admiration! Samurai are cool, and I wanted to be one that moment! Sure, I might not be the most authentic real deal around, but I’m stuck like this, so I just had to go all out with the theme, you know!?’ Ronin explained, starting to grin happily half-way through her defense. ‘I’ll happily take pointers…!’

"You know, if you want to behave like samurai you have to err… act all serious all the time, face opponents head on… also prune bonsais. Bonsais are important." Sakura said, folding her arms. The junior wanted pointers. She would happily give em. Even if she only had a few pointers from drama movies. " I will make a man out of you, girl!"

Ronin’s eyes widened as this girl, that except for knowing Japanese she really had no proof of actually knowing what she was talking about was talking being serious and, huh, pruning trees. ‘I-I’m not sure I’m cut out for acting serious…!’ Ronin replied, grinning once again. Still, seemed like she was gonna give her pointers, and it seemed too fun not to play along, so Ronin happily saluted (no matter how inappropriate the gesture may be). ‘Yes, sir! I mean, sensei!’

Somewhat overshadowed by the talk of Samurai and etiquette, Lysandra coughed in order to draw their attention back to her rather than their discussion. “Anyway,” she resumed, her fingers no longer drumming on her upper arm. “I don’t know what the opposition looks like yet. We’re retrieving an item known as Vuvoteya’s Shard. The stories I heard claim it was bathed in the energy of several intersecting dimensions at their formation, bestowing it incredible power.” she just wasn’t all that strong herself, which was why she had reached out to them.

‘Oooooh,’ Ronin made a noise of realization. So it wasn’t just a matter of getting Lys from point A to point B. They were DEFINITELY going to be fighting something. ‘Sounds cool! What would you like to do with the shard?’ she asked with a little grin.

Sakura winced so slightly, at the mixup of answers, before looking at Lysandra. “Seems like outta a chinese cultivation novel crap.” She added. “Betcha there’s a bunch of people who want it to become boss.” She added. “Let’s show em who’s boss instead.” The pink-haired vulgar loli grinned. “Yeah, that’s a good question. What are you going to do with it? Super power level up juice? A bonsai ornament? Hmm?”

Pleased to find that they were interested in her work, Lysandra saw no harm in indulging their curiosity. “Study it, for one,” she said as a finger rose to adjust her glasses. “That artifact could further our understanding of the ways dimensions interact and affect each other, as well as the source of magical energy that all beings draw from.” Past that she wasn’t sure, maybe a museum? But one thing at a time for now.

‘Teh-heh, alright. Well! To start with, just as a matter of precaution!’ Ronin said, stepping forward to Lysandra and holding her hands forward on her. She just did a couple of Reinforcement enhancements on her, some typical magic glowing effects taking place… ‘There, that should make you a bit more durable, just in case~’ Ronin said and smiled widely. ‘Alright! Shall we?’

“Hmm, can we fit us three in a motorbike? I mean it’ll be a tight squeeze but we could do it faster…” Sakura pondered.

Lysandra eyed the bike somewhat distrustfully once Ronin was done laying on her wards. “I’m not sure how well that will work on the terrain we may end up in, especially with all three of us.” That, and she was not quite comfortable with Sakura’s demonstrated driving skills when she was going to be a passenger.

“I’m ready to go,” she added, glancing between her escorts. She knew Ronin was ready, but was Sakura?

“Fine, fine we will do a leg workout.” She started walking, without much further prompt.

‘Alright! Then let’s goooo~!’ Ronin called excitedly.

Nodding, Lysandra raised a hand into the air. “By guiding light, the stars shine upon me. Transform!” With that she shifted into her magical girl outfit, which comprised of a purple beret, short cape, and gold studded outfit like one would see in a marching band.

Focusing, the Overcity Shift would take but a moment as she sent the three of them to a point near the walls of the city. Once they had arrived she took the opportunity to orient herself in the exotic locale before gesturing towards a glowing star in the alien sky. “This way,” she told her bodyguards, and soon they were underway. Lyandra moved confidently, only stopping a few times to make sure that they were on track as they went along.

‘Weeeeeeeee! Back here!’ Ronin called at the walls as they appeared in the Overcity. And then… ‘Alright! Onwards!’ Ronin skipped a bit to be in front of Lysandra, just in case, and then headed on towards wherever they were going.

“Hey, what the hell you are doing.” Sakura interjected. “You’re the loli, so you stay back with your eyes peeled, I will take point!” The former yakuza interjected as she one-stepped Ronin, her keen senses scanning for threats.

‘Um,’ Ronin was a little confused about the label, but, eh, sure! She grinned widely and waited a bit to take the rear instead. ‘Okay, sensei!’

Lysandra was silent for the most part, not really caring who was in front as long as it didn’t interfere with their progress. “Size matters less than ability,” was her sole contribution to the discussion at large.

After some time of uneventful walking, they would reach the edge of a deep crevasse. “We’re going down there,” their employer noted, moving to the edge and looking downwards for a viale route. “There’s a cave along the wall that we need to reach. It will lead towards our destination.”

‘Heh, then perhaps I should lead, anyway?’ Ronin skipped forward. ‘I can do a little something like this!’ she said, jumping off the edge, but landing on mid-air, standing on a small barrier, but left enough room for someone to stand next to her. ‘It’s a little tight, though. Hey, Lys, can you fly? Otherwise, I can carry you~!’ Ronin said, spreading her arms to potentially grab onto Lysandra if she felt like obligating.

"Show off." Sakura said, tapping her fingers with arms crossed as she looked at Ronin. "You are making yourself one hell of a target. Wait until there are freaks to pummel. " Sakura said, as she focused and using her Eternal Style, created the frilliest parachutes ever, while grimacing, and handed it over to Lee Sanders.

"This is better."

Looking between the two options presented, Lysandra would admit she was a bit more confident with the platform than with the parachutes. “I haven’t used one of these before,” she noted. “Is it hard?” After all, what would a magical girl need a parachute for?

“Shouldn’t be too hard. Strap and pull. We got the loli’s barriers and healing if need be.” Sakura grinned as she strapped the chute to herself. “But this doesn’t give off as much as a wimey piffey magic smell shit or whatever you call it.”

Ronin grinned a bit. ‘I’ll make sure to catch you~’ she said, before skipping down to the cave, somewhat assuming Sakura would be able to get there safely, but she’d make sure to catch Lysandra if she failed, heh.

Shrugging the parachute on, Lysandra would look over the thing one more time before taking a strong leap out into the chasm. Deploying the parachute went easily enough, and she gently floated downwards to land near the entrance of the cavern that she had mentioned. Fortunately there had not been any complications, their own making or otherwise.

She would wait for Sakura to land as well, before gesturing to the wide cave entrance. “Next we go through there. This should bring us close to the junction point.”

‘Senpai, is your specialization cloth?’ Ronin asked curiously as they were on the way. ‘I’m Reinforcement, as I'm sure gathered already! I make barriers, enhancement and healing and stuff~!’

“Nope, this is just Eternal Style. Since I’m not fond of dresses -stupid ass rat-, I find other uses, kid.” Sakura said confidently, as she created a small gathering of sparks on her hand. “I can zap people.” She paused, before taking point from where Lysandra indicated.

‘Oooh,’ Ronin made a noise of slight amazement. Wonder, could Deni do similar things with her shapeshifting? … She doubted it, as she’s forming her own mass rather than create it out of nothing. Instead, she grinned. ‘Well, guess that regardless we’ll be using my platforms to make a staircase to get up again~!’

Into the cavern they moved, through winding tunnels and down rocky slopes. As they walked along Lysandra would guide them, making sure they did not get lost on split paths or loops. As they progressed further down the rock changed as well, morphing from what one would expect of normal stone to different colors and textures. Some had bumps, others ridges, astill more had spikes protruding from them. In an odd case, they would find a section where part of the wall was not solid at all. Touching it caused ripples to spread across the surface like it was water, but it did not fall to the ground.

Eventually the tunnels widened out into a cavern. Stone spires crisscrossed the inside, leading to different parts of the cave system and deeper beneath the Overcity. “So far, so good,” Lysandra noted as they moved onto the first bridge. “Watch your step.”

‘Watch your step, yes,’ Ronin said with a smirk. ‘I’d fall just a meter before I stopped myself, don’t know if it’d be the same for you~’ she said, but otherwise kept formation of being behind, but regardless kept her wits about as who knows if something might attack them in here?

“I can ride the lightning, chibi.” Sakura said, eyeing Ronin with a glare, and stepping through the bridge with the keen senses of a martial artist, her eyes also scanning for threats on the van of their little formation.

‘You can!? Oh, man, that is so cool, sensei!’ Ronin briefly exclaimed before they kept going.

Lysandra huffed at her bodyguards and their seeming lack of difficulty with this obstacle, though she supposed she could always make an ice slide or something if she had to. But that would not be nearly as comfortable. So they walked on, her watching her step all the way.

Fortunately the ice bridge seemed sturdy enough, and their progress would see little difficulty to the other side. Drawing to the entrance of the next set of caverns, they would hear sounds emanating from beyond. Scratching and growling and other ominous noises emanated from within, though the sources were not in eyeshot just yet. “I think you two are going to earn your keep soon,” Lysandra noted as she moved inside with little sense of fear in her stride.

“Right on.” Sakura said. “Loli, you cover the target. Imma do retcon in force!” Sakura butchered the pronunciation of the word, as she went with a brisk pace, trying to keep herself inconspicuous with her Awareness and Incognito traits.

As directed, Lysandra hung back near the entrance. She had no intention to run into a mob of monsters if she could help it, though depending on how things went she might plunge ahead regardless. She was not a coward, after all.

While Awareness would be a boon, Incognito did not provide the effect that she might hope it would. Initially she would not encounter anything in her plunge down into the depths of the overcity. Merely more tunnels. But the sounds drew nearer all the same. Then they appeared, rat-like beings entering the passageway she was in from the side. They were about the size of a small dog, with sharp teeth, claws, and whipping tails. About five of them ended up emerging in total, snapping and lunging at Sakura. They were hungry, and she looked like a tasty meal. And if her Awareness was not wrong, more were coming too.

‘Alright, sensei!’ Ronin said about covering the target, and then turned to Lysandra. ‘Alright, stick close so I can cover you while I do generic fighting!’ she told her, because Ronin had no intention of sticking by the entrance. Then, Ronin also started going inside, albeit a bit after Sakura as to let her take the first blow so Ronin could stay back and cover Lysandra if so needed.

‘Woo, rats! They’re like, half-way to Skaven! You got this, sensei?’ Ronin asked loudly, stopping a bit to see how Sakura dealt with them but also with a hand on her sheathed sword in case any came her or Lysandra’s way, so she might cut them through.

Sakura raised her eyebrow at the animals. Any other girl would have been grossed out, but not the former Yakuza. She instead grinned back and bared her teeth, in an aggressive smile. She could smell a fight. They thought she was the meal. But vermin like these should be taught their places. Adopting a fighting stance, she eyed the animals…

And then she burst forth like lightning, sparks on her fists as she relentlessly targeted the weak points of the rats with her own hands. Eyes. Snout. Neck. Soft abdomen. Everything was fair game to her.

The rats charged in, heedless to the danger as Sakura struck. Her fighting style was well suited for rapid combat, and she cut a swathe through the attacking monsters. Bones were smashed, claws slashed, and she defended her charge.

Yet just as her Awareness had indicated, more monsters showed up to replenish the ranks of the fallen. Their weight became that much harder to resist, and some would seek to slip past Sakura and attack the two girls behind her.

Taking a step back, Lysandra glanced around at their surroundings as she calculated in her head. It was looking like they might be in need of a backup plan. But what to do from here…

‘Heh, if it’s just these…’ Ronin grinned, before darting forward and drawing her sword to slice, while a barrier formed to block other rats from approaching. Then she’d dart around, kicking a barrier in mid-air to launch herself to the next rat, having some barriers handy to make sure they didn’t get past her. If they were just “some”, Ronin should be able to handle them easily enough. ‘I can handle those that slip by, sensei!’ Ronin claimed.

“Annoying shitbags…” Sakura muttered, as she concentrated and performed a change of tactics. Fighting on fists and kicks alone wasn’t feasible, but giving the amount of crowded rats it would bring forth other tactics. Being that crowded, they would be vulnerable to lightning blasts, as she quickly switched from punching to zapping the creatures.

Lysandra would be forced to admit that they had perhaps underestimated the duo. They dealt with the rats quite handily, working in tandem with each other and their magic to block the rats and keep them hemmed in for Ronin’s blade and Sakura’s lightning blasts. Soon the last one fell, the smell of charred meat filling the air at the same time.

“Good work,” she told them as she stepped forward. There was a bit of urgency in her step though, as they would be able to hear other things appearing, some from behind them as well. “We should be going before we get stuck here all day. The chamber shouldn’t be far.”

‘Phew. Sensei, we're awesome!’ Ronin called about their latest achievement, dead rats all around. Lysandra urged them to move on… ‘Alright! Then let's go!’ Ronin excitedly called, skipping onwards on the way.

Sakura for her part, was sporting a vicious grin, as she received each scream of the critters with delight, the awful smell of charred flesh being somewhat rewarding. Yes, nothing like the smell of charred vermin and the thick of battle to keep one alive. Lee Sanders and the excitable loli’s words woke her up from her ever increasing rapture, as she narrowed her eyes at the even more giddy Ronin.

“Save that for when we’re done with the mission. Stay sharp. This is never this easy.” Sakura said curtly. “You’re the barrier loli. Stick to the lady Sanders. I will take point” She added, as she overtook Ronin to keep doing recon-in-force, grumbling somewhat she had run out of targets this quickly.

Onwards they moved, passing through yet more tunnels. Lysandra remained resolute in her pathfinding, head held high as they made their way onwards to the junction point. There were no more rats to bother them, leaving the only danger as their attitude towards each other. Lysandra did her best to bear with it, pushed onward by the promise of the reward she was seeking.

Rocks shifted and twisted, shimmering with alien patterns and colors. Little waving roots sprang from the ground below their feet, shrinking as they passed by only to spring to life once more. The feeling of magical energy grew more palpable, even for those who might not be attuned to such sensations. This was a place of power.

Yet for all her plans, there were some things she could not predict. It was hard to notice at first, a slight intensifying of the colors that filtered through translucent crystal sections of the walls. There was a shift in the charge that hung in the air. Then the ground began to shake. It grew in power and intensity, throwing Lysandra off balance and causing jagged cracks to appear all around them. The walls, the ceiling, even the beginnings of fissures in the floor.

“Dimensional shift!” Lysandra cried with wide eyes. “Hurry, before we get buried!” sure, maybe they could survive with Barriers and healing, but she would have to give up any chance of reaching their objective. And she was not ready to accept that.

‘ALRIGHT, THEN!’ Ronin called out upon Lysandra’s command of hurrying, and quickly yanked up their charge into her arms so that the tiny samurai carried her, then skipped up on a mid-air platform as to be unaffected by the shaking and fissures, and then finally dashed ahead on a series of small platforms towards their destination. She assumed sensei could handle herself. She was awesome, after all.

"Fuck" Sakura muttered as she concentrated briefly, focusing as much lightning as she could on her tiny legs to dash forward leaving a trail of sparks on her way. She combined it with her knowledge of wall running to her maximum effect.

While Ronin would gain her and her charge safety, it was only temporary. Shards began to crumble and fall from the ceiling at varying speeds, as if it defiance of the normal laws of gravity. Jagged spikes suddenly shot into the air at any time and at any angle, forcing her to course correct quickly.

Meanwhile the fissures shifted as well. Some grew in size, glowing light issuing from deep inside them. Others snapped shut after a few moments for no discernible reason at all. But that was not the only hazard Sakura would have to deal with. A rumble filled the air as the tunnel began to shift and buckle wholesale. Some pulled away, creating larger dips, while other portions moved to close and make the tunnel impassable. The latter was of a greater concern as they continued their flight. Hopefully Lysandra’s escorts could keep up with the sudden and erratic changes occurring around them.

Ronin made quick course-corrections, but the fact was, Sakura was much more agile than she was. She made a quick assessment.

‘Sensei, I’ll hold onto you and Lys, run on my platforms!’ she called, spreading her mid-air platform for Sakura to potentially jump up on, with the intention that she’d adjust so she held Lysandra in one arm and grab onto Sakura with the other, and then she’d make Reinforcement barriers for Sakura to run on so the way faster Magical Girl could carry them safely forward!

Sakura, for the most part, made a clicking sound and put all of her senses and martial arts training to work, dodging and deflecting as best as she could, while keeping her arms and legs charged with lightning. “This might pull a little.” She said, gripping both Lysandra and Ronin with as much force as she could and then pulling like there was no tomorrow, her feet becoming hot with lightning as she tried to plow through the landscape as if Ronin and Lysandra were just a couple of training weights.

“C-Careful!” Lysandra yelped as Sakura grabbed on to her and then pulled both magical girls forward like so much dead weight. Which would have been more fair if they were, in fact, dead weight. Unfortunately Lysandra did not quite fit that description, and she was left yelling and twisting as they ran along to try and dodge an unfortunate end.

Still, the haste was warranted. Things only grew more intense and volatile around them, rocks crashing together and pelting them with sharp fragments from near misses. Blasts of energy crackled through the gaps, adding to the chaotic destruction that occurred around the trio. It might be easier for Sakura to handle, but being dragged meant that both Lysandra and Ronin would suffer several close call.

Eventually it was too much. The tunnel slammed together behind them, dimensions crashing together with forces immeasurable to the human mind as the boundaries of realities reshaped themselves. In more practical terms this manifested itself in a massive shockwave, one that would catch the fleeing trio and shoot them forward like a rocket along with a bunch of rock and crystal and the like. Despite Sakura’s best efforts, she would not be able to hold on to the other two as they were all tossed about in the blast wave. They would be ejected from the tunnel into a large cavern at the end, where hopefully their prize waited. If they weren’t crushed by everything else flying and landing along with them, anyway.

Ronin did her best to hold onto Lysandra as well as they ran, keeping reinforcement magic working on her to keep her protected from damage as good as she could. Then, when things crashed together and Sakura couldn’t hold onto them, it was up to Ronin to keep Lysandra safe. If she too had lost grip of her she’d spin and kick, a barrier manifesting as a platform to let Ronin propel herself so she could catch the one they were to protect. Then, she spun so her legs could step on a barrier slightly angled from the direction they were coming from. If this succeeded, she’d create more barrier to create a weak but workable slide that was going to periodically slow them down, periodically turning away from the direction they were heading to slow down their impact speed.

If that succeeded and they came to a stop, Ronin’s next job was simply to establish a new barrier that was as strong as her low magic could make to block any debris from crashing into them, and dodge out of the way if she figures it won’t be enough.

Sakura, cursed under her breath as the swerves made her go off course, trying to break her landing and succeeding in some measure, as she managed to twist and turn and avoid massive damage.

Until she noticed she was essentially ass up, and like everything on her magical girl kit, her private cloths were a cutesy pink.

The group went flying through the air, Lysandra flailing as she combatted her sudden disorientation. Her hold was temporarily lost, but with quick thinking and deft feet Ronin would catch her before she fell too far away. That was just in time for them to exit into the larger chamber.

Unlike before, Lysandra finally made herself useful. She augmented Ronin’s barriers with her own magic, using Ice magic to create a much more functional slide than the barriers alone would have. They’d end up feeling a chill, but the solid fall was translated into more of a tumble along the ground by the time they came out of it. That left the rocks, pummeling the barrier for a few seconds until tentacles lashed out to aid in the defense.

Then in the blink of an eye it was over.

Rising to her feet, Lysandra looked away from Ronin with a blush. “Apologies. You weren’t meant to see that,” she muttered as she shifted back to her feet. It seemed she was sensitive about some aspects of her powers. Once back on her feet, she pointedly ignored Sakura to instead look around their surroundings.

Ronin grinned at her. ‘It’s cool! Just as long as you’re not using them for the Japanese purpose, it’s cool!’ She knew tentacles were a relatively common power, after all. She skipped up to follow. ‘Hey, sensei! Save that for when there’s a boy around!’ she 100% joked.

The walls of the cavern shimmered, a mixture of ice and crystal and stone and unknown materials, all fused together and clashing from the pressure of the dimensions around this space. It was of a moderate size, with large arches and a central pillar over uneven ground. Given what they had just experienced, it stood to reason that things could shift at a moments notice. And in the middle of that central pillar, a glowing object that shone too bright to see and illuminated the entire cavern with its radiance. Though light did glimmer through the surrounding walls too.

Lysandra froze, eyes widening as she beheld it. “I think this is it,” she said to her companions, hurrying forward. All that calculating, all that work, her quest seemed to finally be at its end.

‘Nice! Just beware of any final traps!’ Ronin said, hurrying to keep up, because Lysandra by herself could be hurrying into her death somehow.

Sakura for the most part stood silent. Her earlier blunder, and the sudden reveal of tentacles made her a bit weary. It was one thing watching videos, and the other being a protagonist. She eyed her two colleagues as she took notice of Ronin.

“I’ll go first.” She said as she carefully treaded towards it. “You stand back for now.” She said as she kept her eyes peeled for any kind of reaction.

Lysandra hurried forward, too busy to respond to Ronin and oblivious of what Sakura was saying. How could she show caution at a time like this?

After some jumping and running, she reached the pillar. Her gaze rose up as she touched it, deducing the structure of the column, its various physical qualities. She quickly discerned what was going on. “It looks like the resonance between dimensional planes has created a barrier. I’ll need to figure out how to access it.”

It was a task easier said than done as the cavern was rocked with a sudden tremor. Fissures opened up like the ones that they had encountered before, Unlike before though, shimmering monsters began making their way through. They were spectres from other worlds, trapped in the void between dimension and bereft of much of their power and form in this space. Hulking monstrosities, tentacled humanoids, all advancing towards the trio as Lysandra worked.

‘I… guess we’re to protect you while you’re doing that?’ Ronin asked, looking startled at the shimmering monsters on the way through. ‘Whelp, okay, then. Sensei! I’ll guard Lysandra, you can go do damage!’ Ronin figured was a good plan, the Reinforcement girl establishing numerous barriers around while she brandished her sword, intending to stay reasonably close to Lysandra as she was going to use her skill to dodge and cut monsters headed for their charge!

"Alright you fucking uglies." Sakura said as she got ready, her first crackling with Lightning. Since the objective was defense, Sakura did not commit much effort into putting them out of commission, merely striking to get them off Lysandra and moving all around the battlefield to single-out the nearest attackers.

Lysandra focused on the crystal pillar, tapping it, feeling out the vibrations, working out numbers in her head. She didn’t respond to Ronin, so focused was she on the work that she had to do. At least she wasn’t in danger right away. Meanwhile Sakura fought. She would quickly find that physical blows were less effective than magic, owing to the strange ethereal forms the monsters that she fought held. She could blast them back with Lightning, but her fists were more likely to just pass right through. The reverse was not necessarily true, claws slashing and blows flying as more monsters entered the room.

“Okay, I’ve got it,” Lysandra announced. “If I can set up a harmonic resonance to match the frequencies of the dimensions, I can crack open the pillar.” Muttering to herself, she crouched and began assembling some devices from what she had in the pockets of her outfit. It seemed that she would need more time.

‘Oooooooh, darn,’ Ronin said, noting how their enemies were unharmed by physical attacks. That’s basically all she had to work with. Well. It was time for some experimentation. She focused her reinforcement magic on her blade. On the surface of her weapon, she created a barrier that followed the edge of the sword, creating a sharp magical barrier, and infused it with extra magic to not let it break as easily. That meant some of the barriers around Lysandra had to go, but it seemed otherwise Ronin wouldn’t be able to fight. Still, did a barrier on a sword even count as magical?

‘Whelp, only one way to find out!’ Ronin called, leaping at the closest to cut it, only going so far away from Lysandra that she could still get back if any monsters started a mad dash for her.

“Hey, loli samurai, got any of those for my fist? Could use some to channel my lightning.” Sakura said, getting tired of not being able to punch these denizens properly, forcing her to switch to shooting lightning to keep these beings at bay.”

‘If you get over here and let me enhance your fist, then yeah, sure!’ Ronin called, probably somewhat behind Sakura, but yeah.

“On it. Fuck. “ Sakura said, as her scratches stung, and channeled blasts of lightning to suppress the advance of the beasts, to allow Ronin to apply her magic on her.

While the two conversed, Lysandra worked. She had assembled her devices, and was now hammering them into place at various points from the pillar itself. This required the others to shift to protect her as she circled the center, though at least they did not need to defend the devices she was deploying once they were in place. The first finished, she moved on to the next.

Roars filled the air as blasts of lightning flashed and pushed the monsters back. Some of them were dispelled. They sought to close the hole between Sakura and Ronin, to isolate the duo, but Sakura was able to prevent that. Though she would need to act fast. One of the more feral and misshapen creatures leapt at Ronin with wicked, serrated claws, while a bipedal-alligator looking thing sought to sweep Sakura’s feet out from under her and then pummel her while she was defenseless. They had to do their best to keep from being overwhelmed.

‘Okayhereyougo-!’ a mildly panicked though perpetually grinning Ronin said, placing one hand on Sakura’s fists while swinging her Reinforcement-barrier-covered blade at the claws of the beast that was attacking her, intent to just keep it off her long enough for the fist-shaped barriers to manifest. ‘Rightdon’topenyourfiststhosebarriersarenotmallable!’ Ronin cried finally before dodging under another swipe and now testing if her magic barriers allowed her sword to cleave the misshapen creature swinging for her. She definitely had to look over to see if anything was approaching Lysandra now-!

Sakura let out a snarl as she quickly.performed an evasive jump to avoid being swept, using her momentum and knowledge of martial arts to rain a hammer blow on the creature attacking Ronin, followed up by a ground lightning strike at the bipedal crocodile.

Ronin would find that there was some resistance to her barrier clad blade, though she would succeed in slashing through and dispelling the beast with additional force. Not efficient, but it worked. Sakura would have a bit more ease, thanks to her lightning magic to boost her power.

This was a good thing, as Ronin would spot Lysandra having finished the second of the four points she needed. Which would have been fine, except she was headed towards a point opposite the duo and completely oblivious of the monsters. Specifically, some big thing with segmented carapaces, like a giant vicious centipede. With arm blades. This one looked like it might be a bit tricky. Especially as it loomed over their charge.

‘Alright, I CAN cut them!’ Ronin exclaimed after her magic barrier on sword apparently worked. Though, then she saw that. Yeah, that needs handling. ‘… Sensei, that one!’ Ronin made a quick estimation of their abilities and figured probably better she dealt with the small fries and Sakura dealt with the giant centipede! That said, Ronin still kicked off a barrier to fly closer to Lysandra, ready to raise barriers, grab the monster’s attention or grab Lysandra to carry her to safety if so was needed…!

Sakura wasted no time into getting in action using her reinforced wrists to redirect the blows from the blade arms back to itself and punching deeply in the joints of the segmented beast, sending shocks all the way. "Alright let's dance you gross noodle!"

Looming tall over her, the beast reared back and prepared to strike Lysandra. For the most part she had been oblivious divining the location for the next marker, but she finally realized her situation as she saw the shadow looming over her. Eyes widened as she prepared to move, only for Ronin to intervene with her barriers.

She could have said something about earning their pay, but Lysandra was much too focused on the task at hand. “I’m close ""to working this out,” she told her bodyguards. “Just a bit longer!” With that she went back to work, deploying the third spoke.

Sakura would find this foe to be a tough one. It was surprisingly fast on its feet for such a big creature, arms swinging at her in wide, sweeping blows. Which would be easy enough to handle, if they were not coming from multiple angles. It roared as Sakura sought to strike the joints, but that ended up being easier said than done for the moment. And with more monsters approaching, Ronin would soon have her own preoccupations.

"Hey, loli." Sakura said. "Can you reinforce cloth?"

‘Uh, yes. What for?’ Ronin answered, smiling and working on plans.

"On my signal." Sakura said, as she focused, creating an abundance of frills and ribbons with Eternal style. So many legs meant so many ways to tangle it up. "Now! make that fucker choke on it!"

‘Oh, yikes-’ Ronin leapt past Sakura, grabbing the apparently limitless amount of cloth generated through Eternal Style, then skipped on barriers as she enhanced the cloth. There was a lot of it, though. Did enhancement work like her barriers had? Oh, what the heck. She had an idea. She ran on the side of the beast, letting it be focused on Sakura, and then threw unenhanced parts through the creature’s legs. Then, she jolted an enhancement through it, hopefully making it manifest as if physically to it after it had passed through and tightened. Then, one large piece was thrown similarly, hoping to attach around the centipede’s head, leading back to Sakura. ‘Something like that!?’

Sakura would then see to use the assorted clothes to wrangle the creature in hopefully a better striking position.

The centipede shrieked as Ronin and Sakura went to work, entangling it and blinding it. Its limbs thrashed, erratic swipes cutting through the air and threatening potential harm to both girls. It stampeded one way and the other as it tried to throw Ronin off, at least until its legs were immobilized. But they would find that that was only temporary, as ephemeral blades began to cut through the fabric Sakura had created.

Meanwhile Lysandra finished the spike she was working on and moved for the last. Though monsters closed in, she was able to handle herself for the moment with blasts of freezing magic and thrown icicles. Still, her progress was notably slower than before as the amount of foes finally interfered in her efforts.

“Stay still. This will hurt a lot, you fuck noodle!” Sakura gritted her teeth, as she moved towards the head, now that the blades were cutting through the bounds, instead of threatening her and Ronin’s flesh. She then charged a powerful dropkick, electricity crackling on her heel, aimed at the creature’s eyes, with the intention to pierce and fry its brain. “Loli! Get to Lee Sanders!” She urged.

Well, that kinda worked. ‘Yes, sensei!’ Ronin called and spun, kicking herself to end up between Lysandra and the monsters, slicing at whichever ones came closest. She’d use barriers to stop some advancing so she could focus on taking out one or two at a time, using her Martial Training to read the movements of her enemies to keep them at bay. They only needed to hold them off for a little bit longer, maybe, possibly…!

The dropkick was a bit difficult to manage with the thrashing and shifting, but with a yell of determination Sakura’s foot slammed home. Electricity shot through the monster with a loud ‘crack’, and it lost all tangibility before sinking through the floor. It might not be dead, but it was out of the fight at least.

For her part, Ronins interjection would draw much heat from Lysandra, who nodded in approval as she located the precise spot needed and got to work. But all that fancy Martial Training would only go so far as the group of smaller creatures sought to pounce and drag her to the ground by brute force. Could she endure their assault a bit longer?

“Switch, Loli!” Sakura said, as she inhaled breath, to get herself back into rhythm. She eyed her coated fists. “Time to make some more damage!” She said as she charged the smaller creatures with forward flips, and began punching to try and stagger and swat them away from Ronin. There were simply too many to go for the kill but if she could manage an elastic defense by striking opponents out of the way, they would manage… hopefully.

Sakura shouted out to switch, and Ronin rolled backwards to avoid a blow and let Sakura forward flip above her to punch into the enemy Ronin had been about to be pounced by. Ronin got back up on her feet, smiled a bit, and then resumed the protection of Lysandra by cutting at ethereal monsters that were getting too close for comfort. Frankly, she was starting to run low on magic, maintaining the barriers on both her sword and Sakura’s fists, and all that had been happening before that. Still, it was time for teamwork, and she’d help keep the monsters away from Lysandra for a bit longer!

Shrieks filled the air as Sakura clashed with the horde of ravenous monsters, pushing back and doing her best to keep herself from getting outflanked. Ronin helped with that last one, protecting Lysandra too. Sakura would find some success, though she was starting to accrue an unsightly amount of scratches and cuts from slashing fangs and biting teeth.

No doubt she would have gone down too, but she did not. Lysandra finished driving the last spike in, and fished a detonator from the rest of her gear. “This might get a bit bumpy,” she warned her companions. “Here goes nothing!”

With the press of a button a high pitched whine filled the air as the four spikes attuned and directed their vibrations towards the central point. The ground rumbled and the monsters reared back, moments before large cracks lanced up the pillar. Then, with the sound of shattering glass, chunks of the crystal fell away to reveal the glowing object within.

Lysandra wasted little time as she leapt upwards and grabbed the glowing object as it hung in midair. Hopefully it was what she had said it was, and that it lived up to expectations. As she landed, she marshaled her magic and triggered an Overcity Shift. “We’re out of here!”

The trio vanished in a warping of space, leaving behind the monsters that sought to do unspeakable things to them. With the trio departing, the monsters would leave too, slipping back through the wall that had admitted them here in the first place. Monsters snapped and roared their frustration, and a blond girl with rainbow wings giggled maniacally as she sank back through the floor. Peace descended once more.

As for the trio, they appeared in the parking lot of a department store several towns away from Penrose itself. It would be a bit of a trip back, but given how distance worked in the Overcity it wasn’t much of a surprise. Better than being eaten by monsters at least. Lysandra took a deep breath as she relaxed, mentally bracing herself before she made the effort to look at her prize.

Sakura felt the breeze of the city on her stinging wounds, as she looked at Lee Sanders and Ronin, before pulling out a crumpled packet from her waist, and extracting a white tube from it, pressed it against her lips, lighting it with a simple spark before she made a deep inhale as she smoked.

"Bit of a scrap, that one. You did well, loli. Least you're not an entirely fake gaijin pretender." Sakura added, as she looked at Lee Sanders. "So that the stuff thingie, yah? Must be worth a lot."

‘Woah, that was a show…’ Ronin sighed out, wincing a bit as they’d come back to their world. Then, sensei praised her, instantly boosting the tiny wannabe samurai’s energy level. ‘Thank you, sensei! You were great, too!’ she immediately said, smiling and bowing to Sakura. Then, attention went to Lysandra, and the item she got.

‘Is the shard we were looking for? Is it safe, now?’ Ronin asked, looking curiously at it.

Glancing over at Sakura, Lysandra held back a scowl as she clutched her prize protectively. “Incredibly. Dimensions colliding with anything surviving is very rare. Don’t worry, you’ll get paid fairly.” So long as Sakura didn’t try to steal what they had come to acquire, of course.

Ignoring Ronin for a moment, Lysandra carefully unclenched her hand. Still glowing, a jagged spike laid in her grip, slightly larger than her palm. To call it crystal though would be to undervalue this material. It was captivating to the naked eye, swirling with exotic structures and patterns, a testament to the forces it had been subjected.

“I’ll have to run some tests, but this should be it. We won’t have any more problems,” she confirmed once she had inspected her prize.

"It hurts to look at." Sakura said, as she blew out a bunch of smoke out of her mouth. "Just be careful about that. Run the wrong experiment, and a horror poop is eating some poor bitch's face away." She eventually gave in to her tiredness and squatted on the ground.

‘Well, if something goes wrong, just post another bounty and we, or someone, will be on their way!’ Ronin called, chuckling a little.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Lysandra agreed with a nod. “It was a pleasure working with you.” Judging by how she was positioned when she said it, it was clear that that comment was directed more towards Ronin than Sakura, at least at present. But she left things as they were as she began walking back towards Penrose. The sooner she could begin her tests, no doubt the happier she would be.

Regardless of how one felt about the personalities involved, it had been a successful mission.
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