A collaboration with @Crusader Lord
, set approximately one week before the Graveyard Smash
...she kept walking.
Here, in this grand parade of lifeless packaging, thousands of life-size husks hung limply within plastic bags. The quality of their creation was uncanny, as if at any moment one of these dream dolls would open their eyes and stare at her.
There was something about one of these lifeless husks that caught her attention, something she couldn't quite place. She didn't recognize this girl's figure, or her hair, or her face... and yet, she couldn't take her eyes off of this doll.
Perhaps it was the large number nine stamped on its forehead.
She walked closer to it, reaching out with her hand, and...
Joanna Fujo woke to the sound of a chirping text in her inbox.
Joanna reached into the drawer of her nightstand and took out a book with a plain brown cover. She flipped past her signature on the inside and several filled pages before she came to a blank one.Another of those dreams...
Joanna thought, taking a pencil from the table. What on earth could it have meant? And who was that girl I saw?
She took a few minutes to transcribe what she'd dreamed about, while it was all still fresh in her thoughts. Maybe I'll ask Speedwagon if she's seen someone like that before,
she thought, as she finished writing down everything she could remember from her dream.
With that out of the way, she looked on top of her nightstand for her phone. It only took a few seconds to get into it and read the text waiting for her. Look alive Miss Jo-star. We're meeting Nina and Alice again today.
Right. They were still looking for Father Grundelson's murderer, the one who'd laid waste to that street without batting an eye.
Joanna went to replace her dream journal in her nightstand, but paused. She opened her phone's camera app and took pictures of the pages she'd just written, before actually putting the journal back. It'd be a lot safer that way instead of bringing it along, especially since she used Fire magic all the time.
With that part of her morning routine done, she got up from her bed and started in on the rest of it...
Nina Kujo and Alice Honorsby
"Nina, get up already or we are going to be late to the meeting!"
Alice's voice run through the small apartment as clearly as it did...well, not every morning. It wasn't so normal for Nina to sleep in like this, body weary from the prior adventures and such that had gone on. What was more startling, at least for Nina herself, was what had occured the previous night in her dreams.
Vision...of death. The feeling like one's insides were stuck in a microwave, watching the person next to her die with a gaping hole in the chest, someone's last visions being of a specter flying into their face before it all went....black...etc. It was like watching a series of horror movie perspective over and over and over again. Like a bad movie, but she'd felt every single death, every sensation, every bit of pain.
Even at this moment, the pale-skinned and pale-haired girl was lying in her bed, eyes barely open and her body reeling from the flashbacks from lives she'd never lived. Every bone and muscle seemed to ache like someone had taken a brick to it, but she also couldn't deny the cold sweat still clinging to her back at the time.
She knew where those people had been. At first it had been familiar, vaguely, with the other sensations being overhwleming. And while the sensations never ceased to be so, nor the second-hand emotions for that matter, eventtually the appearance of the area became clearer and clearer. That place....that damned place...the place where she'd first seen Joanna and Speedwagon with that body.
The street where it had all happened."Yare yare...Alice, help me out of bed,"
Nina said, eeking out the words weakly, her mouth dry as she looked to the doorway, just in time to see Alice walking in.
Their gaze met for just a moment of awkward silence and hesitation...before Alice continued. "....Ugh, lemme help you up, you lazy bum. Then i'll shove some breakfast into ya and we can get going! I even have some leftovers i can heat up, i think...,"
Alice said, rolling her eyes and walking over to drag Nina out from on top of the bed sheets she was lying on.
No, she knew better than to argue with Nina on this. Stubborn idiot would...well, she'd go to this meeting without a doubt. That was the kind of person she is. But if she commented on it...the punch-happy girl would get agitated and complain about it all to no end until Alice stopped. She'd heard a bit the last night, however...wanted to think it was her imagination, Nina talking in her sleep like she was possessed or something.
But they'd make it. No doubt about it...
Minutes later, but not many...
The girl in question looked over at her friend, who was sitting across from her at their table outside the Pit-Stop. "Hm? What's on your mind, Joanna?"
"I was wondering if you could take a look at something for me."
Speedwagon smiled warmly. "Sure, I'd be glad to help."
"I've been keeping a dream journal since I was little, but ever since I've become a magical girl they've gotten progressively stranger. I'm seeing things in them that I'm grappling to understand..."
Speedwagon nodded and closed her eyes. "Lots of dreams are strange, Miss Jo-star. They have their own set of rules that don't always make sense to the waking mind, but they're always rooted in something in it." She opened her eyes. "It's not always obvious how at first, and sometimes the memories they draw from can only be remembered while you're asleep."
"Only while I'm asleep?" Joanna repeated.
"Memories don't just get stored in one place like books on a shelf," Speedwagon explained. "Sometimes they're never far from your thoughts, some are buried away deep within your mind and the experience is acted upon instinctually. Dreams pull their material from everything in you, trying to make as many connections between the material they got so it's harder to lose them completely."
"In that case..." Joanna pulled out a high-end smartphone from her pocket. "This is the dream I had last night, as much as I could remember of it while I woke up."
Speedwagon swiped around a few times to see how much she'd transcribed. "A few pages' worth? Looks like you got quite a bit of it down."
While Speedwagon started reading over the photographed pages, Joanna opened her backpack and pulled out a sketchpad. She flipped through the pages until she reached one in particular, showing four figures lifelessly hanging together like so many marionettes before the show. "I also drew a few of the faces I'd seen in the dream, the ones that I didn't remember seeing before. I also took pictures of them with my phone, but sometimes the photos don't capture everything."
Speedwagon nodded, a bit more grimly this time. They had a few minutes before Nina and Alice were expected to arrive, when she would have to finally face the evidence that Tattoo had left for them.
Sure enough, the expected duo of Nina and Alice could eventually be seen making their way towards the Overdrive Duo's table outside the Pit-Stop. Albeit, out of costume...but somewhat worringly as well Nina was being supported by Alice as she walked. The stoic girl's face wore the same look as it seemed to ever do most of the time, but her eyes seemed to speak to a level of tiredness beyond the scope of the normal. Like someone had beaten her to hell and back with a brick, but without any markings on her body to even indicate such a thing. Though Alice was acting seemingly as normal as usual as well, as if helping Nina like this wasn't a worrisome thing. "Sorry we're a bit late! But...i think sleepyhead here might have had a rough night,"
Alice said, tonelaced with the slightest hint of worry at the end. This even as she set Nina down at the table, the pale-skinned girl moving into a proper sitting position by herself as Alice sat down next to her. "Yare yare...,"
Nina muttered under her breath, semingly not happy Alice was bringing the lattermost thing up...at least in part, but she soon looked over to Joanna and Speedwagon and let out a sigh.
Joanna returned Nina's gaze. Something in her core kept resonating with this girl, clear and pure as the sound of a tuning fork after it's been struck. And now, in this moment, Joanna Fujo realized one of the ways that fate had tied them together.
She recognized that exact look in Nina Kujo's eyes. She'd seen it in the mirror several times, after having dreams she wouldn't dare exposing Speedwagon to... at least, not yet. Certainly not when they had enough weighing on their minds as it was. Joanna's expression had shifted into one of quiet understanding and compassion. "You had terrible dreams too. Memories and thoughts you don't want to remember, but ones you can't just get rid of either."
"And here we were in the middle of discussing Joanna's," Speedwagon said. "Bizarre circumstances to find ourselves in this morning." She held up her hand, and it briefly crackled with energy. "If you'd like, I can give you enough Reinforcement magic to feel properly refreshed, like you were putting on a new pair of underwear on New Year's Day.""Ugh...so bothersome,"
Nina muttered under her breath, frustrated at all the sudden attention before beginning to speak again, "I'm fine, it isn't the first time this has happened. But it isn't like i dreamt of stuff i didn't want to remember.
...Try instead reliving the last few minutes of all the people who died from that attack from evil spirits. And feeling every sensation and emotion. All night long. Yare yare, becoming that useless gooddess' magical girl makes me a magnet for this stuff..."
Alice virtually rolled her eyes at her partner's stubbornness, before motioning to Speedwagon. "Just do it to her anyways, she'll refuse unless you force it anyways. She couldn't stop you if she wanted to, much less even stop a small puppy at this point."
Nina's compatriot said, some minor irritation in her voice as she regarded Nina's stubborn actions with some disdain, though the casual manner of her delivery spoke to her experience in this area when it came to Nina personally. 'It isn't like I dreamt of stuff I didn't want to remember?'
Joanna pondered. Did she think I was referring to her own memories when I said that? Or did she mean that she'd rather keep ahold of those foreign memories, no matter the pain it puts her through?My own dreams have been intense, both in their feelings and their implications... but to personally experience death so many times over the course of a single night? To have done so several times before, and yet hold on so strongly to her will?
While Joanna was lost in thought, Speedwagon didn't waste time voicing hers. "Damn. No wonder you look so terrible." Before Nina could protest, Speedwagon'd already placed her hands over Nina's. "I'd suggest for you to hold still while I do this," she said, golden magic already crackling between them.
The power of Speedwagon's spell poured out from her hands, rippling through Nina's body in alternating waves - electrifying, soothing, invigorating, relaxing, and then going through the lot once more. But rather than dissipating as soon as each wave started its way through her system, the sensations had come together in an unexpected sort of harmony, like an orchestra slowly joining together. The power sang through her body, coursing through her muscles and bones like water rushing to fill a canyon. The sensations reached a crescendo before they started gently fading, and it left Nina feeling she could even lift this rock
exponentially better rested than before.
"Maybe it's Miss Jo-star rubbing off on me here, but I call that my Morning Rescue Overdrive.""Ah....i suppose that works rather nicely. Thanks,"
the stubborn magical girl said, giving a minor sigh of defeat despite keeping up her usual mask, stretching her arms and body briefly after the 'Morning Rescue Overdrive' had done its work. As much as she didn't want to show it, however, it was obvious she was feeling much better physically."There ya go, you grump. Heh,"
Alice said in response, a small smile forming on her lips as she lightly shook her head in exasperation about Nina, thje one magical girl who might call limb loss a 'flesh wound' and put off medical treatment just to she can get things done. Stupidly stubborn, but more strong willed than anyone the Red Rifle herself knew at all.
But Alice looked to Joanna and Speedwagon again before speaking once more, a bit more sobered up to start into the topic at hand, "Anywho, we do have some things to talk about. Did you two find anything so far?"
Speedwagon's expression went grim. "Well, after I patched it up with my magic, I went through Tattoo's phone. The way he was holding it when he died made me think he left us some evidence about his murder." She pulled out the phone in question and unlocked it. "It took me a bit to figure out his password, but I wanted you two so we could go over what I found on it."
She navigated the menus to access the camera roll. "Just before he called us about the attack, it turns out he took a few photos of the killer. My guess is, he was going to send them to us after he finished filling us in on what was happening. Only... he wasn't able to get that far before he died."
Speedwagon sighed, and pulled up the images. "This first one is of a Magical Girl, one of those with more power on them than stitches
. The second one, as you might be able to guess from the lightshow, is one of her mid-transformation. The last one..."
And as Joanna looked at that picture, she froze. No, it... it can't be...!
"...「looks like the same girl, fresh out of her costume.
」""....This info matches up with what i observed from that night,"
Alice noted, giving a nod as she leaned forward on her crossed hands, staring into Speedwagon's eyes in return with a dead serious look, "And i have information of my own as well, mainly from my encounter with the girl.
Her name is Chloe.
She seems rather unhinged in some manner as well, either from an ego of sorts or maybe as the trait of a Dark Magical Girl. Considering i've been doing this longer than most of you have maybe been alive, and with all the ones i've seen before, my gut feeling is convinced the latter is the case."
Alice then leaned back once more, letting out a small sigh and glancing at Nina before looking back to the Overdrive Duo again."She tried to recruit me, after a bit of stretegic flirting on my part, and her patron seems to have a mental conenction to her based on her reactions at the time.
Her patron seems to have a 'plan to cleanse the world of corruption', the kind of saturday-morning cartoon villain plan that she handed out to me with the old 'are you staisfied with your life, and the crap in this world' speech. Mentioned the plans of her 'lord' as being at a high cost but wishing nothing but the best. Also something about 'letting someone she wanted slip into the Ebon Mint's clutches' to boot, though how involved that person might be with this could ultimately be nonexistent for all we know..."
"I think we caught the tail end of that conversation, when we came up onto the rooftops that night. You was too far for us to hear anything, so this is the first we heard of what you talked about. But it wasn't hard to see where she was hovering after that lightning strike... at least..."
Speedwagon looked at Joanna. "We both know my eyesight's keener than yours at a distance, and even I had trouble making out her features from that far off." In a tone without accusation, and her gaze concerned, Speedwagon asked, "You didn't recognize her from that night, did you Miss Jo-Star? You saw her somewhere else."
And in that gaze, Joanna knew. It was left unsaid, but the message couldn't be clearer. ...Speedwagon,
Joanna thought. I trust your judgement.
Joanna picked up her sketchbook, still open on the image of four girls hanging together, and turned the page over a few times. The next four she passed were more detailed sketches of those girls by themselves, bizarrely lifelike ones at that, but Joanna passed over each one without comment.
She stopped when she'd reached a drawing of another hanging girl - it was the fifth page to feature a singular subject, and out of the nine sketches of different girls Joanna had briefly shown them, it was the first page whose subject matter wasn't from that first group shot.
Speedwagon looked grim. "I had a feeling that was the face you drew."
There were four details that stood out, upon a close inspection of the sketch:
There was an oddly shaded point visible over the girl's left shoulder, an act of asymmetry that looked carefully deliberate, as it was the only time in any of the sketches where a colored pencil
On her left ear, there were three dots that weren't present on the right one.
On the forehead of this lifeless girl, a single number was visible behind the parting of her hair - the number 「9」.
And finally, written underneath this 「9」 were five letters, which in another context might have been considerably less concerning. 「C H L O E」
Neither the name, number, dots, or odd shoulder marking
were visible in the photo. Father Grundelson, when he had taken the photo, had been off to her right where the latter two details wouldn't be visible even if they were there. And yet, it was undeniable - this was a sketch of Chloe, outside of her transformation, drawn with 「nearly flawless accuracy.」"...Yare yare, talk about a prophetic dream. And those aren't fun to try to ignore.""I am getting a strange feeling about this. Call it a magical girl's hunch,"
Alice said, after getting up and coming over to take a look at the picture again, her brows furrowed, "Who are the other figures though? Seems this Chloe...hmm...i guess the ninth in some series of people? But for what?"
Red Rifle seemed to go into a thinking kind of mood, her face focused and intent on the picture, not noticing she was a tad too close to Joanna and Speedwagon to perhaps be doing this. Even so, Nina on the other hand seemed to be resting her chin on her crossed arms on the table. A glint of curiosity and frustration was visible in her eyes despite her best attempts to maintain her usual stoicism. Perhaps she was in thought as well?"This is like the plot of a bad anime. And it isn't like i haven't sensed the presence of a horror here in the past while either....i don't like it, yare yare."
"I'm not sure I was dreaming in anime... compared to the other things I've been dreaming about recently, I think this time I was dreaming in something more... progressive?" Joanna said it again, testing the word. "Progressive... something." She shook her head. "It sounds like I'm on the right track, but it's definitely missing another word."
"...that said." Joanna looked over at Red Rifle. "It's more like Chloe was the fifth girl that I noticed in my dream. The details aren't as clear because I sketched the other four together, as they were hanging in my dream, so you can't really see all of the details as clearly. But here," Joanna started flipping between the group shot and the four sketches that followed it. "You can see a few distinguishing features from the group image, like their hairstyles, or more of those forehead markings... and those were drawn a bit more clearly in their individual sketches."
Indeed, on closer inspection, it looked like they all had numbers stamped on their heads, along with a name. Number 12, Abigail. Number 13, Shona. Number 14, Divina. And Number 15, Tonya. Though, none of them looked like they had any purple markings on their shoulderblades, or any distinct dots on their ears like the sketch of Chloe possessed.
Speedwagon scooted back from Alice, but just a little, before she spoke up. "If there's anything to learn from Chloe's sketch, I'd wager that the rest of the names are accurate. Only half of their names, but still..."
Alice leaned back a little, before speaking up once more."So we've got Chloe, a magical girl who unleashed spirits to kill people the first night i and Nina got here.
A set of 4 mystery girls we have no idea about beyond their names, who might or might not be magical girls if Chloe's presence in that dream had any bearing, and seem to be on a list of progressively higher numbered individuals from that dream.
Though...on that horror note, there was a horror-related attack on the Stadium from what i heard floating around. Also i may have read that strange newspaper that seemed to pop up recently and report on such events. What was it called again? The Penrose Co-dependent?"
The magical girl shook her head briefly from side to side, as if to chase out some other odd thoughts floating around in her head. Before she could continue, however, her compatriot spoke up once more."I get the feeling this is all possibly connected, even if loosely, by some means. The bodies were listed in that dream in order, and the horror presence is usually never a good sign....Yare yare daze-"
In an instant, Nina transformed into her magical girl form. The now bluette girl paused for a moment after, sighing and running a hand down her face before de-transforming again. Stupid goddess had picked the first thing she said to be her magical girl incantation...
You are missing DISC 2 for this post. Come back later once it's been found.
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Several days after Soth's defeat, but not many...
To say Chloe was in a foul mood, was an understatement.
Ever since that night with Penny, she couldn’t keep it together. Needless, incessant thoughts constantly plagued her head. Beacon or her? Beacon or her? Of course, she would obviously choose her in the end. There was no way she wouldn’t...right? Chloe’s orb erratically spun, betraying the calm on her face as she waited for the Archive to show up.
Today was it. Today was the day she would finally be one step closer to her goal. They could have the dragon, do whatever they wanted to with its corpse. She just needed one tiny thing from them in return. Ah, she just wanted to kill something. But no, she couldn’t let such emotions get in the way of her work for now.
Chloe turned her gaze towards the old stone quarry. A rather claustrophobic series of caves eventually paved the way to Iesud’s hiding place. A giant, labyrinthian underground sprawl of tunnels, and once upon a time it had been quite grand, but now the once holy place had fallen, and now was going to be a grave...and her new place of residence.
This was fine. Fine.
Some of the nearby rock pulled back from a torchlit opening, one that was decidedly not part of the quarry’s tunnel systems.
Well, that was one way for Delta and Xi to make it there without being followed.
The guests of honor walked out of the eldritch opening, notably transformed. Oh? There was a third girl with the Archive girls this time – one with short brown hair, and wearing a labcoat over some kind of orange and black armor. In her left hand she carried a large briefcase, the handle of which was handcuffed to her wrist. Under that same arm she cradled a helmet that, if the color scheme was anything to go by, presumably went with the rest of the strange armor she was wearing.
Chloe was pulled out of her mildly spiraling thoughts as Delta and Xi showed up. Her gaze turned towards them, the magical orb settling down beside her head, hovering just a foot away. How did they do that? Probably something with their patron. An incredibly useful thing, to be able to pop in and out of wherever like that. Well, that was currently none of her business. For now she needed to make sure everything went as planned.
Curious though, who was the third girl?“You girls certainly know how to get around.”
Chloe quipped lightly at their appearance. “You should invite me sometime. Who's the cute little thing I haven't met yet?”“The one in charge of the lab that’s been studying your crystal for the past few weeks,”
said the new girl. Her labcoat shifted slightly in the wind to reveal the ‘λ’ symbol on her armor’s chest. “Analyst Lambda.”“Well, a pleasure to meet you Lambda.”
Despite her calm appearance, her voice was tinged with a mild bit of perhaps, irritation in her voice. “And what exactly have you learned over the course of your study, hm? I'm curious as to your thoughts on it.”
Lambda’s eyes practically shone for a moment... though it was unclear how much of that was due to sunlight glinting off of her glasses. “I’m glad you asked,”
she said, before taking a deep breath. To the outside observer, it looked like Lambda was about to exude Big Exposition Energy.
Delta cut her off there, before pointedly gesturing skyward with her eyes. “If it’s all the same to you, could we have this discussion inside of the quarry?”“Wow someone is no fun at all.”
Chloe chided as Delta cut off Lambda. “But I suppose you're right. Standing out here is rather annoying.”
Motioning for them to follow, Chloe led them down the slopes of the quarry towards the bottom. It was a rather well known place in Penrose, despite its somber and eerie nature. Before it closed, it was said there was a curse on the place. People working here would often suffer from bouts of anger, rage, or other such emotions, as though they had been influenced by some outside source.
Soon Chloe had lead them to a once boarded up mineshaft.“Watch your head. The entrance is rather narrow.”
True enough, the small cave system that had been carved out was just large enough for an adult male. For the most part, it all seemed natural, as though this cave had been here the entire time. Perhaps it had been, until the old workers stumbled across it. Thankfully, not long after they had been walking, the cavern opened into a small chamber.
For the most part it seemed abandoned, but several crystalline protrusions decorated the ceiling and walls, illuminating the dark interior with a pale, otherworldly light. A massive stone door of some sort was built into the opposite wall, a few feet in front of it the cavern floor gave way to smooth cut stone, obviously having been built by someone in ages past.“Here we are, this should be good enough for now.”
Chloe came to a stop in front of the door. “So, let’s get this over with, hm? I'm feeling rather impatient so hurry it up.”“Alright, alright. Keep your pants o- no, wait, that doesn’t work when you’re wearing that,” Lambda trailed off, searching for the word. “...whatever you call that half-skirt half-thong thing. Jailbait, probably. Just keep that on for a minute while I pull out my notes.”
Lambda held her helmet out to Collector Delta. “Hold this for a minute?”“Sure,”
she said. “So, might as well start with something that’ll get you in a better mood.”
Thanks to having both hands free, Lambda made short work of the combination lock. “We’ve made a lot of progress on a new vessel for Cxatha. We call the project ‘AD A DGLGMUT.’”
She retrieved a manila folder from within the briefcase. “I'd only take it off if you helped me out of it~”
Chloe flashed a rather lewd smirk, before frowning a bit. Not the time for flirty jokes. She needed to focus on the matter at hand. Chloe took the manila folder, taking a brief glance at the outside of it. Better mood? Possibly. She wasn't quite sure something could put her in a good mood unless Penny just came crashing through the wall and declared her undying love.“I'm not even going to ask how you pronounced that.”
Pulling open the folder, Chloe quickly began rifling through its contents. “How much progress, exactly?”
There were several blueprints labeled with the project name, showing various parts and angles of an imposing, thirteen foot tall automaton. Specifically, a rather buff, androgynous, humanoid automaton. Around the joints there were labels referring to something called “PASSAGALICA,” and conflicting notes about the composition of the alloy used for the majority of the body’s bulk. Some of the materials listed were just as utterly unfamiliar, particularly one very recurring one referred to as Zilvra. There were also several portions of the body that apparently were meant to have several more crystals slotted into them, and retractable armor plating over those sections.“The crystal itself has been able to interface with, corrode, and outright commandeer a lot of the coding that’s gone into the project.”
Lambda explained. “The sample itself doesn’t appear to have the processing power to run all of it at once, though. If we loaded it and the software in as it currently is, based on its current outputs... best case scenario, it would only be able to manipulate the fingers on one hand.”“...So you want to stuff it into a mechanical body?”
Chloe voiced skeptically. That was...not actually a bad idea, come to think of it. It wasn't quite what she was expecting, but it was certainly a novel idea. She had assumed using magic and such was the best way to regrow its body – but with something like this, perhaps...perhaps it could in fact, be made better than what it naturally was.“And what exactly does that mean? Do you need a larger sample or some such?”“Ideally speaking? We’d need several larger samples,”
Lambda admitted. “Even though we found out which kinds of energy that best expedite the growth process of its neural system, as well as the one that converts energy into physical mass… our most optimistic projections predict it’ll take months before the project’s completion.”
Chloe held a hand to her chin. That was a problem. Not the time frame, no. The problem was getting a sufficiently larger crystal that could be used. Even getting one to that size was difficult. Unless she wanted to cause a large scale attack for the required energy, there was no good way to get a larger one. Doing that, was a bad idea. She didn't want to end up on some Beacon hit list just yet.“Of course. Always with the waiting and problems.”
Chloe exhaled irritably. “Nothing can ever be quite so simple, can it. Give someone everything, and then they tell you to 'wait for them'. I'm tired of waiting.”
The dark magical girl grimaced, turning her gaze away from the archive girls.“...a larger sample may be difficult.”
Her gaze slowly turned towards the ornate doors. “Even those small ones took me quite a bit of time to cultivate. Skulking around and making sure I didn't get put on beacons radar was quite the difficult task.”
Well, there was something they could potentially do. “...the only way to likely get one large enough...would be to take it off the dragon's body.”
Delta, who had been looking up at the massive stone door for some time, looked over at Chloe. “He’s in there, isn’t he.” “He is. Sleeping, trying to fight off the horror eating away at him.”
She glanced towards the door. ”You'll have to go in there at some point, but I can't help you once you do.”“What exactly do you mean by that?”
Xi asked. “Along the lines of ‘once we go in, he’s going to force you to attack us,’ or…?”“Nothing so heinous. He doesn't control me, but he is still my patron, technically.”
Chloe replied. “And quite the...mindless one. He'll likely attempt killing me above all else. Once he starts fighting he'll likely begin to expire, since he can't really fend off the horror if he strains himself too much. So likely he'll simply take me down with him, or attempt to.”“Oh, good,”
Xi said. “So we’d only be fighting a dragon.”“...if Iesud thought it necessary to fight,”
Delta said. She looked at Chloe with an interesting look in her eyes. “But he brought you into his service to heal him…”
She gestured towards Xi and Lambda with a nod of her head. “So what if you had finally followed through on that mission?”
Chloe held a hand to her chin.“...It's possible, but in his current state he's rather...mistrustful. Sees most humans as nothing but filth that must be cleansed. Magical entities such as yourselves are only more dangerous.”
It would be a good way to ensure there was no fighting, and even better, since it would take her out of the direct line of fire.
...but if he did figure out he was being deceived, then that would be the end of anyone in the vicinity.“If you had something that proved that you could do it, it may be easier to convince him.”
Lambda reached behind herself, and removed a white canister from her labcoat’s pocker. “Well, I did bring a small shard of the crystal you gave us, for the sake of explaining why Zilvra is so important to AD A DGLGMUT.”
She carefully rotated it, revealing that it was actually transparent, filled with a strange white fluid. “There’s a second one strapped to my back. Didn’t want to risk breaching containment if you asked to study the Zilvra itself.”“...and we could use it to contain a larger crystal.”
Xi realized.“I see...”
Chloe's mouth slowly turned into a satisfied smirk. “Ah, this should do nicely then. I see no reason why he would dismiss you. If you are ready, then.”
Chloe walked over to the two ancient doors, placing a hand upon it. “If you'll follow me...be ready to talk quickly and exactly.”
A small pulse of spirit magic spread from Chloe's hands along the door, the ancient patterns on it lighting up as the wave of magic passed through it.
The ancient stone doors creaked, slowly opening and allowing the travelers inside.
The cavern inside was massive. Ancient stone monoliths rose from the floor, weathered with age and time. Some seemed to be depicting ancient peoples of some sort, though the pillars were far too worn and overgrown with crystalline protrusions to really see clearly, the same that were outside, dimly illuminating the cavern with their soft, slightly off-putting glow.
In the back of the cavern, something stirred.
The ground shifted as the ancient dragon rose from its slumber, Iesud, the ancient watcher and protector flourished his wings, a gust of air running through the large chamber as it eyed the intruders with a hateful glare.“...you bring filth with you, servant.”
His voice rumbled, laying his body on the ground. “What be thou purpose here?”“They are-”“They can speak the truth for themselves. Your words hold no weight here.”
Bowing her head, Chloe ground her teeth together, motioning for Delta and the Archive girls to get on with it.
Delta stepped forwards. “Iesud. The three of us were hired by Chloe to heal her lord. According to what she’s told us, that was the reason you made her into a Magical Girl. After several weeks of study, we’ve made a breakthrough.”
She looked to Lambda. “Lambda. If you will.” “We’ve discovered a way to contain the crystals that have been feeding off of you.”
She produced the smaller canister. “Inside this container is a small sample of the crystal that Chloe gave to us for study, and it’s been submerged in the raw form of a magical substance. One we call ‘Zilvra.’ Before, the crystal fed upon the emotional power of hatred and anger, inciting it in others in order to further fuel itself and its growth. But now that it’s been exposed to raw Zilvra…”
She carefully reached into the eldritch liquid with a pair of steel tongs, and removed the crystal. Where it had once been black as a moonless night, now it shone with a faint, silvery light. “Now that property has been effectively neutered.”
She paused for dramatic effect. “In other words, we have a way of containing the source of your cancer.” “So that servant of mine has finally made some progress, is that it?”
For a second it seemed like this was going well. “How naive do you think I am?”
The dragon slammed a claw into the earth, just shy of Lambda's face, causing a small tremor through the cavern. “A weak human serving some weaker god or force containing this where I couldn’t? Laughably implausible.”
The dragons deep, gravelly voice growled, its reptilian lips seeming to curl into a snarl as it lowered its head towards Lambda. A few crystals growing off the dragon began glowing slightly.“...Grrrggh. Yet I sense...no corruption. No affliction from that crystal. So either you speak truth, or your deception is thorough.”
It raised its head up once more, its claw dragging against the ground as he returned to a natural resting position. “...Show me the process.”“I’d be glad to,”
the Analyst said. Outwardly, Lambda was holding it together remarkably well. Her hands barely trembled as she removed the larger container from behind her back, and held it in front of herself for a moment. When she opened it, the Zilvra inside was very similar in color to that of the altered crystal. “I’ll just need another sample of the crystal in order to demonstrate it.”
The dragon's head looked at his other forearm. A number of suitably sized crystals were growing from his scales. With a deep growl, the dragon placed his other claw over one of them, gripping it with his claws. With a roar of mild pain, he wrenched the entire thing from his flesh, leaving a deep gash with blackish red blood pouring from the now open wound. He tossed the red gemstone on the ground in front of Lambda.“Have your sample.”
Lambda’s eyes practically sparkled. “Oh, this’ll do very nicely,”
she said. She briefly paused as she noted all of the blood, both on the crystal and coming from the wound… but the Analyst decided to roll with it. Possibly because there was no reason for her to believe that Iesud would have ripped it out the way he had if he worried about bleeding out from a relatively small wound on his massive body.
Lambda removed another canister from her hip, retrieving a sponge. “Delta? Could you put my helmet on while I clean off this blood?”
When Lambda finished, she placed the soaked sponge back into its canister and sealed it. “There we go,”
she said, her voice slightly modulated through the helmet’s comm unit. She retrieved the metal tongs once more and lifted the cleaned crystal. “Now then. Not sure how strong Magical Girl teeth are, so you might want to keep your jaws slack for this. There’s a slight chance the sonic feedback could shatter them like sugar glass.”
With that, she began lowering the crystal into the Zilvra.
Within seconds of contact with the Zilvra, the crystal jerked upwards, not unlike a child who’d just tested the waters with their toes. In direct defiance of this metaphor, the Zilvra lurched up after it with a strange sound that both resonated and crackled at once
, and dragged it under the surface.
The Zilvra went abruptly still, but not silent. The sound only grew clearer and louder, and then the eldritch liquid began to swirl in towards the canister’s center, into the crystal. For lack of a better description, it looked as though the Zilvra was draining into the crystal… if not for the fact that liquid of a different color was ejected during this strange spinning spectacle. A moment passed, and soon all of the liquid in the canister was just as white as that in the smaller canister. At that point, the liquid stilled once again, only this time it fell silent. “...and there you have it. ”
Lambda brandished the resulting crystal, now glowing with a soft silvery light as the Zilvra had been moments ago. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”“...grrhhhk-”
A painful sounding wheeze, accompanied by a pained, raspy rumble as the dragon watched the event unfold. “...Hrk-you seem to be truthful.”
He finally replied, barely even acknowledging the wound on his body. The blood had already coagulated unnaturally fast, and seemed to be hardening? “...very well then. I accept your proposal. You rid my body of this cancer – I'll repay you with as much money as your little mortal hearts desire.”“In that case, we’ll come back in a few days to work out the finer details of our arrangement,”
Xi said, and inclined her head respectfully. “Then leave for now.”
Iesud growled. “Leave me to my rest. Succeed at your task and I shall return the favor.”
He waved a claw, lowering his massive body back to the earth. “Show them the way out, servant. Return once you are ready to begin.”“Of course.”
Chloe replied coolly, motioning for the Archive girls to follow. She lead them back to the door, closing the massive structure behind her. Once she was certain Iesud no longer was watching, Chloe sighed, running a hand through her hair irritably.“Well, I'm glad that went well – but ugh, what do I get? Nothing.”
The dark magical girl growled, folding her arms and shifting her stance to put most of her weight on her right foot. “Damn it I shouldn't let that damn dragon do that...just endure it for now, Chloe. You'll get your reward soon...”
Realizing she was talking to herself, she turned back to the Archive girls.“Tch, not that you girls would care. We done here?”“Yeah, your boss is kind of an asshole,"
Lambda admitted. Her body language was a lot more casual at this point. "No clue how much of that is due to having that many crystals fucking up his biochemistry, though. I'm a doctor, not... an actual doctor. And besides, I really need to get back to the lab. I have no idea how long I've got until this dragon's blood coagulates, and I'd like to try and salvage at least some of it."
She looked between her fellow Archive members, and shrugged. “So… yeah, I’m ready to bounce.” "I'll take her,"
Delta said, walking past Lambda back through the caverns.
Scribe Xi lingered for a moment, clearly thinking something through.“...to hell with it.”
She looked over at Chloe. “You want to go get something to eat?” “...As much as I'd enjoy a dinner with a cute girl like you, I don't think its a good idea right now.”
Chloe said with a huff. She started walking, but stopped suddenly before taking even a few steps. Turning on her heels and losing the transformation, Chloe shrugged dismissively. “...you know what? Why not. I've got nothing better to do anyways. So yes, lets get something to eat. You’ll be buying since you offered?~”“Yeah, I’m buying,”
Xi said, dropping her own transformation.“Great.”
Chloe hooked her arm around Xi's. “Take me to some place nice. I need something good after my past few days.”