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4 yrs ago
Current For some reason Discord is acting up.
4 yrs ago
Ended up sick, trying to respond once I get better.


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As Iron Mouse flew through the air, she used her Gravity magic to redirect her vector of movement, and took on a different target: the Scarecrow, something even the intelligent monster didn’t predict. It was too late to defend itself with ropes of straw, and screeched as Iron Mouse latched on to his wooden leg and in the same motion swung around the pole, her teeth cutting through it in a circular motion and splitting it in half. The moment it did, the Scarecrow lost his connection to the enchanted earth, and lost his magic as it fell in midair, screeching like a banshee. At that exact moment, before the monster would get to touch the ground again, Annabelle shot a mighty Solar Beam from her sunflower-tipped staff, blasting the creature into ash.

“And there! Thank you, fellow Mahou!” She waved to Iron Mouse before turning her attention on the remaining troops. As a result of the maneuver, Mac felt pain on her reddened palms as they burnt from the friction, making punching or climbing more arduous. Mac’s teeth were also now an ugly brown from the saw dust, unless she hid it with Iron Mouse's illusion.

Gaia successfully shot down a flying Spade soldier, making sure that the projectile had enough kick to it to send the soldier away before it blew up on the field outside Bolorton. The Angel of Hope also assisted in protecting the guardians of Bolorton, applying forcefields that enabled them to run through the scattered fiery debris without problems.

Finn, having avoided being thrown away by the Tin Woodsman, managed to jump into the exposed hatch on the mechanical monster’s chest, and activated Overcity Shift in that space. As Finn found himself in the familiar dimension, standing on a checkerboarded field, the hearts had also shifted with him; though they continued beating like regular hearts, their glow had lessened in intensity, and the curse ended.

Back in Bolorton, when the giant robot lost its power supply, it suddenly stopped moving, and began to fall…That was when Gaia and the Angel of Hope, who had been observing the battlefield, realized the direction it was falling. With an earth-shaking thud, the last member of the OZ Unit crashed right through the double barriers that protected the town, breaking them, and leaving the town fully exposed. Now, even regular club soldiers could encroach on the town, though in moderate numbers due to the effective defenses mustered by the defenders.

Justine chased after a Spade wielding a rotary cannon as she blasted a storm of blood bullets while also avoiding being turned into Swiss cheese by counterfire. She scowled as Gaia berated her, and regret swelled in her heart as she failed to live up to their expectations of keeping the skies clear
”I’m sorry!” She yelled, and with another barrage of projectiles managed to bring down another Spade soldier; this one dropped onto a grassy patch between two buildings before exploding, causing the fires to slowly reach both of them.
”Argh! They keep flying over the damn buildings!” However, despite her frustration, she and Gaia had both managed to thin the numbers of the remaining flying squad enough for the few remaining ones to not pose a major threat on their own…That is, until they heard a crash to the north, followed by a crack as the barriers fell.
”Barrier’s down!”

Lily followed as Alex went to apply curative magic to Ellen and Tina. She provided covering fire as the Spade wielding the assault rifle came around for another sweep, managing to keep the flying soldier away as they were protected by Alex’ barrier from the surrounding fire. She realized he would go on the offensive against the encroaching enemy, and renewed her Agility-boosting spell on Alex.

”I’ll distract the soldiers while you go in Alex!" She suggested, and began to perform hit-and-runs on the ground level, shooting rapid volleys of lightning arrows while dashing into cover in-between bursts. The Wonderland troopers, occupied by Lily, barely had time to notice as Alex slingshot himself up with his tails, tearing into the invaders while absorbing the enemy fire through use of his barriers. He was also assisted by various magical constructs such as Oliver’s clones and phantoms, able to take down some of the troopers but more importantly dividing the enemy’s attention. As a result, Alex was able to defend the north side of town, though as a result he had dropped to 60% mana.

Mayra, as unpredictable as ever, had a change in pace, and went for a sneaky approach, blending into the chaos of the battlefield using her darkness magic. She slipped through encroaching forces, hopping from shadow to shadow until she crossed over the hill. There, she saw as Penny, or whatever form Penny had taken, was facing off against the Queen of Hearts.
As the two of them were surrounded by fires from the napalm payload of the cob cannons, Mayra noted that some had also reached the artillery, causing the crew for some of them to be killed or abandoned.

The Queen, however, was focused on Penny, and grimaced as Penny launched a projectile at her…Or rather, past her, as the Wonderland monarch came to realize too late. It turned out to be a bomb, and it flew through the portal the moment before it closed.

At the Wonderland party, Mariette and Jelena worked together to retrieve the pocketbook, with Jelena purposefully staying close to Mariette as she distracted the servantfolk with inane questions, which the servants did not answer.
As Mariette was about to drop the pocketbook through the portal, Jelena happened to move just enough for Mariette to notice a monstrous Penny through the portal with her Awareness. She threw a shape past the Queen and in through the portal, and Mariette realized it to be an activated bomb. However, as she was right in the middle of a spell requiring concentration, she did not have time to produce another portal and escape.

Suddenly, she felt Jelena hug her. A metallic sphere enclosed them as the pocketbook was snatched into her magical handbag, followed by a deafening, gigantic explosion that turned her vision white.

The very next moment, she realized she was on the floor, with Jelena on top of her: she had enchanted her metal body into a shell to bear the brunt of the explosion, leaving Mariette mostly unharmed. However, Jelena did not fare as well; her arms and legs, designed to be detachable, had blown off her, and the rest of her was blackened, smelling horrid. She was miraculously still alive, though critically injured, and had transformed back due to losing consciousness.

Mariette quickly deduced with her Awareness that the garden party was in complete chaos; the grass was on fire, the tables were destroyed, and servants laid dead, charred black. She saw that one of the Queen’s court laid among the fallen, the girl with the butterfly motif, while Hatwington was sitting against the side of the stairs, holding a broken device and clutching at his chest, heavily injured. Farther away, another Mahou had turned his body into an blackened armadillo-like shell as he leaned against a wall, his legs wobbly. There were screams and noises in every direction. Mariette peeked into her handbag with a tiny portal on her inner eyepatch, and saw that it was unharmed. However, as more of the Queen’s court started to rush in to investigate what happened, she had to decide between reading and putting it back.

Back at Bolorton, the Queen turned back to Penny with a furious look.
“You treacherous knave!” She yelled, and blocked the Engine’s feint attack with her sword.
“Dormouse, wake the villagers!” She ordered as she swung back. Dormouse, still reeling from the realization of the bomb, blinked.
“Your Highness-”
“DO IT!” the Queen bellowed, and proceeded to perform a fast array of slashing attacks, each one capable of cutting through Penny’s strengthened body, managing to cut deep into one of the Engine’s legs and lower torso and forcing the Engine on the defensive lest she be sliced into pieces.
Dormouse took a deep breath, lifted her staff, and her eyes flashed purple as she cast the spell.

Back at the shelter, the sleeping villagers turned uneasy, and woke to screams of terror and fright, having suffered dreadful nightmares. Then, pandemonium soon erupted as so many people in such little space began to fret and panic all at once:
“What is this place?”
“How did I end up falling asleep here?”
“Mcdonald, get off me!”
“Let me out!”
Soon villagers began attempting to run out of the shelter, and the evacuation force realized they needed to be stopped before they got outside.

Akhenaten grunted, this time sounding glad, when Kiyome thanked both him and Nefer for the help. “Oh, don’t mention it. I’m usually pretty tough, but when a cutie like you is in trouble, I just can’t resist~” Nefer responded, and took out an artifact from her pocket; it looked like a small wand with a stylish star at the tip. “Now hold still…” She poked Kiyome in the chest with the wand, and she felt as restorative magic from the Healing Artifact soothed her, closing her wounds and even setting her bones back in place a bit. However, while now capable of standing on her own, she was still not in a condition to walk, and so required the minions to support her. “That should keep you stable. Now you owe me a date…Just kidding~” She laughed a bit, and then turned to face some approaching club soldiers. “Ooh, there’s some tech. I want me a piece of that!” She then charged in guns blazing, followed by Akhenaten who gave one last look and a nod back at Kiyome before following after her.

With that, Kiyome proceeded to loot the corpse of the faux Dorothy, and procured a pair of ruby slippers with curly tips, with the torn off legs still attached to them. Once she removed the legs from the slippers, she could tell they were potently enchanted simply by holding them. Then, she retreated back into Bolorton proper, her minions making sure she would be protected by stray Wonderland soldiers on the way.

Eliana created a protective barrier over the Bolorton shelter, ensuring the building wouldn’t be destroyed if an artillery piece would hit it as she continued layering and strengthening it, dropping to 80% mana in the process.

Hyun Long nodded as Serenity explained her appearance was the result of a Red Coin. “I see. From what I’ve heard, Red Coins can cause some unusual changes. Well, consider yourself lucky; I know some have gotten much worse makeovers from using them, like rainbow-colored hair, tartan patterned-clothes, and being reduced to the height of a fire hydrant. At least you are not an eyesore. Just remember that you represent Beacon like the rest of us.”

She then smiled as Serenity further clarified her feelings of gratitude. “I’m glad to hear that.”
She offered her hand for a handshake. “Let us be friends, so that together we can-Kiyah!”
Suddenly, Hyun yelped in surprise, her hand having quickly withdrawn as Magical Dream Princess made herself known. She was riding on a magical horse with both a horn and wings, resembling a combination of a unicorn and a pegasus. Though she had some difficulty following the bubbly magical girl’s language and was uneasy about the suggestion overall, with Aurelio’s assistance she soon got the gist of it. “Very well then. Let’s channel the spell, Paladin Seraph.” She then closed her eyes and clasped her hands together, thinking thoughts of personal joy.

As the rest followed MDP’s instructions, a shimmering pastel-colored portal emerged, it’s insides swirling with fluffy clouds and five-pointed glowing stars. The van drove through it, and it emerged on the outskirts of Bolorton, south-west of the plaza. The Beacon members saw how the town was ravaged by Wonderland, complete with a shimmering double barrier, burning buildings, and bodies littered around. Alicia saw how Lily and Alex worked together to curb the tide of troopers wearing club symbols on their helmets; one of the known insignias for Wonderland. They also saw a lot of smoke and vapor coming up from the north where the troopers were coming from, as well as the sounds of gunfire and explosions around them.

They then heard Violette chime in through their communicators:
“What just happened? I noticed from the GPS that you suddenly arrived there. Well, that doesn’t matter now. You need to head to the shelter to the south of the plaza and build the teleporter! Hurry!”

Al’s shadow nodded as he sighed. “I suppose you make a point there. Golden Trove did end it’s business, and with none the wiser on how or why.”
He then scoffed at the second reason Chloe provided. “I knew I was putting too many chips on Reaver to handle the job, but eh, you gotta know when to fold ‘em. The Beacon’s operations took a hit, and that’s all that matters in the long run.”
The third reason caused him to chuckle. “You’re no Marilyn Monroe kid, but you have talent, I give you that. Sometimes the subtle approach does work better.” He didn’t react to the tap on the wall, and simply listened for the rest.

Once Chloe was done, Al sighed. “Really now? You’re going to save my life?”
Then, as Chloe was leaning against the wall, her finger drawing a line on it, he surprisingly stepped out of the central shadow; she was now leaning directly against him. Having to crane her head up to look at his face, his formidable stature seemed even more immense, the tiny puppets on his chest writhing like tormented souls as she stared up close at them.

Chloe then saw as he picked out a white package sealed with the Mint’s emblem from his pocket; it seemed to contain magical coins. He offered the package to her. “Here; the pay for the Trove and rave jobs. Now, what’s all this about life-saving nonsense?” He afterwards took out a cigar, and lit it as he leaned against the wall he came out of. “Good joke if I ever heard one.”

Justine smiled at Angel of Hope’s words of gratitude, and spun her spear as she conjured blood bullets, shooting them at the Spade who then disengaged. She scoffed as she dueled against the Spade soldier, Finn’s message having raced across her mind.
We have bigger fish to fry! They passed the barrier! She messaged back, and winced as in that moment she let a bullet graze her forearm. In return, she threw the spear, piercing the soldier right through the chest. The soldier dropped on one of the houses, and Justine’s eyes widened as the soldier’s body exploded, blowing the house up and scattering burning debris around: she didn’t notice it before, but the flying squad seemed to be equipped for suicide bombing. A piece of the burning debris happened to fly right into Miko who was in the vicinity, only causing light damage but leaving burns on her kimono and cheek.

”The fliers have bombs on them!” She yelled down at the local defenders, and then grimaced upon spotting Penny running rampant in the distance.
As an aside, I’m glad I never had to face her.

Lily slightly wobbled once Alex took her hand, surprised by the gesture.

”H-huh? I’m not burning, I’m fine…" She lied, but nonetheless followed Alex as he took them to a porch on one of the empty houses. She sat down on one of the chairs there, and sighed heavily as Alex’s tails comforted her with fluffiness.
”Alex…" She mumbled, her eyes closed as she allowed herself a moment of respite from the chaos and terror. After a short moment, she spoke:
”I’m sorry, but…There’s a reason this keeps happening…Why I keep pushing harder." She opened her eyes, and she noticed how the last civilians of Bolorton were carried out by Oliver’s crew and Eliana, and lifted a hand, slightly waving to them.
”Thank you so much!"

Then, with renewed energy, she turned to Alex.
”I’ve realized…Up to this point, I’ve only used a small fraction of this new magic. I’ve been speeding myself and others up, but…Is that all there is to it. To manipulate the flow of time itself…It’s hard. But…I know I could do so much more with it. There’s so much potential. I could…Help everyone with it. As long as I work hard, I could even make…a miracle." She opened her hand, and her hourglass floated over it, spinning erratically. She smiled as she looked into it.
”Right, Alex?"

She then heard as Justine shouted from above. ”What? How did they get past the barrier?" She exclaimed. That was when a shot rang out, and Alex felt a stinging pain; one of his tails had been shot by a flying Spade soldier wielding a sniper rifle, having aimed at Lily.
Fortunately, Alex had enough Agility to provide a defensive barrier to slow down the bullet. Still, the tail was struck right in the bone, quickly reminding him that the situation was escalating fast.

Lily immediately stood up from her seat and shot back with a lightning-quick draw of her bow, hitting the Spade right in the arm, causing them to drop the weapon before he retreated.
Her arm slightly shook after the shot, her expression hard.

She and Alex, along with everyone else inside Bolorton, saw that the Spade squad had closed in on the town after slipping through their defenses, and began shooting; the soldier with the rocket launcher shot down another tower even as Justine made chase. A Spade with an assault rifle opened fire on Tina and Ellen, managing to hit Tina’s chest and shoulder, and causing her to almost fall as she was held by Ellen.

”How dare they? How dare they!" Lily screamed, and began chasing after the Spades on the ground, rapidly shooting upwards at them as she zipped through the Chronos Crossed roads.

Finn disengaged from the enemy forces, having left the swarm of clucking chickens to cover his exit as he ascended up towards the half-rusted Tin Man. As he gained altitude, he saw in the distance that his enchanted bull had slowed down, having been crippled in the leg by a grenade blast, though it’s bellowing presence was enough to still claim the soldiers’ attention as they fired upon it until he fell like a noble warrior. He also saw how Kiyome’s shadowy minions were still managing to hold thanks to their regenerative abilities, though one was driven over by a tank, unable to escape, and the others were surrounded by more and more troops.

The colossus attempted swatting Finn with his free hand once he got close, but the rusted joints locked up, allowing the magical boy to dodge and strike…One of the chains, causing the broken lock to slightly droop from the side.
Just as Mac had wanted, she succeeded in redirecting Finn’s attack before she had the chance to activate the Tin Man’s heart curse.

She then proceeded to attack the other chains, disguised as Iron Mouse swatting with the butt of her rifle, and managed to destroy enough chains for the hatch to swing open as the Tin Man’s massive frame swung back and forth, managing to smack Mac with the side of a metallic elbow; she incurred moderate damage to her shoulder and her side with a small bone fracture, and causing her to be knocked away. Finn saw the metallic hearts inside the hollow compartment of the Tin Man’s chassis, each of them beating at different times as they glowed brightly. This was followed by the Tin Man’s backswing hitting Finn; however, Finn managed to latch on the arm before he was knocked away, barely holding on.

Gaia unleashed her full magical prowess upon the battlefield, and lifted the fallen tower that had once trapped Mayra, the stalk regenerating rapidly to restore the trunk. Even the tower cut down by the Tin Man began growing anew from the stump, and developed into a short tower with the small, budding sunflower cannon. Gaia then resumed leading the botanical defense, and continued launching an array of flowery weaponry; The Tin Man was drenched even more by bursts of water on it’s shoulders and legs while purposefully avoiding the midsection, further rusting the giant to the point it was no longer capable of swinging it’s axe. However, it then began stepping slowly forward, seemingly trying to ram into the barrier with it’s hefty frame even as it’s rusted joints grinded.

At the same time, Gaia latched on to the Scarecrow with her vines, and attempted to throw the monster…But the creature didn’t budge, no matter how hard she pulled. She strained her magic, but the straw creature had taken root into the ground, having taken advantage of Gaia’s blessed soil, and drawn magical energy from it. Then, the creature further showed it’s parasitic power as a small straw hand grew from the burnt stump and grabbed onto the vine, corrupting it. Gaia felt as the control of the vine spell escaped her, and it shot out to wrap around her; unlike her own vines, which were beautiful and abundant with life, the corrupted vine looked frayed and blackened, like rope made from sickly straw. She then heard a sucking sound from the straw, and felt as her mana was rapidly drained by the magically stronger Scarecrow’s curse. Her mana kept lowering and lowering…

“Don’t give up, Gaia!” She heard Annabelle’s voice just as she was about to be drained dry, followed by feeling the girl’s hands on her own as she embraced the verdant girl from behind; Gaia felt the infusion of magic from the other Wood user, and helped her break the straw curse in a flash of light as well as restoring her back to 20% mana.
“Thank you for tending to my garden,” she gently spoke, and summoned her own magical weapon, a staff with an elaborate sunflower-shaped tip. “Now, let’s beat these Oz rejects, together!”

Gaia had also sent vines to rescue Mayra. She, however, did not need rescuing, as the monster girl had melted a hole into the tower and burrowed inside like a squirrel. She then imbued her magic with the tower, and through it’s rooted network spread a blazing enchantment on Gaia’s payload; with their powers combined, the cob cannons dropped napalm-like oil on the waves of Club soldiers, causing them to scream in agony as they burned. Upon seeing that the scarecrow was not flung, the chaotic girl decided on a whim to attack some club soldiers attempting to pass by the sunflower towers; while slowed by the damage she had taken to her legs and thus not fast enough to avoid the hail of gunfire, she powered through and ripped the soldiers to shreds, though she did have to spit out a bullet that lodged on one of her teeth.

The Angel of Hope quickly adapted to the reinforcements among their ranks, and enchanted the new arrivals; Akhenaten flexed as he felt the surge of power course through him, while Nefer laughed, aiming her glowing gun.
“Ooh, that’s some good magic! Gives me a high like no other! Thank you, super cutie!” She winked at the Angel in a flirty fashion, before turning her attention back to the fight at hand. “Now, how about you make it back to Kansas, you little freak?”

Akhenaten grunted in response to Kiyome’s suggestion, and crushed another block of bricks the armless girl had launched at them, followed by the girl jeering. “My! People come and go so quickly here!” The monster seemed to turn desperate, as it gathered up the nearby bricks into a shell and started running, once again lifting the barrier like a curtain with an arch of bricks.
Akhenaten dashed in front and punched, but the girl had split the road in two and dodged to the left as it ran around the loop, seemingly gaining speed as it headed for the emerald fountain in the square. Nefer spotted as Kiyome was about to go for another attack, and blasted the armless girl with what looked like an explosive shell of bluish magic, breaking the shell.
“Go for it, cutie!”

In that moment Kiyome teleported midair behind the armless girl. Before the armless girl could strike with pillars made of bricks, her head was already rolling down the yellow-bricked road, like a bowling ball down a lane.
Kiyome landed on the blackened grass, and as she did, her broken legs gave out under her, and she dropped to her knees. As she did, she saw as the road dissolved into a golden wind, and the fountain returned back to normal; she had claimed victory.

“Affirmative,” Gabriel responded to Alicia’s with a respectful salute, and walked away, causing Hyun Long to sigh in an exasperated tone. However, she did not say anything else for the moment. The Beacon squad, thanks to Aurelio’s initiative, quickly found themselves appearing out of the mobile teleporter situated behind their assigned vehicle; a van fitted with magitech and enough space to store the advanced device in. The van was situated at what looked like a car wash at a gas station on the edge of town, next to a road that led down to the countryside.

It didn’t take them much time to fold the device into a more compact shape and store it in the back of the van before they were already off, with Aurelio on the wheel. Alicia was driving shotgun, leaving Serenity and Hyun Long with the back seats. Hyun Long held her arms crossed and tapped her foot impatiently as the skyline of Penrose drifted further and further away behind them. The vehicle was accelerated thanks to Serenity’s spell, allowing the already fast vehicle to reach an even greater speed.

However, as they were on their way, Serenity noticed Hyun Long nudging her lightly in the shoulder, and she turned to look at her.
“Serenity, I may come off as harsh and judgemental to you. But even so, what I’ve said is still true; you need to show more respect to your superiors, and prove yourself worthy of Beacon’s ideals.” Her gaze turned tighter, and she put a hand to her own chest.
“It is thanks to Beacon’s mercy that I was granted a chance at redemption, to prove myself strong enough to surpass my past self and to repay them for their kindness. I’ve been informed that such is the case for you as well. However…” She then pointed straight at Serenity, who inadvertently jiggled as they hit a bump on the road.
“You, on the other hand, need to work even harder, to earn not only Beacon’s respect, but mine as well.” She then resumed her waiting, having averted her hard gaze. “That said, I look forward to us working together, so we may both earn our redemption,” she added in a lower voice, looking the tiniest bit content.

The Queen of Hearts smiled at the compliments she received from Mariette. “Why thank you, Alice. My, I’m glad that after all these years, you still haven’t forgotten your manners,” she spoke, and reached her hand out as the headless soldier returned the mallet back to her as if there was nothing wrong. Jelena spotted that the powerful magic belonged to the Queen, but did not fit any of the known Specializations, meaning it must be Oddball magic. However, she did recognize the signature to be the same as the croquet balls. Jelena’s attention was immediately claimed by the Queen lifting her chin up with the mallet. “But of course. Any friend of Alice’s is a friend of mine…You are Alice’s friend, correct?” She asked, sounding subtly sinister.

They then went on to partake of the catering, as a butler poured tea in both Mariette and Jelena’s teacups, and kept them refilled if they took so much as a single sip from them. The same attention was given to the crumpets, ensuring no matter how many were eaten more would take their place on the table. After some meaningless small talk, Mariette noted that the Queen occasionally seemed to write in a little pocket book. She then landed her question, and the Queen gave a dismissive noblewoman’s laugh.
“So you know of that as well? My, Alice, what a clever daughter you are. Yes, I’ve decided to secure an outpost before proceeding to Penrose. Speaking of, how doth Dormouse fare?” She asked Hatwington, who sighed. “Your Majesty, I regret to inform you that Dormouse has not been up to the task. The locals have mounted quite an effective resistance: even the OZ Unit is falling apart.”

The Queen smiled for a bit…And then flipped the table, causing the pottery to scatter into fragments and the tablecloth to rip apart.
“The insolence of those ignorant slaves!” She then glanced at Mariette, took a deep breath, and recollected herself. “Excuse me for a moment, my dear Alice. Mother has some business to attend to. But don’t worry. I will be right back,” she said, and pulled back on her sleeve, revealing a wrist-mounted magitech device. The device had numerous buttons, as well as a mounted red jewel and a screen. While not as advanced as the magitech she’s seen in other worlds, Jelena had the impression that it was quite effective for a mobile device.

The Queen took a strand of hair from her pocket, and placed it over what seemed to be the scanner part of the device. The red jewel glowed, and it projected a mirror portal before the Queen. That was when Mariette realized what was going on: the Queen had taken one of her hairs, and used it to replicate her own portal magic. She then stepped through the portal to the mundane world. However, Mariette and Jelena realized that in her hurry, the Queen had left her pocket book on one of the unflipped tables; it seems nobody else had noticed it yet, though nearby servants were cleaning up, and might discover it soon.

The Engine managed to deflect the lion’s blade enough to incur moderate damage from a gash, and proceeded to assimilate the local metallic materials into itself while adapting to the electrical signal disruption, managing to reclaim its senses and resume its wild assault. As she continued trading blows with the beast, more and more APCs continued to be consumed, until the one at the very back began to dissolve, and a magical girl jumped out of it; she seemed to have a mouse-themed look to her, and channeled a spell in the Engine’s direction. The Engine noted a soporific effect, and while it slightly slowed her it wasn’t enough to completely deter it from its prime directive of destruction.

After enough slicing and stabbing tendrils, the Lion finally succumbed, but not before giving one last bite right into the Engine’s midsection, nearly ripping it in two before it fell over dead.
While the engine focused on reassembling itself, however, it detected a sudden burst of magic nearby, and it’s ocular sensors detected the arrival of someone new, having arrived from what she sensed to be Mariette’s portal.
“Ah, so this is the famous Penny Asimov we have heard of,” the Queen of Hearts spoke, and the Engine deduced this was the leader of the enemy forces, and thus her new primary target, as Dormouse scurried behind enemy soldiers.
“Your exploits have been admirable indeed, having rejected every Power that would try to control you with lies and fear, and building a place independent of their tyranny. Yes…”
The Queen of Hearts smiled, and summoned her weapon. At that point, the engine’s magic-reading sensors went off their limits; her sword possessed magic she was unable to quantify.

“Cease your hostility, and we shall grant you the status of vassal. Then, we shall together liberate the ignorant slaves of the tyrannical Powers. We shall even allow you to govern Penrose under our banner. However, refuse, and you shall receive no such kindness.” She then spoke, and lifted the sword to her side.
“What shall it be?”

As Chloe wandered the streets, she happened to come across a pack of monsters; based on what she’s heard of their descriptions, she assumed them to be Wendigos, undead fiends with icy hearts. But then, she saw as the wendigos seemingly saw something behind the corner. The monsters attacked, only disappear without a sound. When Chloe came to investigate the scene, there was nothing left but scrape marks on the ground, in a circular pattern…

“Chloe, Chloe, Chloe…What am I gonna do with a broad like you?” Suddenly, Chloe heard a voice. Then she saw a familiar silhouette rise up on the wall.

There was no mistaking it at that point: it was Al.

“I didn’t think you’d be daft enough to come back to town after your Houdini act. We had an arrangement, if you recall. You have a debt to pay. And the Mint always collects their debts. So, how’s about ya tell me? Tell me one good reason I shouldn’t paint the town red with you as the brush.”

Nefer looked confused as Finn attempted to clarify the chaos of the situation to her, and looked at the damaged artifact in her hands. “Eh, why not. But give it back once you’re done. I might still be able to get a couple of coins off it over at the Bazaar.” She tossed the Runestone up and caught it on her palm in a casual manner, and then tossed it over to him. The moment Finn got a hold of it, he could tell that the artifact possessed a vast storage large enough to store a Killing Blow or similar spell, but in it’s fractured state would be dangerous to use. “As for this whole mess,” she turned to Akhenaten, who nodded back with a grumble, his arms crossed. “I suppose we could lend our services for a modest fee. Let’s say…five Gold coins. Three if you let me keep all the Wonderland tech.”

Lily looked relieved as Oliver sent forth his own contribution to the evacuation effort, as more duplicates as well as spirits possessing artificial bodies joined the ranks of rescue. ”Thank you, I appreciate it," She thanked the Crimson Cradle member. However, she frowned when she heard Nefer’s offer. She looked frustrated, her fist trembling.
”Fine, we’ll pay you! But please, help us evacuate the townsfolk!"
Nefer shrugged, and shook her head. “Nah, that ain’t my style. I think I’ll go have a look at these Wonderland weirdos instead. That sounds more fun. Come on, Aten. Let’s go.” Akhenaten grumbled, and the two of them ran off towards the fields. ”I’m going with them,” Justine spoke to the other CC agents.
”I’m more useful in a fight anyway. Keep me posted.”
She then followed after them, having summoned her spear.

Lily and the others continued pushing civilians out the door from building after building, healing the injured as they cropped up or pulling them out from a few collapsed buildings. With Oliver granting one final push of sheer rescuing numbers, the civilian rescue effort rose to a staggering fourteen emptied buildings on the east row, and twelve emptied buildings on the west row. Now, only two houses remained.
”We’ve nearly…haaah…done it!" Lily cried out, panting hard as the strain of maintaining the Chronos Crosser spell had taken a toll on her physically. She jogged over to the evacuation shelter, where Annabelle ran up to her, embracing her in a hug. She then addressed the evacuation group. “Thank you so much, everyone! I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for you!”
”Don’t…haah…mention it!" Lily gave a thumbs up and a bright smile amidst her breaths.
”Now all we gotta do is get them out of town…Wait, how are we going to do that?”" She asked Annabell, but she could only shrug.
“I don’t know, but I’m feeling better now. I better head back and see if my towers have held up.” Annabell then took off on a run using Lily’s speed tiles, leaving a trail of flowers. Lily sighed, and placed her hands on her knees.
”Wait for me…I gotta just…Take a sec…"

Finn called forth and imbued the local farm animals with the call of the wild. As a result, the chickens flapped their wings and clucked with vigor as they headed out as a swarm, feathers scattering in every direction. The bull was also roused into a bestial fury, it’s bellow like the sounding horn of battle as it charged into the battlefield. As more squads of card soldiers advanced alongside a couple of tanks, one of the tanks was knocked over by the bull, followed by trampling over soldiers, shrugging off volleys of fire as if they were mere nerf bullets on its magically toughened skin.

The enraged chickens reached the Lion the moment it got within range of the frontline, and distracted it long enough for Mayra to dodge the blade and for Kiyome to teleport out, leaving only Penny as the single recipient of the attack. However, she had abandoned the very idea of retreat, having lost her grip on the Engine of Destruction as it unchained itself and assumed control. She slid back on the black, charren grass as her heels dug in from the massive impact of the Lion’s blade, having successfully stopped it with her hands before her head was sliced off. Drawing strength from the power grid of Bolorton underneath her, she proceeded to hold on to the monster, covered in glowing electricity, and charged forth, grilling the surrounding chickens into a fine, microwaved dish.

The Lion, unable to escape the shocking grapple, proceeded to bite and tear into the Engine’s shoulder, the monster’s megaton bites capable of ripping out a hefty chunk out of her crackling form before it was slammed into one of the APCs that had descended to the foot of the hill, causing it to howl. The Engine then passed over the beast, seemingly shifting in focus to the hapless card soldiers inside who saw the side of the APC being blown open by the impact; they only had a moment to scream before they were shredded alongside their transport.

The closest Club soldiers opened fire on the Engine at first as it approached the second APC past the hill, while others were occupied with Kiyome’s summoned Minions that ran amok in the enemy ranks, disrupting their advance to Bolorton. With their close proximity and sheer numbers, they managed to punch through a couple of spots in the Engine’s armor, though only incurring light damage. But then, the Hearts quickly issued a command, and the rest of the soldiers changed their tactics. At that moment, when the Engine stepped over the hill, she saw as multiple grenades were thrown at her, followed by…static.

She was unable to see or hear anything but distorted, black-and-white scramble and hiss of radio waves. In fact, all of the Engine’s senses were consumed by the disruption, as some kind of ferric solution similar to chaff heavily pervaded through her immediate vicinity, disrupting her electrical sensors. In that moment of weakness, with the Engine solely relying on mechanical functions, she couldn’t detect the Lion closing in on her, ready to stab her in the back like a dirty coward.

Gaia released the enchantment cast on once-verdant fields on Bolorton’s border once the fire had fully reached the botanical traps; vines, venus flytraps and fungi alike dissipated into green spore-like sparkles and glowing root-like streams, which proceeded to travel back to Gaia, allowing her to restore some of the mana she had used to cast the spell before the ever-hungry inferno consumed the grass. She saw as Iron Mouse peppered the Tin Man with bullets, and they clanged with little effect against the monster’s metallic body. At the time, Mac felt a slight tingle against her skin, unsure whether it was simply the thrill of combat while she had Iron Mouse’s illusion dig underground.

In a brilliant move, the emerald-hued maiden then proceeded to channel the water-drawing power of plants into the cob cannons; they bloomed in sapphire sparkles into blue-bulbed hydro cannons. The cannons were charged with Gaia’s magic, and roots quickly spread underneath to the closest source of water, which she recognized to be a river to the northwest. The hydro cannons’ bulbs swollened, preparing to launch a deluge of dihydrogen oxide at the Tin Man.
At the same time, Mayra set her sights on the scarecrow, and it’s flammable straw body, and charged right at the scarecrow once it passed around the Tin Man’s foot.

However, while the Tin Man initially ignored the signs of attack, the scarecrow was quick on the uptake. With surprising speed for a single-legged monster, it pogo-jumped around the foot, and screeched an order at the Tin Man; the Tin Man stretched out its free arm forward, and attempted blocking the splash of water with it’s palm, managing to protect most of its body from the hydro cannons before it swung down with it’s axe; with a single slice, the sunflower tower was easily severed, as if plantlife was mere timber to the woodsman, and began to fall. However, Gaia then saw as the Tin Man’s free arm, the axe arm’s elbow and patches of it’s front rapidly rusted, immobilizing the spots in place. The burning fields in the proximity were also extinguished from the water sprays, causing smoke to accumulate and obscure the view.

At the same time, the Tin Man had lifted a foot, allowing the scarecrow to pass under just as Mayra slashed, forcing her to dodge and back off as a follow up before the foot stomped back down, shaking the earth. However, the attack succeeded to hit; she cut off the scarecrow’s rake arm and burned it to cinders, and set the straw construct on fire. However, that was when the water from the hydro cannons rained down after it struck the Tin Man. Not only was the scarecrow extinguished as a result, but Mayra also was hit by the water, drenching her. While not enough to actually harm her, the water slowed her down just enough for the trunk of the severed sunflower tower to collapse on top of her with a resounding thud, crushing her legs and tail and trapping her under the massive sunflower.
The scarecrow cackled as it absorbed the water on it into its straw body, seemingly boasting about its tactical genius through body language.

While the Tin Man recovered from it’s swing and readied another, Iron Mouse suddenly burst from the ground, and struck it right in the central hatch with a boulder that scattered on impact into rubble. As a result, the heart-shaped lock was cracked, and some of the chains holding it in place got loose. However, that was exactly when Mac felt pain in her chest as if someone had punched her, nearly knocking the breath from her lungs. She tasted blood in her mouth, and noticed how the glowing light inside the monster had intensified, and was now pulsating like a heartbeat. That was when she realized it; the monster was magically reflecting the damage it took.

Gaia, who was located on a neighbouring sunflower tower, then shifted her attention to the armless girl; though it was difficult to see through the clouds of smoke, she saw as the strange creature had passed the first couple of swerves on the golden bricked road in her merry skipping, about to head for the loop. The green-haired girl surprised the monster by summoning entangling vines on the sides of the road, which wrapped around her body and legs, stopping her in place. Gaia felt that her mana reserves had dropped to 80%, some of it saved by her spell salvaging. She saw as the girl’s smile turned more wicked, and golden bricks around her trembled, as if she was at the center of a tremor.

Suddenly, the armless girl coughed out blood, and the vines were cut down. Gaia then realized she had been struck with three swords, or rather three sword strikes, courtesy of Kiyome, who had stepped onto the gold road right next to her and performed a fearsome Focused Assault. It was an expensive technique that together with her summon spell earlier claimed 15% of her mana, but it was seemingly worth it; the armless girl knelt down, seemingly unable to stand, and Kiyome leapt further back down the gold road before the Angel of Hope placed a barrier around the armless girl, attempting to keep her further in place.

However, the armless girl lifted her head, and continued smiling despite the dribble of blood that dripped down the corner of her mouth. “Vines and warriors and walls, oh my!” She spoke out, and once again the golden road shook with tremors. As Kiyome attempted to teleport out, she noticed she was somehow unable to escape. She then looked down, and realized the golden bricks were animated as they opened up a hole underneath her and enclosed on her; her feet were grinded and crushed by the golden bricks, as if chewed on by a giant with gnashing golden teeth, causing moderate pain. Then she started to sink, first from the ankles, then to her knees, and then to her thighs. The kneeling armless girl giggled inside the barrier amidst the occasional cough, delighted by the sight of Kiyome descending down the horrible golden trap. She kept descending and descending…

Just as it seemed like all hope was lost, Kiyome saw an imposing black shape rushing in at the corner of her eye, and she was met with the terrifying sight of a large black golem of Egyptian design standing above her, sand swirling around him like a cloak. He reached out to grab her by the hand, and pulled her out of the teeth, having punched and stomped down on the golden teeth so hard they cracked into pieces. Once she was out of the trap, she could see a girl in a red suit walking in from Bolorton’s direction, wielding some kind of glowing gun. The golem grunted at Kiyome, and punched a block of golden bricks that the armless girl had shot at the two of them, pulverizing it.

The Spade soldiers, undeterred by Gaia’s cob cannons, advanced through the sky, and were now right above the Angel of Hope. One Spade opened fire on her with a hail of minigun fire-!
”Look out!”
Suddenly, a shield of crimson blood appeared before Angel, blocking the shots, and she turned to see Justine, her hand outstretched and a magic circle having appeared out of it.
”I’ll take care of the fliers, you focus on ground support!”
She ordered, and dashed up with a flap of her white-feathered wings towards the Spades.
The Spade wielding the rocket launcher aimed at the base of the tower Gaia was standing on, and blew it up, causing the tower to collapse with Gaia still on it. The remaining members had moved ahead, and were laying down fire on the barrier itself; they failed to destroy it, but wore some of the defenses down. Justine chased after them before they finished reloading, launching red beams at them as she pursued them across the sky.
”Take this!”

Hatwington scoffed at Jelena’s answer, seemingly offended as he adjusted his monocle. “As I expected, foreigners are rather boorish.” The Marquis and the hooded girl were also not amused by Jelena’s abrupt exit, though they did not chase after her. Instead, they simply kept watching her like she was a party crasher who had ruined their fancy dinner.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Hearts placed her palm on the handle of the croquet mallet, and dismissively waved her hand in denial at Mariette’s question. “Oh, it took some time to build this place, seven or eight months, it might have been. It was quite tragic...But never mind that, my dear Alice. I wouldn'ät wish to reawaken those painful memories just yet. Now, let’s see…” While the Queen was focused on her game, Mariette attempted using Absolute Direction to find the supposed Alice that she had heard. However, as she wasn’t sure if Alice even existed in the first place, and without a decent mental image of what she would look like, the spell fizzled out.

“Huzzah, we have won!” Mariette’s thoughts were interrupted by the Queen’s proclamation; she had successfully scored enough points to win the game. Smiling widely, she tossed the mallet in celebration at one of the card soldiers on guard duty, knocking their helmet off; that was when Mariette saw that the soldier did not possess a head, only a black, smooth stump where the neck would have been located. That was when Jelena arrived, having also seen the missing head on the soldier.
“But don’t worry, Alice. I’m sure you’ll do better with more practice. Now then, we are feeling a bit peckish, so let’s move on to the catering. I’m sure you’ll feel better once you’ve had some crumpets and tea, Alice.”

Hyun Long bit her lip at Alicia’s reassurance, and then averted her eyes with crossed arms, seemingly still bothered by Serenity’s social faux pas despite Alicia’s claim. Still, once Vivianne was properly introduced and the group had walked over to the teleporter room, she seemed to turn less tense. Gabriel on the other hand seemed to not be interested in the slightest, and silently chewed on her toast as she listened to the conversation. When Serenity brought up the idea of joining them on their mission, Hyun Long protested. “Sorry, but the mission parameters have already been set for four members, Serenity. Besides, our assigned vehicle is a four-passenger.”

“But it could fit five if three squeeze in the backseat,” Gabriel chimed in. “I could also drop out of the mission; Rachel assigned me to hold a few drills to the newbies, and I’d rather get those done.” Hyun rolled her eyes. “The Paladin Seraph has priority in command for being assigned by the Cardinal. Whether you are from the Ascendancy or not does not matter” she reminded Gabriel, hinting at some animosity between the two as they exchanged leers. “In the end, it is her call as commanding officer”. Alicia and the others then heard Violette’s voice on the communicator: “The teleporter is primed and ready to go. Please hurry, the situation in Bolorton is turning more dire by the minute”.

The Angel of Hope performed a grand spell of protection over Bolorton, and conjured forth a dome, shielding it from the artillery shelling that had rained over town, like an umbrella. However, after multiple large spells of protection as well as restoring Eliana’s affliction, she started to feel the wear on her enhanced magical power, having lost a third of her mana reserves. Eliana in turn assisted AoH by bolstering the barrier with one of her own, reinforcing the barrier and giving it evasive protection in addition to mitigation.

Meanwhile, Gaia continued directing the potent payload of the transformed sunflower towers to lay suppressive fire on the hill, which now began to gather with more and more tanks, until nine of them could be counted. Two tanks on the hill shot their cannons towards a sunflower tower, dealing major damage to it’s trunk despite Gaia’s enhancements; while still standing, it was now lopsided, close to collapsing. In return, the corncob missiles blasted one of the tanks to smithereens, as well as some nearby soldiers, causing the rest to retreat behind other tanks as they came up the hill on the other side. They shot with their rifles, primarily aiming at Penny, Mayra and Kiyome down at the burning field.

This attack, despite the overwhelming numbers, proved mostly ineffective due to the distance and the cover of the smokescreen pouring from the fire, with exception to Mayra, who had been distracted by Kiyome and Penny long enough to have incurred a couple of shots on her back, stopped by her scales. However, while the fire proved beneficial to the frontline trio, it also began to cause damage to Kiyome in the form of slight burns on her forearms and legs. In addition, it also spread towards the sides, beginning to char Gaia’s trap flora.

In return Penny unloaded a hail of bullets from her newly acquired arsenal of rifles. First, she shot with fused weaponry, their dark gems having corroded her mentally in the process. However, she then switched to ejecting the gems out and using the weaponry as intended, pulling on their triggers manually. Using two enchanted guns in her hands and more mundane guns with extra limbs, she shot down the rest of the advancing club soldiers in the field; as their helmets were blown away, they were reduced to aimlessly shambling pseudo-undead.

The flying squad of fairy dust-sprinkled Spade soldiers, who also began to apply cover fire towards the trio: another rocket was launched towards the three, scattering them as they dodged, followed by a hail of minigun bullets in Penny and Kiyome’s direction, and loud bangs of an anti-tank sniper rifle at Mayra, while attempting to advance towards Bolorton.

Of course, Gaia-led sunflower towers immediately took aim at the flyers, disrupting their fire as they flew around, avoiding the corncob missiles. The two soldiers carrying the egg creature were less agile, however, and one of them was blown up with a corncob missile, causing them to drop the egg on the field. As the egg fell down, it began to rhyme with a high-pitched, shrill voice:

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a GREAT FALL!”

The moment the egg made impact and shattered, it’s magical payload was released in the form of a massive magic circle that manifested on the burning field. Out of the magic circle, four monsters teleported in, each one unique in size and appearance.

The most imposing one was a gargantuan metallic man wielding an equally large woodsman’s axe. It stood as tall as a sunflower tower, and it’s chest had a closed hatch with a heart-shaped lock on it, wrapped in chains. From the seams of the hatch, multiple sources of red glowing could be faintly seen, like many warm hearts.

The second was a huge leonine beast with curved blade-like extensions that jutted out from it’s elbows. The beast snarled as it appeared, drool dribbling down it’s maw.
The third was a bloodstained scarecrow with farming implements for hands and a straw sack for a head. It cackled as it hopped in place with it’s single wooden leg. The final and smallest monster was an armless little girl who hummed a little song.

“There’s no place like home~” The armless girl giggled, and clicked it’s heels together with a little jump; a road made of golden bricks burst out from beneath her feet and through the burning field towards Bolorton. However, the golden road did not move straight, and curved haphazardly around; it turned a few seconds after going straight, then again as it went past Penny, Kiyome and Mayra, and even looping in on itself before continuing, like a drawing made by a child who dragged the pencil through the paper as it pleased. Once it reached Angel and Eliana’s barrier, the gold road momentarily stopped, before a golden archway rose up from the road, magically lifting the barrier like a curtain, just enough that a passage big enough for the armless girl to pass through opened up. The archway, while too small for a regular Mahou to walk through, can be crawled under. The gold road then continued past the barrier once it created the archway, curving a bit around the plaza, and stopped at the central fountain, turning the landmark gold as well.

“There’s no place like home~” Once the road was complete, the armless girl repeated herself, clicked it’s heels again with a jump, and then began moving down the curvy gold-bricked road with a merry skip as it hummed a happy song, seemingly ignorant of the battlefield it is located in.

Meanwhile, the scarecrow cackled and pointed with it’s sickle at the woodsman, who nodded with a metallic groan like a rusty ship, and began walking slowly towards Bolorton, having lifted it’s axe; it was clearly going to attack one of the sunflower towers. The scarecrow then cackled and pointed a rake at the lion, who roared in return; the scarecrow followed the woodsman, taking cover behind the giant, while the lion ran past and straight at the frontline trio, intending to pounce and swipe at them with it’s blade.

Lily had just arrived from another trip to the shelter when Alex had caught up with her, calling her name.
”Huh? What is it, Alex?" She asked, and then listened as Alex explained his idea, running in place out of anxiety. She first blinked in hesitation, but then bit her lower lip, and nodded.
”Ok, I’ll give it my best shot!" She answered, and took hold of the hourglass on her costume. As the clones channeled magic into her, she closed her eyes, and the hourglass began to slowly glow spin, the sand inside it shifting. When she opened her eyes, her irises had turned into clocks with spinning hands.
”Chronos Crosser!" She yelled with an outheld hand. A blue-and-yellow beam shot out, covering the streets of Bolorton; they were visibly enchanted with alternating arrows of blue and yellow, much like speed-boosting floor panels in video games.
Afterwards, Lily returned to normal, slightly shaken by the spell she performed.
”I did it…Oh, I feel a bit dizzy…" She slapped her cheeks and shook her head, getting focused again.

”It won’t last long, but this should buy us more time!" She informed Alex and the twins, and saw as Connie slid down to provide her assistance to their efforts. She didn’t know why, but she knew had no time to wonder, especially when Lily realized that shells have stopped falling and AoH placed a protective barrier to protect them. She wouldn’t let either of their kindness go unreciprocated.
”Connie, go to those houses!” She pointed, and headed off.
”Let’s get to it!"

Another artillery barrage was shot out, but the double dome endured the blasts, cracking slightly from the damage. With no artillery shells to impede their progress, two new members to the evacuation squad, and with Lily’s boosting roads further picking up the pace, the number of emptied houses rose to ten houses on the east row, and twelve houses from the west row. As a result, their efforts left fifteen and thirteen houses, for a total number of 28 remaining houses.

Justine nodded in confirmation at Iron Mouse’s question.
”Since we have to be tucked into the backseat, I might as well make it slightly more comfortable,” she said, and smiled a bit once the latter tried it, seemingly amused by her caution.
”Don’t worry, it’s not going to pop or stain your clothes. The outer layer is like plastic.” Just like Mac had thought, it was like a waterbed in it’s malleability. She then rolled her eyes at her cheeky comment.
”I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Ooh, I wouldn’t mind a little pinch from a cutie like you~” Nefer spoke up, and afterwards turned her head to look at Oliver.
“Nice ride, right? Tune it all up myself, you know. Had to order some custom parts when my own skills weren’t sufficient, but it turned out like a beaut.”

Akhenaten grumbled with a nod. Nefer smiled. “Yep, that’s true, you also helped out” she responded, as if she understood the golem.

Once the passengers introduced themselves, including Iron Mouses’s bombastic one, Justine joined in.
”Elizabeth Bathory. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Nefer gave a little laugh. “Well, aren’t you a bunch of colorful characters. Especially you, little Mousey~” She seemed to blush a bit. “You’re so cute, I wanna take you home with me! But unfortunately I can’t fit you in my luggage. Such a shaaame…” She then perked up upon hearing Mouse ask about her wares.
“Yeah, I have knick-knacks and doo-dads a plenty.” She started digging through her handbag, and threw out various trinkets and thing-a-ma-bobs in the backseat.
“Like an artifact that allows you to eat while sleeping, or a counter that when pointed at somebody tells you how many people they’ve kissed. Oh, and a tool hammer that gives inspiration when you hit yourself on the head.”

In other words, just a bunch of junk, Justine thought to herself.

She then picked out a stone with a crack in it. “I also have this runestone that supposedly allows one to absorb a spell and use it for later, but it’s probably broken; haven’t gotten it working.”

Justine did not care much for the small banter, as her eyes were already focused on the scene of the battlefield that steadily grew before them. And soon enough, the car reached Gaia’s trapped fields.

“Hold on boys and girls, this is gonna be a bumpy ride!” She pulled on a lever, and a set of whirling saws popped out of the grill of the car, tearing through the thorny vines and venus flytraps that snapped at the car’s hull. The car ploughed through like a lawnmower, and turned with a screeching skid right into the central plaza of Bolorton. On their way, the passengers got a better look at the sunflower towers that bordered the town, and saw Connie, Gaia and angel near them, casting spells. They also saw Lily, multiple Alex-clones, Ronin and Miko, Connie, as well as a newcomer by the name of Eliana run around carrying civilians away.

“Now that wasn’t your garden-variety weeds, not to mention all the soldiers and fighting. What in the hay is going on around here?” Nefer asked as she and Akhenaten stepped out of the car., seemingly unaware of the invasion.

Justine was not going to stick around and explain, as she jumped out of the car once it stopped and flew towards Lily.
”What’s the situation?” She asked once she had reached the green-haired girl, who in turn stopped with a half-circle spin, and hoisted the man in her arms over her shoulder.

”Not good. We still got more people to evacuate, but Wonderland’s gonna break through any second!"

Justine scowled. ”...Great.”

Marquis Harry’s polite smile cracked a bit when Jelena exclaimed she saw through his lie, but nonetheless, he acted like a refined man of society and took it in stride. “That is all I wanted to hear~” He said, before the academic had made his arrival and he excused the two of them.
Hatwington adjusted his monocle, looking appalled at Jelena’s insinuation. “Well, of course any established theorem will have its detractors, primarily in the uneducated and, well, unwashed masses. But Mister Pooh has legitimized his research by providing case studies and research data that supports his theorem. His work has also been approved and recognized by the Minister of Education by Her Majesty’s orders, so of course there is no room for doubt. Unless you intend to outrageously claim that the Queen herself is wrong…” He asked with a smarmy tone. He was sure he would silence Jelena’s protests…That is, if she were there to listen to him in the first place. In fact, she was not there anymore. “Uh, miss?”

Instead of staying and listening to the professor, Jelena had taken another chance to sneakily eavesdrop on Harry and his companion, gliding as gracefully across the floor as a professional ballerina. She ducked behind a potted plant, and heard a snippet of the conversation:

“...could bring an entire army by herself, you know? Are you sure it’s safe?” The hooded girl spoke, looking annoyed. Harry chuckled.

“Of course. The wards we have placed allow only the holders of an invitation and their company to enter through. Anyone else who attempts space magic to traverse inside will end up in the dungeons, in a magic-nullifying cell.”

“Hmph. Well, Her Majesty may have trusted you as the head of security for the party to replace White, but I won’t be that easily convinced. The moment you screw up I’ll-” It was then that the hooded girl glanced past Harry, and noticed Jelena. “-Hello there.” She gave a soul-piercing glare at Harry, as if trying to stab her with her gaze, who then blinked and turned around. “Oh, what a surprise, haha! It seems you ditched poor Hatwington. Surely he did not bore you that much with his talk of theorems?”
He asked with a bright smile, though Jelena could tell he was certainly not feeling sunny.

Meanwhile, as Mariette reeled from the shocking revelation, the Queen had removed herself swiftly from her, having noticed the tentacles the girl had summoned. “Oh, my poor Alice…Have you forgotten your own mother’s face after all these years? Oh, woe is me! To be forgotten...” She clasped her hands together. “It was years upon years ago. We were so happy, the two of us…Mother and daughter, bringing joy and peace to wherever we went, battling evil by moonlight. But then, on that tragic day when I lost you beyond the looking glass, I swore I would find you, even if I had to traverse the entire multiverse to do it.” She picked up her mallet.
“It was a lot of work to build an entire dimension, but it was all worth it for this day. Of course, when I first looked at you, I wasn’t sure. Could this really be my darling Alice? I took my time watching after you. But then, when I saw you handing out all those gifts to your friends…Only my Alice is as kind-hearted.” She then swung at a ball, and it passed through a hoop. “Of course, it won’t be easy, with you having lost so many of your memories. But a mother’s love can fix anything, and I’m sure with enough time, you will remember everything. Then we can be a family again, Alice. So let’s take it slowly at first. Now then, it’s your turn, Alice~” She then waited for Mariette to take another swing.

“Wonderland has acknowledged our announcement to give aid to the civilians.” Ishtar answered, though she averted her eyes. “As long as you carry symbols of Beacon on your person and don’t engage the enemy you have diplomatic immunity. However, should Wonderland ignore our treaty and stage a direct attack on you…” She sighed. “...You are permitted to defend yourselves. However, I sincerely hope it won’t come to that.”

She blinked in surprise once Alicia announced her selection of operatives for the mission.
“I expected Aurelio and Gabriel, but Hyun Long as well…Very well. I trust in your decision making, Paladin Seraph. Violette is assigned as mission control; she will keep you informed on our side.” She then nodded.

“Take the teleporter, and transport to the mobile teleporter that is primed at the Penrose border. Once there, pack it into the vehicle, and begin heading out towards Bolorton. Good luck, Paladin Seraph, and may the light of Beacon reach the lost in the darkness.”

As Alicia left the meeting towards the cafeteria, she could hear hushed voices there. Upon arriving, she noticed that other Beacon agent's stares seemed to linger on a certain arrival at the facility; Serenity. While magical girls could wildly vary in appearance even among the more conservative ranks of the organization, she managed to draw the attention of everyone, especially once Alicia was caught in her hug.

“Hey! Show some respect!” A voice called out, and Hyun Long stepped out from the gathered crowd. The former monster queen pointed a finger at Serenity. “That is the Paladin Seraph! You can’t go and hug someone like that out of the blue! Not to mention public decency…Well, not that our organization has any policies on that.” Once Aurelio had arrived, Hyun turned to greet Alicia with a salute. “Hyun Long, reporting for duty. I was just informed by Cardinal Ishtar via communicator that I have been selected for a mission.” On the other side of the cafeteria, they could see Gabriel running in with a toast in her mouth. “Gabriel also reporting in!” She also saluted seriously, looking a bit silly in the process.

The Angel of Hope ascended up above the botanical bastion that stood as the line of defense against the encroaching forces, and with a Wall of Containing Light lifted a barrier between the sunflower towers and the fire on the cornfield, reaching halfway up the stalks of the colossal plants. As the blaze began to spread over the cornfield, it reached the wall, it’s flames unable to climb the Reinforcement construct and only inflicting minor damage to it; the sunflowers were spared from their natural weakness. However, the fire continued to expand on the field; it wouldn’t take long before it develops into a wildfire.

Next, it was Gaia’s turn; using one of the sunflowers as a catalyst, the emerald-haired girl invigorated the weary defenders into new life, directing the essence of the cornfield into them; the sunflowers bloomed with a golden shimmer on their petals as fertile magic spread from one root to another, the stalks growing taller as they reached out towards the sun. As they did, they evolved into something resembling corn, but on a much more destructive scale, with corn cobs that could be launched like warheads. These new plants, while requiring more time to recover between shots, now possessed improved range and area of effect compared to the energy beams. They were able to lay out suppressing fire on incoming soldiers, and prevented tanks from advancing too fast in fear of getting into a killzone.

Gaia also cast a spell that would threaten from below in the form of various engaging eukaryotes, and spread the wrath of nature to the sides of the burning field.
This included entangling thorns and vines, smaller corncob launchers, foul fungus that would make Zuggtmoy proud, snapping flytrap jaws, and even pea-carrying plants that would shoot out their payloads like from stationary turrets. Gaia had sown the seeds for a hazardous harvest.

Connie then prepared a spell, and gathered mentally shattering forces, flowing as purple wisps that gathered in numbers. She looked out over a lone squad of soldiers that had avoided the local defenders by using the remaining patches of corn as cover, and unleashed a wave of nightmarish illusions. The wave reached the soldiers, and they in turn…

Did not react. In fact, they only momentarily looked over one another, as if trying to figure out what kind of spell had been cast on them. How could they have avoided Connie’s horrifying hex? A spell that more dangerous monsters like wendigos were susceptible to?

It didn’t take long before she had her answer; she saw as the bodies of soldiers impaled and slashed by Penny and Mayra had slowly risen with a stumble, long after the two had advanced past them. A couple of them were missing their helmets, and the truth was revealed; they were all headless, with only a clean, black surface where their neck should have been, their helmets having only given the illusion that they were normal humans. Of course, the headless soldiers only seemed capable of shambling around, their arms stretched down towards the ground, searching for their missing helmets. And those who had a missing arm or leg stayed crippled, struggling to move.

The tanks in the distance had stopped, and prepared to fire…When suddenly the soldiers began to shout as they noticed a pair of individuals who came running in from a forested region to the east, one dragging the other along by their wrist. Clearly Mahou based on how quickly they crossed the open field and up the hill, the Bolorton defenders saw as they engaged with the Wonderland forces on top of the hill. Kiyome successfully ambushed the troops with a teleport, and performed a Focused Strike; she struck at the pivoting turret of the eastern tank, cleaving not only through the barrel of the cannon, but also through the chassis; screams could be heard from the metallic shell as the blade cut inside, like a fish being filleted.

“Open fire!”
The cannon fell, and the two dozen soldiers escorting the tanks unloaded their glowing weaponry on Kiyome, bullets flying up like an upward gush of a geyser. However, having expected the counter-attack using her Precognition, Kiyome teleported out of the way, avoiding most of the bullets except six, and afterwards left a lasting impression on the soldiers, visibly shaking from the experience as a bloodied survivor climbed out of the ruined vehicle.

"Use extreme caution, hostile is capa- jlghajdlgajkdg!"

The card soldier with the heart insignia stopped speaking once he and another soldier next to him were impaled with Kiyome’s sword in brutal fashion, followed by a slash that cut down two more. Then, in a brilliant move, she used protection in the form of a bisected body to close the distance to the remaining four soldiers guarding the eastern tank. In this maneuver, she only took one bullet before she threw the body to distract the soldiers and teleported again to cut the last soldiers guarding the eastern tank out of the eight.

As Kiyome fought on top of the hill, she caught a glimpse of something from beyond the hill the tanks had rolled from, and was met with a fear-inducing sight; nine more tanks could be seen rolling up the hill, a hundred soldiers either escorting the tanks or running in as separate squads, as well as armored personnel carriers, and a line of Howitzer cannons that were shooting a new salvo of shells on Bolorton. The forces were either climbing the hill or passing around it towards the burning cornfield and Gaia’s trapped fields. In total, six more tanks could be seen rolling over the hill to the Bolorton defenders, as well as even a larger force of troopers.

She also saw what looked a group of flying soldiers far in the distance that were…sparkling? It was as if the soldiers had a coating of sparkly dust on them that trailed slightly behind them. The soldiers also had spade symbols, unlike the club symbols that Kiyome had been cutting so far. There were five in total: three of them carried heavy weaponry like gatling guns, anti-tank sniper rifles and rocket launchers, while two carried their weapons on their backs and instead held on to what looked like a strange creature resembling an egg…
In total, she was hit seven times: thrice in her lower back, once in her rear, twice in the stomach, and once in the leg. Three of the bullets had pierced her skin, and one had damaged her internal organs. However, while they would have been grievous wounds to a normal Mahou due to the stopping power of the enchanted rifles, Kiyome was able to shrug off the pain with her Immortality and keep going with full ability.

Suddenly, Kiyome jumped to dodge a rocket launcher from one of the flying Spades as they approached the hilll, but the ensuing knockback sent her flying down the hill towards Bolorton. As she recovered, she saw a fireball heading towards her…And it soon took the form of a very excited monster girl. Unable to dodge or teleport, the more graceful dragon girl was caught in a fiery glomp by Mayra, and the two rolled up the hill a bit before rolling back down to the cornfield, with Mayra setting it on fire as they went.
After expressing her enthusiasm to the new contender, Mayra then jumped off and prepared to fight, starting off with a deadly claw lunge.

Meanwhile, Eliana split off from Kiyome, and headed towards Bolorton passing through a flanking field boobytrapped by Gaia; though she was capable enough to jump and dodge through most of the hazards, she inhaled a whiff from a cloud of toxic spores from a fungus. Fortunately for Eliana, the toxin was of mild effect to Mahou, only causing her nausea, asthma, and lung inflammation resulting in bouts of coughing.

Penny, using a Metal spell, drew forth the weapons of her fallen enemies, and they came forth as a coiling serpent of clacking guns, swirling around Penny as they latched on to her limbs and back, fusing with her. The gems built into the weapons also fused in Penny, and she felt a surge of magic course through her. Now she understood why the rifles held so much power, for they were enchanted with but a single goal: to further hone the efficiency to kill, to heighten the scientific accomplishments of slaughter, and to perfect the technology to end life in as vast a scale as possible. As the vessels brimming with dark thoughts and vile musings given arcane form filled up Penny’s mental landscape, questions began to climb up to her consciousness: what are the technical specifications of these weapons? How efficiently can they kill? She saw soldiers around her, either headlessly shambling or desperately trying to advance, but she didn’t saw enemies: she saw statistics. She realized she needed to know how many she could kill, how fast, with how many bullets, at what range, at what velocity of the bullets, and with what accuracy. It was a world of data ready for the reaping.

(Penny has acquired a new Mental Mutation: Weapon Fanatic.
Weapon Fanatic: you are obsessed with weaponry, related technology and its effectiveness. Whenever you see or hold weapons, an urge rises to test them out on living creatures you can detect, and statistics in their mortality rates and use; this urge rises with heightened emotional levels, stress, and mental state. In a calm situation, you are prone to slip to musing aloud about random trivia about weapons, the history of war, and related topics, finding them interesting conversation starters.The more violent a situation is, the more possibilities for weapons research come up, and ideas for better ways to kill and destroy, as well as a steadily rising urge to put them into practice.)

Lily frowned upon hearing the negative answer from Connie, but afterwards gave a reassuring pat on her shoulder.
”That’s okay. Anyway, I’m going now, so let’s all do our best!"
And with that, she ran off to begin the evacuation effort with Alex, Ronin and Miko.

After Alex had rescued the injured villager, he located all the residents on the first house he sent his duplicates to in record time using Absolute Direction. Three clones brought out a family of four, the two children carried on each arm of the first clone, followed by their parents carried by a clone each. As Annabell had confirmed, the family was in an enchanted slumber, oblivious to the sounds of distant gunfire and explosions. This was followed by clearing out four more houses on the east row of their residents; one of the houses had partially collapsed from a stray shell, but Alex’ clones successfully dug through the debris to carry out the old couple that lived there.

The clones, once outside saw Lily running the opposite direction from the marked path Annabell had created and into a house. As the clones folölowed the path, they soon saw Annabell waving in the distance; she stood at the back of the local school, next to a wide, open door.
“In here!” She shouted, and directed the clones to carry the civilians into the shelter.
As they did, they saw Lily running fast, carrying a middle-aged man over her shoulders. She disappeared into the shelter and run out to fetch another in the blink of an eye.

Lily was assisted in the evacuation effort on the west row by Ronin and Miko, who first brought out a teenage child and an old woman respectively. Then, following the example of Lily and Alex’ clones, they also carried them off to the shelter, not breaking a sweat even as Miko had to bear the weight of a musclebound farmer thanks to her strengthened fortitude. They were able to clear out their respective houses of all residents.

”We’re making better progress than I thought!" Lily shouted, slightly unnerved by the imminent death that lingered in the air.
”But maybe we could do this faster if you two drop off the villagers at the front yards and let the clones and me carry them from there," she suggested to the twins, before verbally backpedaling with a flustered expression.
”No, I mean, that sounded rude, but I didn’t mean it to, and, uhh-!"

That was when Eliana arrived at the scene of the evacuation holding a sleeping child, coughing violently. Lily turned to greet at the newcomer, looking relieved.
”You’re here to help, right! Thank goodness! Take anyone you find to the shelter! I’ll show the way!" She then grabbed another civilian from another house, and led Eliana to the shelter, where Annabell greeted her in turn.
“Save introductions for later, but thank you nonetheless!”

In total, five houses were evacuated from the east row, and seven from the west row, leaving twenty-five and twenty-three respectively. All the while, more artillery came whistling in, hitting streets and buildings with explosive force. Fortunately, only Alex’ clones were caught in the blasts, disintegrating four of them.

Justine blinked upon hearing Iron Mouse’s message that was relayed telepathically to her and the rest of the Cradle group through their shared network, but otherwise kept her poker face.
Another Sin…This can’t be a coincidence. Something is causing them to congregate in Penrose. Anyway, I agree with the plan to stay quiet for now and not give her any reason to turn against us. Let’s just hope she doesn’t mind sharing a car with another of her ilk…

When it came to the seating arrangements, she shrugged at Iron Mouse’s suggestion.
”That is fine with me,” she replied as she took a seat on the middle of the backseat, with Oliver and Finn sitting at the sides. Predicting that Iron Mouse would jump on top of them, she created a bouncy cushion over her lap made of solid blood using her magic, and rolled her eyes once the latter settled in.
”Miss Nefer, we’re ready to go.”

The Sinner chuckled at the comical scene she glimpsed upon leaning back.
“You guys are pretty funny, you know that? Alright, step on it, A.”

The golem grumbled, and the passengers felt an initial yank as the car accelerated from zero to hundred in an instant, and soon they were speeding across the land. Despite the ridiculous speed that they were travelling on a convertible, however, the atmosphere in the car was pleasant, like riding inside an airplane, isolated from the outside by magic.
It didn’t take long before Nefer looked back and asked:
“Say, you look familiar. What’s y’all’s names?” She asked everyone, eyeing Finn in particular.
In the horizon, they could see faint silhouettes of Bolorton’s buildings, as well as signs of a conflict on the cornfield next to it.

Jelena danced the best she could with the marquis, but unfortunately she found herself stomping her metallic feet like an elephant, stepping on the gentleman’s feet on more than one occasion. However, even if the corner of Harry’s lip curled, he managed to preserve his smile. “Your steps are as light as a sylph’s, madam,” he complimented her. This was followed by a barely audible sigh of relief once the song ended. “That was lovely. Thank you for the dance,” he said, and bowed. That was when the gentleman in the top hat and monocle approached the two of them.
“Miss Pedersen’s entourage , I presume?” The man was a bit shorter than Harry, and seemed a bit less extroverted and more scholarly in personality, but otherwise appeared as much of a posh aristocrat as Harry. He also wore a taller hat than Harry. In fact, it was so tall as to appear ridiculous if it weren’t for the man’s absolute confidence in wearing it in style.
“Doctor Mathias Hatwington,” he spoke as he slightly bowed in greeting, his hat tipping down before it rose back up. ”Pleased to meet you. By the way, would you be interested in an intellectual debate? I would like to start by bringing up Theorem Of Magical Relations And Their Effect On Society by Edgy Allen Pooh, specifically Chapter 12; Tyranny and Terror, and ask your views on the subject. If you are unfamiliar with the literature of topic, I can summarize for you. Now then, as I recall, Mister Pooh has identified five types of…”

While the doctor continued on his tiresome seminar on a book Jelena was not familiar with, she took another look around the party: there were no new spells or enchantments casted since their arrival. However, she noticed that Harry had left to converse in subdued voice with the hooded girl near the stairs; based on how their conversation looked, it wasn’t an exchange of pleasantries, but a serious discussion.

Meanwhile, as Mariette played croquet, she found herself playing better than expected; the ball rolled through the grass with surprising ease, passing through a couple of hoops. Mariette then recognized the enchanted nature of the sport; it was less about one’s skill and strength with using the mallet, but how well one concentrated on directing the balls using the croquet mallet as a focus.

Then it was the Queen’s turn, and she easily struck the ball through three hops, causing the ball to turn at a 90-degree angle. “Oh, but you see, you don’t know that you don’t know.”
She noticed how Mariette had averted her eye away upon speaking of her past, and gently lifted Mariette’s chin up with the mallet. “Now you can climb out of that pit, Alice…You don’t have to search anymore, as we have found each other.”

She turned teary-eyed, threw her mallet away, and caught Mariette in a warm hug. “It has been far too long since I’ve had to part with you, my dear Alice. Far, far too long.
I’ve searched for you for so long…I did all I could to find you, I almost lost all hope. But now, we can be together again, Alice…as mother and daughter.”

At Beacon headquarters, as Alicia was about to head out on an errand, she found herself approached by Ishtar; she had improved to the point of being able to move from place to place using a walking cane.
“Paladin Seraph, the situation at Bolorton seems to have escalated beyond our calculations, to the point even higher officials have officially recognized it. While we are still unable to directly interfere with the invasion itself, we were given permission to send a few operatives and form a humanitarian corridor to the civilians there.” She handed out a document to Alicia.
“Here are the details. Your task is to gather three operatives and deploy a portable teleport gate at the local shelter the resistance is using or another safe location and extract as many civilians as you can. While our teleporters are limited to the Penrose area, we will be supplying you with a personnel carrier and the portable device with it. Do you have any questions?”
@Crusader Lord

Accepted as well.

”Evacuate the entire village?" Lily asked, and glanced around, quickly counting the buildings. Alex did not waste any time, and was the first to action inscribing runes and applying restorative magic to Annabell with his duplicates assisting him; several bullets clinked against each other upon hitting the ground, having been removed from her wounds. It was also easy to find small rocks and stones given how the ground had been upheaved on numerous points, so he quickly amassed the necessary materials to inscribe with stabilizing spells.
“Th-Thank you,” Annabell expressed her gratitude with a small nod of her head, and clambered up to stand, pulling herself up by Lily’s hand. The latter finished counting, and spoke: ”There’s about thirty houses, give or take. That’s a lot…"

Annabell sighed as Gaia gave a negative response to her request, followed by a hesitant half-smile when she followed the remark with assurances of co-operation by her, Connie and the Angel of Hope.
“Thank you, but…Is it really impossible? Maybe if I distract them for long enough-”

Annabell was distraught, until Ronin and Miko agreed to her plea. She shook the two’s hands.
“Oh, thank you! I know most of the villagers, so I’ll direct you to the houses you need to check! Start off by going down that row,” She said, pointing towards the houses on the east side of the plaza that continued southwards. “Can you check the other row?” She asked Lily, pointing to the west row.

Lily bit her lip, her finger on her chin as she thought hard.
”That’s still a lot of houses…Okay Alex, we need you with this."
She turned towards him, looking serious.
”Leave the combat support to Angel, and help with the evacuation. With your clones, I’m sure it won’t take that long…I hope."

Penny then spoke up, and Lily nodded at her suggestion.
”Are there any shelters here, Annabell?" She asked after Penny directed the local guardian to share information with Ellen and Tina. Annabell averted her eyes in response.
“There is a bomb shelter to the southeast, but I don’t know if we should bring them there. There’s also the sleep magic…I don’t know what we should do with that. I'll go check the place out!” Annabell then ran off to southeast, leaving behind a small path of blooming flowers in her wake.

Lily’s attention now turned to Connie.
”Hey, Connie…You have nightmare magic, right? Can you do something like wake them up?" She asked, hoping the masked girl could help.
Regardless of the answer she would receive, Lily would then take several of the runic stones, and head off for the western row and help to evacuate the sleeping villagers.

Mayra blasted off, having jumped over the ruined farmhouse and a sunflower before landing on the cornfield, having surprised a squad of advancing card troopers.
“Enemy sighted-!” The trooper signalled just before it was impaled by a fire blade.
Mayra proceeded to quickly cut down and incinerate the other soldiers before they had the chance to counterattack, leaving the squad decimated. She then propelled herself to the nearest squad she could find, which were father away from the village on the west side of the cornfield.
The soldiers aimed and shot at Mayra; while most of the shots missed due to the monster girl’s high agility, a couple of shots struck her in the lower torso and shoulder, the enchanted bullets having embedded into her scales without fully piercing through thanks to her boosted toughness.
However, as she unleashed her powers, Mayra had set fire to the cornfield; it only a short moment, it would reach the line of sunflowers…

Penny did the same, launching herself towards the east side of the cornfield towards another squad. These soldiers landed five shots with their rifles before they were swiftly massacred by Penny’s lightsaber and external appendages; two of the shots bounced off the more reinforced parts of her body, while three shots embedded into her cybernetic armor, one of them managing to pierce her skin. While light damage that would be easily repaired, the fact the soldiers could injure Penny in the first place even with added protection was a serious sign of Wonderland’s might.

Penny and Mayra both saw as three tanks, escorted by two dozen soldiers, rolled over the distant hill, their cannons targeted at them. Even with their speed, it would take two rounds to reach the tanks.

Justine visibly turned red at Iron Mouse’s comment and turned her head away, having chosen to ignore the comment for now. She assumed the newcomer was teasing to gauge her ability to stay collected. Based on her failure to contain her embarrassment, she was justified in doing so. Fortunately, the energetic girl quickly moved on to the boys, who seemed better-adjusted to her shenanigans.

When it came to the duo driving the enchanted car, Justine stayed on the sidelines while Iron Mouse examined the occupants and their vessel with Third Eye. She first noticed the powerful magical aura emanating from the car’s engine, recognizing it to be an entire Artifact of it’s own designed to propel the vehicle with power far surpassing regular automobiles. There were also other lesser Artifacts on board for other functions like providing cool air to the passengers or the radio to tap into frequencies in other planes among other functions, as well as car parts inscribed with runic magic to enhance performance and durability. There were even lesser illusions that masked dirt and scratch marks. While Iron Mouse couldn’t tell where or how the car was assembled with so many magical parts, she could tell it was custom-built, and incredibly valuable.

As for the passengers themselves, Iron Mouse noted the driver to not be a conventional living creature; rather, he seemed to be a sentient golem of sorts, built with complex magic and an otherworldly black mineral that radiates mana, housing a soul of his own. He is capable of casting magic as well, having both Darkness and something resembling Stone in his magical signature. However, when Iron Mouse looked at the suited lady, all she saw was a gray silhouette, as if the magic of her Third Eye was somehow prevented from reaching beyond a barrier of sorts.

The suited lady cracked her neck; an acute observer noticed that there was a faint blue glow emanating from under her clothes before it fizzled out. However, whatever magic prevented Third Eye from working didn’t protect her from the vision that Mac saw using Endless Eclipse: like a film reel that was rapidly running backwards, she saw the two driving across the country. They moved from state to state as easily as the Road Runner in vintage cartoons, even crossing the sea using the velocity to prevent the car from sinking. As the film reel pulled back a day, she was surprised to see the locale completely different; it was a forested region filled with snow, seemingly far away to the north on another continent.

During their encounters with monsters, the girl simply kicked back with a papyrys scroll, letting her driver eliminate the monsters on his own; the golem was shown to have speed and power close to an all-star like Rachel or maybe even Penny, and with potent magical curses and animated flesh-rending sandstorms to boot, explaining his second Specialization to be Sand, a variation on Stone. Based simply on the golem’s brief show of performance, Mac would come to the conclusion that the two would be incredibly difficult to beat in a straight fight.

However, Mac also saw that the few encounters she did have with other Mahou were not that hostile, and she quickly moved on after exchanging words or trading. She even simply back-handed the one Mahou that dared to outright attack her before leaving her in the dust, seemingly prone to not engaging despite her capability to do so. Mac could see the hostile Mahou speak her name out loud: “Sinuhe”. At that moment, Mac realized she was dealing with one of the Seven Sinners: the Sinner of Envy.

Sinuhe smiled upon hearing Iron Mouse shared their apparent destination. “Awesome! Sure, I got room in the back seat~” She pointed with her thumb to the back, where various odd objects were haphazardly strewn about. “Just make some room, and we’ll be off.”

Justine sighed, glad that the stranger was willing to offer them a ride.
”Thank you very much, miss…,”

“Just call me Nefer,” she answered, seemingly willing to hide her identity. “That lug’s Akhenaten. He doesn’t speak much.”
Akhenaten grunted in confirmation, and simply stared at the group; it was impossible to gauge his expression from his rocky form.

After Nefer quickly collected the various trinkets and thingamajigs into an Extradimensional Handbag, the group discovered that three people could sit comfortably on the seats in the back.
“Either one of you sits in another’s lap, or keeps driving with the bike. Let’s see…”
She took a look at the motorcycle’s engine. “I could apply a rune to give it some speed, but you’ll still arrive later than by my car.”

Justine sighed, and glanced at the others. ”Unless any of you got better ideas?”

Marquis Harry blinked at Jelena’s outburst, and she spotted him rolling his eyes before he met her with his trademark dashing smile. However, it seems his dismissive reaction was to Jelena’s advantage, as he didn’t notice the quick exchange she had with Mariette.
“Well, it would be awfully considerate to dance right next to her Royal Highnesses’ favorite pastime…” He gently placed a hand on her back, and took her hand with the other.
“...But I suppose it couldn’t hurt, now could it?” Harry then proceeded to begin to follow the music in the garden party with dancing steps, taking it slowly to allow Jelena to follow his lead.
Depending on if she were to follow in the dancing motion, the two would be brought within earshot distance of Mariette and the Queen of Hearts as they moved to the croquet grounds and began their game.

The croquet mallet that Mariette received seemed innocuous in it’s wooden form, if luxurious and odd thanks to the engravings it had on its surface in the shapes of flamingos and hedgehogs. When Jelena inspected it with her Third Eye, she didn’t notice any enchantments on it. However, the moment she lifted her eyes off it, she spotted something peculiar about the croquet balls that the guards then proceeded to deliver along with the hoops that were planted on the grass; it was faint, but the balls emanated some kind of rejuvenating magic not based on Reinforcement or any Specialization she was aware of, as well as…something separate that Jelena couldn’t quite put her finger on. Nonetheless, it was something Jelena would likely want to inform Mariette about.
The queen was handed the red and black balls, while Mariette got the yellow and blue ones; a deviation from the traditional rules of granting, but not an egregious one. However, the ridiculous nature of the game soon dawned on Mariette upon seeing the size of both the hoops and the balls that were to roll through them; they were as large as basketballs, if not even more so.

“I shall be the first striker,” the Queen declared, and without further ado swung her mallet in a downwards arc, sending the ball rolling through not only one arc, but even another one in her first swing; the ball curved as it met the right angle for passing the second hoop. As she did, she listened to Mariette.

“Ah yes, a troubled past, a tousled path…” She mused, seemingly pleased with the answer.
“We come and go as we please, dear Alice, our sails pulled along by winds of whimsy. But your boat was in the stormiest sea, adrift in ways unimaginable. Oh, the stolen tarts…” She then placed the head of the mallet on the grass, and looked expectantly towards Mariette to make the next swing. “Alice, have you ever wondered how you came about finding yourself in that pit of despair? Where you would go with a different hand from the deck of fate?”
@Crusader Lord
Accepted; you may post to the Char tab and begin posting IC. Let me know if you need help with placing your characters.

Lily giggled awkwardly after her hands were restored by Alex back to before she touched the feisty salamander girl.
”I'm fine, haha!" She answered Connie, flapping her hand before her in an attempt to lessen the dramatic tension.
”That kind of stuff happens all the time. Anyway, I'm sorry if my spell hurt. I'm still working on improving my supportive magic~"
She quietly thanked Alex before moving on to address the issue with the portal.
”Maybe you could call Mariette afterwards?" She wondered, only to smile and nod as Penny offered a means to return back.
”That's great news, Penny! You're the best!" She gave a thumbs up to her.
Green electricity briefly flashed in her eyes, bolstered by Alex' Reinforcement.
”Nice! Thank you Alex!"
This was quickly followed up with a sound of surprise as the Angel of Hope also added to the invigorating incantations. Lily's eyes positively sparkled upon feeling the effect, and she rushed to hug the heavenly-girl.
”And thanks to you too, Angel! This feels so nice," She added, causing the latter to find it difficult to determine whether she referred to the enchantment or the ensuing sign of affection. She then took the earpiece offered by Penny, and fiddled around with it, showing her short attention span to the recent recipient of her gratitude.
”Ooh, it's like one of those fancy airbuds!" She put it in place, and shook her head from side to side to check that it didn't fall off.
”Alright, this is it then!"
She spoke, facing Mayra's portal. She slapped her face with both hands.

”Last one in buys ice cream!"
She yelled, and dove through the portal.

Upon arrival in Bolorton, the very first sensation one felt was the smell of gunpowder that pervaded the air, followed immediately by the ceaseless noise of gunfire, intermittently interrupted by explosions. The group found themselves at what looked like a central plaza. It split into four main roads that spread across the village. At the center of it was what used to be a statue of some kind, though only the feet remained, likely having been struck by a direct hit. Other signs of shelling could also be seen, smoke rising from blackened craters.

In the distance, the group saw an extraordinary sight; massive monsters resembling sunflowers grew out of the cornfield, forming a half-circle around the village. They were facing away from the village, and shot great beams of light energy at the invading card soldiers who were rushing in from across the corn fields. The petals of the sunflowers were wide and seemingly durable as they absorbed gunfire and even a cannon shell's impact, though the blow caused some petals to float down. In the distance, they could see tanks rolling in with the waves of soldiers.

Not far from the front lines, huddled behind a building with a smoking hole on the roof, was Annabell; she was pale as she slouched against the building, holding a hand to slow the bleeding in her stomach.
Lily screamed, and immediately rushed over to her side. The girl coughed and cleaned her head up to look at them.
"W-who are you?" She weakly asked.
”We're here to help, that's all you need to know. Where are the locals?""
She asked, having noted their absence based on the lack of screaming among the noise.
Annabell shook her head. "I-I don't know. McDonald's still in bed, he's alive but he's not waking up. Nobody's awake!"
Lily bit her lip. "Well no problem, we'll just beat these guys-"
Annabell grasped Lily's shoulder with a bloody hand, looking desperate.
"There's no time! Evacuate the village, please!"
She then coughed violently again.

Justine lifted an eyebrow at Iron Mouse's arrival, but wasn't particularly alarmed by her sudden appearance; she and Oliver were acquainted, and she quickly mentioned Cradle, so she assumed Maura had sent reinforcements. It was strange that Finn didn't seem as familiarised with her, but she brushed it aside, figuring the two didn't have the exact same social circles. She slightly leaned to the side to avoid bumping her wing into Iron Mouse, and curtsied once Oliver had introduced her.

”Pleased to meet you,” she greeted the girl politely, but the urgency of the situation robbed the gesture of it's usual warmth.
”Now let us make haste. We have no time to lose.”

The group had left Penrose far behind them as they continued down the road, yet Bolorton was still far away.

”Dammit, why is it so far away! I wish we had some method of moving faster…” She grumbled, only to blink as her eyes caught something moving far in the horizon: it was a convertible blasting music at a loud volume, and moving at far faster speed than a car should be able to. As it came closer, they could see two people riding the vehicle; a magical girl in a red suit, who seemed relaxed as she held a hand out over the side, and a large black dog-headed figure who was behind the wheel.
Once the girl spotted the group, she motioned for the driver, who slowed down the car to meet them. Justine didn't know what to expect.

"Yo," The girl greeted casually, her bored expression having slightly shifted to something resembling interest, and turned down the music so she could hear them. "You guys know where Penrose is?" The girl seemed to have a foreign accent, though Justine couldn't tell where she was from. However, there was something about the magical girl that seemed unusual even by magical girl standards.

Justine crossed her arms. Now that she took a look at the car, she noticed it to be heavily enchanted.
"Why are you asking?”

"Cause I wanna go there, duh!" The girl snapped back. "But I can't find it. Damn place is better hidden than Atenhotep's tomb," she mumbled as she brought out a parchment and scribbled on it.
Justine glanced over to the others with a bemused look.

When Mariette created tiny portals to look around, she quickly realized who the figure at the center of the party was when the crowds slightly parted; the Queen of Hearts herself. She conversed and gave small laughs as befit the royal host. Jelena also saw her, and noticed the layers upon layers of magic that coated her with her Third Eye; it was impossible to tell what the enchantments were unless she focused on her. However, Marquis Harry suddenly spoke, breaking her concentration.
"Might I ask you for a dance? I can teach you the steps if you are not familiar with them." He seemed less interested in directly conversing with Jelena after hearing her voice, which didn't exactly fit with her otherwise beautiful countenance.

Other than the Queen herself, Mariette also noticed a couple of other attendants of interest, such as a handsome man wearing a monocle and top hat, and a hooded girl who watched quietly from the sidelines near the stairs out of the garden.
Before she could further survey the area, the Queen spotted Mariette, and smiled. "At long last we meet, my dear Alice. Come, don't be shy," she spoke with a regal yet gentle voice, and beckoned with her hand. "We have much to discuss, and croquet to play."
She slowly turned to one corner of the garden, and blinked.
"Now then, BRING ME MY CROQUET GAME!" She yelled furiously to the guards. Immediately guests were forcibly pushed away from one corner of the garden by the guards as the croquet field was prepared. She then turned again to Mariette with her sweet smile, shifting seamlessly between different mannerisms.
"Now, tell me, Alice; where do you come from, and where are you going?" She asked as the hooded girl graciously gave her a croquet mallet. She also offered Mariette a croquet mallet to take.

”Probably, but I don’t know if anyone else is on the move at the moment," Lily answered Alex as the two of them headed over to the park. ”I don’t think any of us were prepared for trouble outside Penrose in the first place." She checked her phone mid-ride, and noticed a couple of responses to the text, slightly uplifting her spirits.”At least we won’t be going alone."

It only took five minutes for Lily’s motorcycle to careen into Penrose Park, stopping after a half-circle that left a mark on the pavement. There, she saw Connie and Mia; they were the first people to respond to Lily’s message, and had arrived just before the duo.
”Connie! Gaia!" She waved back to the two with a relieved yet tense greeting. They were immediately joined by Penny; her impressive stature lacked the presence it usually held, causing Lily to blink as if to confirm she wasn’t just imagining her there.
Lily hopped off her motorcycle.
”That’s what I’m hoping for. Mariette is the only girl I know who could take us to Bolorton the fastest."
She looked around, and noticed as Ronin and Miko were running towards them from a distance, as well as Angel of Hope, who descended gracefully down from above to join them.

However, there was no sign of Mariette. Lily scratched her cheek.
”...So, uh, does anyone know what is really happening there?"

Lily’s question was interrupted by Mayra’s ground-shaking entrance, causing the green-haired girl to summon her weapon in reflex. Upon recognizing the cause of the quake as Mayra, however, she immediately dissipated the nocked lightning arrow with a fizzle.
Once the salamander girl revealed she could take them to Bolorton in Mariette’s place, Lily immediately ran over to grab her hand with both of hers with a smile, shaking it with gratitude.

”Oh thank you, Mayra! I don’t know what we would do without-Yeouwch!"
She removed her hands, having realized too late that the latter’s body was hotter than an oven plate, and burnt her palms. They slightly smoked as Lily shook them around.
”Ow ow ow! I should have figured that was a bad idea! Ow!"
Once she calmed down, most likely after Alex applied some healing magic to Lily’s deep-fried digits, she addressed Mayra.
”Mayra, we need a portal to Bolorton. Think you can make one for us? We need to go there right now. We also need to prepare…Ah-ha! I know!"

She mumbled as she cast a spell that created a wide magic circle on the ground, wide enough to accommodate the Mahou group. The group felt an electric jolt run through their bodies, followed by a feeling of lightness and energy (+3 AGI buff for an hour).
”I usually cast a spell to boost my speed, but I figured with all of us here, I could do the same to you too. Hopefully it didn’t sting too badly," she added, having noticed the electrifying results on Miko's hair.
She then turned to Mayra with a fist pump and a confident smile.
”Anyway, I’m now ready to go!"

Justine was surprised by the Mahou duo's initial answer.

”Wonderland? They are on the move?” She grit her teeth as they further clarified the exact situation, having clenched her fists.
"Dammit! If they’re this prepared, there’s only one explanation…They must have joined forces,” she spoke with disgust, and followed the two as they continued travelling to Bolorton.

Kimble bit her lip, but nodded with a sigh. “You’re right, Alicia. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come down to that.” With Alicia having been informed, Hudie went back to her duties after a respectful salute. The air was tense in the Beacon headquarters as members raced back and forth across the corridors, preparing for the worst.

Mariette and Jelena were surrounded in a flash of light once they opened the glowing invitation again, the stylized heart symbol rapidly blinking as the teleportation spell whisked them to Wonderland. The moment the white light had settled down, they found themselves standing in the castle gardens, a vast area that contained topiaries, flowerbeds, and even a stone fountain sculpted in the likeness of a stern-faced monarch wielding a magnificent sword. Similarly, the topiaries seemed to depict various residents and creatures of Wonderland, though Mariette couldn’t recognize any of them.

They were not the only ones there, either; the gardens were brimming with life as finely dressed guests prowled and gathered around the tables adorned with glamorous white cloths and served exquisite catering. However, Mariette also noticed the numerous card soldiers serving as guards along the perimeter of the garden, a third of them wearing spade symbols in addition to the clubs. In addition, she noticed that while the gardens lacked the strange magical aura that pervaded across the rest of Wonderland, there seemed to be protective enchantments that prevented scrying and other methods of magical detection in the area.

“Introducing Mariette Pedersen and entourage!” The two soon heard as one of the servants announced their arrival. Soon, a handsome man wearing an eye-covering mask and a top hat approached them, and bowed with a flourish.
“Esteemed guests, on behalf of the Queen of Hearts, I welcome you. I am Marquis Harry.”
He then gently took Jelena’s hand and blinked, trying to hide his reaction to touching her cold, metal limb. However, it seems it wasn't enough to sway his interests away from her. “Will you grant me the honor of accompanying you for this occasion, Miss...?” He asked, having seemingly directed the question more at Jelena than Mariette herself. Behind him, Mariette could see a gathering of party guests around a more prominent figure, as laughter echoed around.
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