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6 mos ago
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"Success!" Lily screamed as her newly crafted sorcery brought Jenna across the graveyard in a flash. However, she also felt the punch in her mana; as she crudely matched two different types of magic together in an inefficient manner, she ended up casting one spell for the price of two. However, it didn't stop her from holding back the cultists with her arrows, managing to avoid counter-fire. Soon enough, she felt how both Aurelio's hope-magic and Jenna's Rallying Cry reinvigorated her, bringing her back up to full strength.
"Yes, now we can-Huh?"
Abigail disappeared, causing Lily to become frustrated.
"What, did she shift? But why?"
She got her answer when she returned, causing an event not unlike a meteor shower to fall upon them.
"Oh crap! AAAHHH!"
She ran around like a cartoon, avoiding pianos, sinks, safes and the like.

"ROODO ROLLA DA!" She screamed as the asphalt-flattening vehicle was the next to drop...But it was stopped in the air, cast in stasis by being hit with an arrow resembling the hand of a clock.
"Now I get it how Minnie did it."
Bolstered by the protective power of the Beacons, Lily had decided to pull out her own trump card.
"Aurelio, I'm going in! Give me a boost!"
She then sped up, and jumped up, dragging her staff behind her as it charged with bright, crackling energy. She stopped an Easter Island statue as it was dropping, and used that to propel herself up towards Abigail. She was aware of the repulsing field, but she wouldn't let it stop her. While she wasn't the smartest kid in school, she learned enough of electromagnetism to know that repulsive forces cause electrons to arc around the object, and accelerate. She would take advantage of this phenomenon, and took a gamble with her mana; she prepared for her Killing Blow, but accelerated its charging by combining time magic into it. Then, as she released the empowered Zeus' Wrath, she intentionally curved it around her repulsive field, so it would accelerate into energy so vast it would cause a giant electric discharge, with Abigail at the center. It wouldn't be enough to kill Abigail, or even knock her out; all she needed was to paralyze her momentarily, and allow the twins to fix her short-circuited brain.


Cindy's expression turned amused as Lotus was silenced by the yellow fruit, having only slightly dipped to disappointment when Faith denied her status as tribute.
‘I assumed as much,’ she commented, and glanced aside at Shion, aware of how long she has had to wait.
‘What is the real tribute?’
As it turned out, it was coins. And strange ones as well, with crimson color.
‘...Julie, what are these?’
Julie shook her head, and Cindy sighed. "Not something I've seen before," she answered, "but if they're anything alike the mystical coins I do know exist, they're able to grant magical boons, possibly with a price,"
Cindy put a hand to her chin, and gazed upon the coins; she sensed the magic in them so Faith was not lying about their arcane nature. However, they could easily be a trap to curse the user, or worse.
‘Give me a proper explanation, or demonstrate to me how it is used. While you make up your answer, I have another to address who has waited too long.’
She turned to Shion, a warmer expression now on her face.
‘Now then, as I recall, you sought my protection? Or did you seek to also form an alliance, like these two?’ She gestured to the two girls.

Helga dodged the laser aimed at her, only to be hit with rocks and broken pieces of tombstones from the ensuing explosion, sending her flying back, knocking out a few of her teeth, and causing more damage that she continued to ignore; she was not looking well at this point with her many wounds and battered armor; her lack of restraint quickly proving to be her undoing. She didn't even notice that she wasn't flying of her own power, forcing Su to directly confront her.
She struggled against the winds, trying to swim her way out like a dog, clawing at nothing. When Su demanded to look at her, she was met with Helga's grief-stricken gaze.

But then, as Helga saw Su's eyes, she saw someone who had been with her ever since Amber left her. Visions of their time together at her grave caused tears to fall down her cheeks, as she remembered her having spoken those very same words before.
"Re...Revenge..." Her screams lost their power, just as Divina cast a double strike with both flechettes and a monolith laser. Though the feather failed to hit her thanks to the wind barrier, the laser struck her right in the shoulder, causing her wing to be blasted off.

"AAAHHHH!" She screamed as she fell. She was reaching the ground fast...And then a hard bass sound reverberated throughout the area, and Helga flipped back to standing position; she managed to redirect her landing with her palm-based Sound Cannons. Her other wing also fell off, only to magically fade; she managed to shake off her Metamorphosis.
"That was nice, blowing of some steam," she spoke, and took a lowered stance. "But Amber wouldn't want me to avenge her like that. She would want us to work together. But now I'm like this, damn..." She glanced at Chloe. "I'll destroy her monoliths, so you'll be the one to end her, exhibitionist girl!" And with that, she got to work; using punches charged with high-frequency vibrations, she began demolishing whatever constructs Divina would summon. She would cast off her remorse and hatred, for she had no use for them. All that mattered, was that she could return with Su and Mika to a peaceful future.

"I am Kimble, silly Miss Frida!" Lea suddenly felt the cat-girl lean over her shoulder from behind her, giggling mischievously; it seemed that despite the distance, her sharp feline ears heard every word Lea spoke, and managed to sneak up on her when her eyes left her.
"Who are you talking to? Are they down at the graveyard with Mistress Alicia? She is there to protect Penrose, nya!"
She then rubbed her cheek against Lea's.
"She's amazing! If only she nyaticed me more!"

Lily had curled up into a ball by the time Jenna and one of Aurelio's clones had approached the gravity well, her eyes closed as she endured the rocks that pelted against her, trying not to lose consciousness. Suddenly, she felt that the stoning had stopped, and realized a barrier was cast around her; however it was different from the ones Alex usually casts on her. When she opened her eyes, they turned wide at the sight of the lady knight. In her view, she was the very pinnacle of what a magical girl could be, like a medieval Sailor Moon, and she could only nod as she stared at her in awe. She then felt one of the clones persist near her as they collided, followed by the pressure on her lessening, and she took a deep breath, followed by a faint smile.
"T-Thank you," she responded back to her rescuers, feeling the joy that sky Aurelio radiated with, and bringing her smile back.

At that moment, as Lily began to recover from the compression, she gradually comprehended that Aurelio's source of power really came from emotions, as she saw how he manipulated the various feelings; anger was the most apparent thanks to Abigail, but other kinds also appeared, all color-coded as various palette swaps of the dashing magician. She then dropped down to her knees as Abigail's spell ended on her, and with a flourished spin scattered the dirt off from her, realizing that her friends were the next to be targeted. After some mental networking between the four of them, she saw the warlock cultist monster, and the chain lightning it was spewing out.
"No! Stop!" She yelled out, Ramuh having transformed into an intricate staff, with a small mechanical spherical shape spinning on top of it, with smaller spheres around it. And then, all time froze.

Lily blinked, unsure what happened. She was pretty sure she wasn't the cause for it, and even pat her head to make sure she wasn't just hallucinating in the heat of the moment. She then realized it had originated from beyond the smoke, on the other side of the graveyard. An epiphany struck her, like a pendulum clock.
There's somebody else who uses Time magic much better than me.
The chain lightning froze in place, like a zigzagging yellow line of glowing energy, and Lily realized the effect wouldn't last forever; she ran towards the group of clones, and shoved two of them out of the way, managing to save them before time resumed the lightning resumed flashing out. Having realized what she was capable of doing, her heart brimmed with hope and excitement, and she smiled even as she now bounced and hopped, avoiding the cultist fireballs as she thought to herself. She then aimed her staff at Jenna.
"Hey, maybe...I'll try it!" She began charging up her magic, and electricity arced around her in circles, revolving around each other.
"This might sting, sorry!" She then shot out a blue lightning bolt at Jenna, and she felt a sensation of extreme shock as the magic struck her right in the heart, stopping it for a second. However, it then began pumping again beating faster and faster. This was followed by the rest of her body accelerating, her Agility and speed having tripled.
"I can't keep it up for longer than a minute!" Lily shouted as she then switched back to her bow, and began applying lightning arrow-based pressure on the cultists, aiming to shoot them right through their hoods.
"Otherwise your heart may explode!"

Cindy crossed her arms, unamused by Lotus' attempts at sassing her.
‘My underlings are under my protection. That is, if Beatrice had suffered any sort of injury from the contents of your chest, I'd hunt down and destroy you and all your subjects. See it as a sign of good faith that I had her open it.’ As she smelled the bananas, she wondered how the apparent "Queen of the Coast" had managed to preserve them until she saw the surprise stowaway who showed up.

Cindy could only lift an eyebrow in mild annoyance as the fey girl reached out to Beatrice, and blatantly wrapped her around her finger with her beguiling charms. However, a small giggle inadvertently escaped the otherwise serious lightning champion as Faith was turned, having the most humorous expression on her face. She leaned her head to the side, and saw that the chest had nothing else inside it but bananas, and the flirtatious fairy.
‘I would advise against it, yes. Even a mere touch is enough to fry you.’ She turned to Lotus. ‘This was certainly a positively surprising tribute you have granted to me, Lotus. Very well, I shall accept her.’

Helga bore her way through the monolith that lifted Divina out of the way of her attack, leaving a rough hole in her wake.
"I'll tear your heart out from your chest, and make you eat it!"

She screamed back, all reason now thrown out the windows as she was baited by the Beacon Buddy, and slashed wildly at the feather flechettes, tearing them into fine dust. She didn't notice one of the flying monoliths that dropped on her, and it smashed her back into the ground. However, that only made her angrier as she punched her way out of the flat stone; her mechanical parts looked more roughed up than before, and blood trickled down her shoulder. She leaped up, her wings now vibrating like a colibri's as she used the boost of agility to dodge past the feathers. As she thrust her talons backwards, they began trembling in high frequency.


She swept her claws out out in a cross-pattern, and shot out a four-layered cutting sound-wave.

Kimble's eyes lighted up when the fae-like girl told her a name, the naive cat-girl completely oblivious to the deceit.
"Nice to meet you, Miss Frida!" She exclaimed, looking happy as can be as she swiped her nose with her curled hand, a piece of flying dirt having hit her. Her fluffy ears bounced on top of her head as she rapidly nodded to her suggestion.
"You can count on me, nyaa!! Together, we'll blow these blusters away in nyo time!" And with that, she flew away, her sickle in hand as she began cutting up another tornado; Lea could see that she was surprisingly adept at it, using her magic to destabilize the swirling winds from the base before scattering it into mere wisps.

Lily's heart ran a hundred miles an hour as she zipped and dashed from gravestone to gravestone, using them as cover from the cultists' projectiles. It had been a while since she had entered into open combat, but she hasn't forgotten the rush that came with it. She could get excited, because she knew she was fighting for the side of true love; when Aurelio confirmed they were on the same page, she smiled confidently; they could do this. When she was empowered by Aurelio's spell, she felt her courage grow immensely, and streaks of lightning now traced after her, like a flowing veil of yellow energy. Moving at speeds unseen in Penrose up to that point, she easily ran circles around Abigail, her bow bright as it launched arrows. Still, she looked miffed as her shots got deflected.
"Aurelio, keep her distracted! I'll deal with-Kyaaah!"

Lily was shocked to see Abigail turn furious, and found herself spinning in place, unable to move as gravity was nonexistent for her; her greatest weakness was indeed taking her agility away from her.
"Oh no! I'm stuck!" She cried out, and screamed as she felt herself become the center of a gravitational force, her entire body now under great pressure, causing her great pain; it was like being compressed into a small box. Even worse, she now attracted the surrounding environment, with rocks and clones colliding into her.

"No! I can't...!" She struggled, but she was far too weak to resist Abigail's Gravity Well. As the pain kept rising, and her breathing turned more hoarse, the electric veil surrounded her, wrapping her in a crackling field as she curled up.
"M-Make it stop...Make it stop!"
Something strange began to happen in the battlefield; some clones of Aurelio, upon being hit with a projectile, were completely fine when they should have been destroyed. Also, some seemed to teleport forward and back while they were still on the move, as did everything else that had motion. Aurelio then realized what was happening, having seen the phenomenon in an online game; everyone's perception of time was "lagging out", like the real world was connected to a server with extremely high latency. When Aurelio's clones moved, some seemed to stay frozen in place, only to teleport to the other side, while others seemed to rapidly move back and forth, their current state undecided for microseconds at a time. Abigail could no longer tell where Aurelio or his clones were or would be, unable to predict their movement as time itself bent and twisted.

Cindy's expression didn't budge as she listened to Penny's explanation, only nodding occasionally to acknowledge her words. Upon learning the circumstances for the two's current relationship, Cindy nodded, and lowered her blocking hand. She understood that strong feelings of attachment would lead to their rash decisions, but she did deem the girls as lesser for being so controlled by their emotions. The message was odd, but didn't seem to reflect Penny's current actions. The message was a bit concerning, she thought, But, she could make an ally, given the right encouragement.
She gave a slight smile.
‘I am satisfied. However, by aligning with me, your friend has put herself under my protection. As it is, I won't let you approach her if she doesn't want it. However, if you become my subject, I will take your wishes under equal consideration. I need my underlings to get along, and as such, it would be natural of you to meet and talk under my supervision.’

She watched as Penny walked away, and then turned to meet eyes with a strange floating girl with octopus hair and carrying a rusty chest. ‘That is correct,’ she responded, glad to know that she was recognized. ‘Have you come to seek my protection? As you can see, it is likely you will soon need it.’ She gestured towards the tornadoes and the black smoke that coiled upwards into the sky. She also listened to Lotus, and lifted an electric eyebrow in response to her claim of ruling Penrose's coast. ‘Is that so? Well, at least you recognize my right to Penrose's governance, so I shall listen to what you have to say.’ She then looked down at the chest, and grimaced.
‘Well, it certainly is...Something. Do you honestly expect me to open this by myself?’
While she didn't suspect Lotus of ill intentions, as she was facing her entire retinue of fellow magical girls at the moment, she still considered the gesture rude. She also didn't like touching metallic objects because of her lightning-filled body. ‘You there. Open it,’ she commanded a member of her gang, and the girl reluctantly judo chopped the lock, lifting it up for Cindy to examine the contents.

Helga barreled through the smoke shoulder-first, and saw Su speak to what seemed like Alicia, only she was smiling in a way she knew the uptight Beacon girl would never do. Her eyes furrowed as the disguise melted, and her sharp teeth turned into a gnarl as she confirmed her suspicions; these people desecrated Amber's corpse. She was absolutely furious, her claws clacking together as her entire body trembled violently; the last time she felt such anger was when she confronted Justine for murdering her. When the monoliths rose around her friends, it was the last straw, and she was consumed by pure wrath.

She screamed, and her Monstrous Metamorphosis kicked in, turning her into a winged, mechanical dragonoid. She screamed the loudest she had ever screamed before, her Sound magic having amplified it to a frequency that went beyond shattering ice, and cracked the sturdy monoliths themselves. Everyone in the graveyard could hear this, over the sounds of fighting.
As a result of the audial attack, Divina was dazed, her ears now ringing. In fact, it was probable Su and Chloe's ears were also dazed with ringing ear. With an earth-shaking launch, Helga took to the air, her wings furled, and performed a drill dive on her claws first, roaring the entire way.

Kimble flew around in a mad rush, her sickle hacking visible cuts into the hurricane she was wrestling with. She was ecstatic at the prospect of being useful to the nice people at Beacon who took her in, especially Alicia.
"Nyaa! Once I calm these winds, Mistress will be pleased! Maybe she will nyatice me, and pat my head...Nhhh, my heart is pounding!" Her tails whisked back and forth as she daydreamed about Alicia, when she heard a strange sound. Her furry ears twitched, and her eyes were wide as they saw a girl in a green dress, also using Wind magic to calm the storms. Like a curious kitten, she watched as the pretty lady gracefully spun around, admiring her skill with Air magic.
"Heyyyy! Miss Butterfly!" She greeted her, and flew close.
"Hello! I'm Kimble!" She gave a cute smile.
"Thanks for helping me with these bad tornadoes! What's your name?"

As Lily and Alex rode towards the dark and gloomy graveyard, gaining distance from the Town Hall, Lily's confident posture began to slump, and she began to shiver.
"You don't think we gotta fight...Ghosts?" She asked, sounding scared.
"Well, even if we do, you'll protect me, so there's nothing to fe-AAAAGHHH!" Her eyes widened, and she let out a stereotypical scream queen's wail when black smoke erupted, consuming them both within it, causing her bike to disappear as it crashed on a gravestone. She couldn't see anything, her sense of direction completely lost.
"Alex!" *cough cough* "Aleeeex! Where are you!" She called out, trying to walk in the direction of his shouting voice, only to find herself on the other side of the smoke, somewhere else. She found herself staring at a strange, flashy boy wearing a top hat and holding a cane.
"Whoaaaah..." Her eyes were wide.
"You...You're not Alex. Wait, are you...Tuxedo Mask? Without the mask?" She blushed, only to blink as she heard some high-pitched, mocking laughter. She turned to see Abigail, and lifted an eyebrow at the strange speech. She puffed her cheeks.
"The Bates? Are they responsible for all the darking around here?"
She then saw the horrific cultists, and summoned Ramuh, her trusty bow.
"Aurelio, don't listen to her! I've seen this magic before: she's hypnotized! And the only way to remove it is to kick her ass! She looked at Aurelio with a determined expression.
"Don't worry, I'll make sure you two can be together again! True love wins in the end!"
She drew back on her bow, and an arrow in the form of a lightning bolt appeared on it, aimed straight at Abigail. Then, she let loose, launching a Barrage of lightning arrows with even faster speed than before; thanks to her Time magic, she was able to accelerate the firing speed to equal a semi-automatic rifle. As she did so while strafing around the arena, she focused completely on dodging the smiling girl's spells.

Cindy crossed her arms, displeased with most of the girls ignoring her words and heading off, looknig towards the graveyard.
‘Hmph. Just like I thought,’ she claimed, even though her expression hinted the opposite.
‘This city needs order, before it crumbles in the face of anarchy. All these magical girls running around will only result in ruin. Well, it is my responsibility to lead everyone, so...’ She took a step, about to leave the rooftop, when she stopped; someone actually wanted to join her. Cindy's expression turned to a warm smile, knowing that her authority would finally be respected.
‘Of cou-’ She managed to say, before her smile turned into an angry glare; another monster girl, this one mechanical, caused distress in the fox girl, and she fled. Before Penny could pursue her, Cindy stopped her, blocking the way with her arm.
‘That girl is under my protection now, and I won't allow you to lay a hand on her, not as long as her desire is to be free from you,’ she spoke coldly, her face in a neutral expression. She assumed that the likelihood of this strange girl attempting a pursuit with hostile intention is considerable, and she wasn't going to let that easily slide.
‘Now tell me: how do you know her? Why do you seek her?’ She stared her down, not willing to budge an inch.

Since the last incident which resulted in Boteg's crew acquiring a handicapped magical girl, Helga had realized the sacrifice the wolf girl had made in protecting Mika...And more importantly, how she was not there for her. Flashbacks to Amber caused her to stay cooped up in her room for a several days, until finally she came out, having found new resolve. Having dressed up back in her maid uniform, she set out to make Golden Grove a sanctuary for weak magical girls; a place where they can find solace, safety, and friends. To make it happen, she had requested Boteg to be given more responsibility, and in a couple of weeks began working in more management roles.

One day, while she was working on the reception desk and typing using her claws (she found them far more accurate than her normal fingers for some reason, although they needed to buy a custom-fit keyboard for them), she was summoned to Boteg's office. The dragon looked quite goofy in his attempts to resemble humans, as his saurian head popped out of a business suit. Helga stifled a giggle, only to turn serious once she understood that Su needed her. "I'm on my way, Master Boteg!" She leapt out of the window, and transformed, using her mechanical twintails as improvised gliders to gently land on a nearby rooftop. Soon enough, she found the source of commotion, and passed by the Vixen, giving her a friendly handwave with a toothy smile before she continued, charging right into the black smoke. "Su! I'm right here!"

A certain girl was perched on an antenna, crouching with her forearms tucked between her legs, as she peered down. The sheer blackness swirled and fumed, having enveloped the entire graveyard. She sighed, and pawed at her head as cold winds caused her earring to jingle.
"Nyaaah...Mistress is once again out there, fighting..." Kimble quietly mumbled to herself.
"And I'm sitting here, uselessly. I know she wants to keep me safe, and that's why she doesn't take me to missions..." She jumped off the antenna, and stood up on the roof.
"But I'll prove nyaself to her! I've gotta help! But how?" Her fluffy cat ears perked up to the sound of screams, and she saw that one of the tornadoes was approaching city limits.
"Nyah! I'll stop the wicked wind!" She ran on all fours, her two tails whisking behind her, and she began flying, brought aloft by green whisps of magical air.
"Mrrrow! Die, bluster, die!" She hissed, having brought her sickle to bear, and fought the black hurricane, cutting it away.
About a week ago...

It was a slow day at the police station, though the effects of last week's incidents could still be seen in the long row of witnesses trying to explain what had happened during the baseball game; however, none were quite able to recall the events in detail. Due to the increased number of patrols issued to officers, Veronica had to take over at the booth, typing out meaningless dribble for hours on end.

"...It was a bunch of grey aliens I think," one overweight woman claimed. "They dressed up in cables, and and fought against energy beings from another dimension!" Fortunately for her, it was her break after that one, and she could go to her office to enjoy a cup of hot coffee. However when she closed the door, she heard a familiar voice:

"That's a bit too much caffeine, even for a policewoman, miss Vermillion." The cup of coffee floated up from the desk, swaying back and forth; Veronica saw that it was manipulated by the shadow the cup cast, taking the shape of a hand. "You'll stay up all night, you know."

“Good thing I have you to share it with then.” Veronica recognized the voice as the same one she gave her report to a while ago; only now there was a hint of bitterness to it.

"You must already know why I have come early this time, so I'll make it quick; we know of your lies." After the shadow let the revelation sink in, it continued while swirling the cup around her. "One of our agents happened to discover what we first assumed to be a territory dispute between two pairs of twins. But as the other twins ran from the grave site, the operative saw the body they carried off; it was Amber's."

The cup stopped, and with a hard thunk landed back on the desk. Veronica then saw how the blinders in the window turned shut, casting the room in striped shadows. A large, humanoid shadow slowly grew against the back wall; it resembled a mobster with a gun in its hand.
"You've been embezzling Black Coins behind Ebon Mint's back, Veronica, and that's a big no-no. You've also run behind on your missions, and instead sent your agents on unreported assignments." The desk lamp was put on, and it was pointed towards her. "Who got the Black Coin? What are you scheming? This is your last chance to come clean." The shadow twirled its gun in a cartoony fashion. "Otherwise, we'll have a problem. And in our line of business...problems are not tolerated."

“Hmmm, yes, I think I said those exact words to the last Vermillion Veronica.” She folded her arms.
“Thank you for putting everything the Mint knows in front of me. Counter interrogations waste so much time. And you've already wasted so much trying to piece together events that happened weeks ago.”
The shadow froze for a few seconds, before it continued looming over the room, the shape fluttering at its sides as if it was an empty trench coat.
Veronica lowered her arms to her sides. She had hoped that the Bates would hand the body to Soth before it could be discovered. But she had a contingency plan in place, and it was time to run with it. “Honestly, I had no idea who's body that was. It was just some info I picked up on a whim. You know what I think? I think a plant put it there. They must have recovered her body from the rubble of Justine's castle to frame me. Yes, that makes the most sense. Certainly more sense than an Ebon coin broker trying to cover the existence of one coin. After all, I've been embezzling coins by the dozens. What use do I have for a single black coin?”

Now the shadow’s fluttering increased, as if it picked up on a gust of wind. “Now that’s rich, coming from you.”

“It was rich coming from our unknown higher ups as well.” She shook her finger at the shadow. “And speaking of plants, that's exactly why I have a hard time accomplishing all of the Mint's objectives in a timely fashion. I need to run verification missions and find out more about where these tasks are coming from. Do you know how embarrassing it is to destroy your agent's own ship?”

“That doesn’t excuse your behavior,” the shadow answered, clearly not amused by her cute antics.

She took in a deep breath. ”Explaining my 'scheme' in detail will take time neither of us have, so I'll help you grab the gist of it. Do you know what the greatest spy organization in the world is?”

The shadow chuckled menacingly, and seemingly picked out a lit cigar to smoke. “A wise gal, eh? Well, what is it, blondie?”

”Facebook.” She started to pace around the room, but the light stayed focused on her. ”Facebook is the intelligence gathering capital of the world. They share everything they see and everything they do. It's an organization that spies on itself and everyone around them, and most importantly, it's entirely transparent!”

The shadow’s fluttering now resembled wisps of flame, and the room was gradually turning into a shade of red. “What are you implying?”

She fret her brow. ”If you know someone's email address or name, you can find them on Facebook. People willingly give everything they know, even their secrets, to Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has personally prevented school bombings, ended marriages, and made billions on information people willingly gave him. If only his sights were more lofty than just the money he could earn.” Veronica turned to face the shadow. Its finger was tightening on the trigger. ”We can talk about this in detail later. Right now, I'm trying to stop a horror from destroying the world. The entire reason why I sent the Bates after that body was so that Soth would reveal his plans. One of the black coins I 'stole' was given to him purely so that I could spy on him from a safe distance. He wants to put himself in a human vessel, but the process will have negative consequences on the entire world. We'll stand a better chance against him if we work together. But if you pull that trigger, I can't guarantee you'll be around to do anything about it.”

At first, it seemed as if Veronica’s words fell on deaf ears, and shadows of flames seemed to envelop the red walls, slowly rising up to the ceiling. But then, the room turned back to it’s normal color, and the lamp was turned off. The shadow on the wall returned to resembling a trenchcoat-and-fedora-wearing humanoid, it’s arms no longer in sight on the silhouette.

“Hey toots, you’re a smart broad,” the shadow spoke, in a somewhat friendly, gangster-type tone. Next to him appeared more shadows, looking like him.
“You’re good at handling people, with good ears on the street, and better eyes on the cash. You’re one of our best agents.”

On walls perpendicular to the first shadow appeared more gangster shadows; these ones held tommyguns pointed towards her, and she realized she was quickly surrounded by shadows pointing those guns on every wall.

“And that’s why we gotta close this contract.” At that moment, the shadows walked off the walls, having materialized into black shapes, and opened fire.

Most girls try to transform before a fight breaks out, but Veronica was of the type that could swiftly transform whenever she wanted. A black nova erupted from the police officer, transforming her into the Ebon Vampire. The residual energy emitted from her transformation was able to protect her just long enough to sink into the ground. The gunmen wouldn't have time to see where Veronica emerged from. The door to the office was knocked off its hinges as Betty charged inside. With a single swing of her katana, she was able to clear out most of the shadow gangsters as soon as she entered the room. The mobsters were quick to aim their weapons at the newly arrived. By the time they opened fire, Betty had already teleported behind them and cut them down. ”Betty Barton, reporting for duty!” Her voice was confident, but the hands on her blade were shaking. Veronica's desk had been blown into kindling, and bullet holes lined all of the walls. If Veronica was ever to use this cover again, there would be a lot of paperwork to fill out.

She dropped out of the ceiling, landing beside the window. A few of the tommygun rounds had managed to pierce her shoulder, but such small wounds were nothing to her. They would heal in time. ”You were not the best choice against me.” She tore down the blinds, letting more light into the room. ”Should you manage to survive this encounter, let the Mint know that I will be suspending all of their assignments indefinitely.”

The shadow seemed undisturbed by how swiftly Betty eradicated the shapes. From the way his fedora moved, she could tell he shook his head. “You still haven’t figured it out....The Ebon Mint always collects their debts. And sooner or later, you’ll pay it.” Betty charged at the smokey shape on the wall and tried to cut it with her sword, but to no avail; it had already faded away by the time she made her mark on the wall. Soon, sounds of commotion quickly rose from outside the office.

”This place isn't safe anymore.” Veronica threw open the window. ”This way.” Veronica's companion just nodded and ran for the window. Together, they jumped out of the window and took the fire escape straight to the street level. They did not appear to be pursued, nor where they attacked while they left.

Veronica had to wonder if they wanted her to escape. Surely the Mint wasn't this sloppy. You don't send an officer to announce the termination of another. Not when they were in Veronica's league. Either he was putting on a show and really did want Veronica to escape, or they were underestimating her. Regardless of the situation, it changed very little. Veronica was no longer a Mint coin broker. While it would have been beneficial if she could stall them a bit longer, she knew that this outcome was inevitable.

”So um.” Betty and Veronica were still running. ”Now what?”

”Phase two.” Veronica placed a hand on the side of her head. ”Attention all Cradle agents: The Mint has cut their ties with us. If you’re a Mint operative, execute extreme caution around new coin brokers and non-Cradle operatives. They know where your allegiance lies, and you won’t fool them.” Veronica stopped in a back alley and looked around herself, making sure there really was no one following her. ”We’ll have a discussion about this later. For the moment just be aware of it. And prepare yourselves. Something big is coming to Penrose, and we will be ready to fight it.” The shadows on the walls seemed to swallow the occupants of the alleyway, and all was quiet again.

Back in the present day...

Lily woke up to the familiar sound of Alex's frustrated screaming, and mixed a giggle with a yawn as she stumbled out of her room; she was wearing a bright yellow Pikachu-themed onesie, complete with ears and tail accessories. "Oh, it's another new friend! Good morning, li'l buddy! Oh, and good morning to you too, Alex~" She watched as Alex stomped off to feed the animals, smiling after him. He tries to hide it by being grumpy, but he really cares for them. Ixion's voice spoke back to her telepathically. "Indeed. He is a kind soul." It was then, as she took out juice form the fridge, that she heard the voice of a magical girl ring out across the city. The juice carton dropped to the floor, spilling its orange contents as Lily ran to the balcony. "There's trouble afoot, Alex! Let's go! She hopped on the railing of the balcony, and reached for the sun in a dramatic pose:
"Let my spirit gallop across the field of clouds, and strike my foes down with thunderous applause!" She then fell down the building, her eyes closed, and in a dazzling sequence was caught by her motorcycle as she finished transforming; the vehicle had also changed appearance to match her new Eastern-dancer motif, with stars formed of lightning bolts and colorful flags that trailed behind. Once Alex got on board, they rode off, ready to face off against the new threat.

At the Beacon headquarters, Sylvia stood up from her seat, and began walking away, to the briefing hall. However, she momentarily lingered by Alicia, and without turning, spoke: "Come with me. We got a new job." Once various members of the local Beacon force have gathered Sylvia spoke: "Ladies...And gentlemen." She nodded towards Aurelio, giving him a little smile before she continued. "I just received reports of some unaffiliated magical girls at Town Hall having announced their intentions on taking over the city. Now, this by itself is not cause for alarm; our main priority is to eliminate the emerging monsters that would threaten the city's populace. However, we are also tasked with preserving peace. To that end, I need volunteers to negotiate with them. If the conflict escalates to outright hostility, you are to retreat; our Beckoners have warned us of a 'great darkness' approaching, and we need to be prepared. We don't know where it's coming from, but stay vigilant, everyone! May the light of Beacon guide your way, over!"

A bolt of lightning struck into the rooftop by Emily, Shannon and the Vixen. After the bolt, Cindy Ford hovered where it had struck, staring between them blankly, measuring them up with her eyes as she floated aimlessly. Behind her emerged a following her gang of girls jumping up from an open roof window, each of them snickering as they saw the contenders. ‘I am Cindy Ford, ruler of Penrose. Have you come to seek my protection?’ Once Emily made her query, the blue monster girl stared sharply at her, a few sparks of lightning arcing around her body. Behind her a couple of cronies were holding themselves from giggling. Cindy answered calmly and focused. ‘I'm starting an age of peace and prosperity for Penrose. As long as I am the ruler, I won't let anyone disturb this city, whether they're Beacon, Ebon Mint, or even a common Magical Girl like you. I will bind these unruly streets into a community which will stand the test of time, and destroy any who oppose me.’

Once Lily and Alex they reached Town Hall, Lily climbed up the side of the building until it flew right off. Then, as she back flipped with the vehicle, she dropped down with a spinning flourish, letting the motorcycle disappear into a crackle of electricity in the air after Alex also got off; she wanted her entrance to be positively shocking. When she took a look around her, she was surprised to see that she wasn't the only one going to see Cindy Ford, as there were two other girls present to see her; a girl she didn't recognize, and one she did. "Shannon! Eeee!" She squeed, and glomped her friend, spinning her in the air as she hugged her. "I'm so glad to see you again! How are you doing! Did you find the gibbetygong you were looking for? Fought any monsters! Hey look, I got this new outfit, isn't it cute!" She ran her motor-mouth at twice the usual speed using her magic, making her speech difficult to follow. Cindy glared at her, eyes narrowed in an expression that could be interpreted as annoyed.

‘Silence, bedlah girl.’ With that statement, Cindy now looked to them all. ‘If you accept my ruling, then we will have no problems. If you wish to battle me, then I will arrange for you a tournament, in which you will be smas-’

Cindy suddenly stopped mid-sentence and looked up before anyone else did, and the rest saw that the sky seemed to unnaturally darken, with black clouds gathering. ‘… Tina,’ Cindy commanded, and a girl with long black hair behind her nodded and promptly started focusing. The Vixen’s Third Eye revealed to her that the girl was focusing Beast-specialized magic into the distance. The weather started to get worse, as winds built up, forming small whirlpools of wind, leaves and small branches taken aloft as they travelled down the streets and parks. Soon, everyone else in Penrose saw the ominous signs encroaching from the north, and to their horror saw that far in the distance, some actual tornadoes were forming, slowly approaching the city. Lily looked spooked, and hid behind Alex, her hands on his shoulders as she peeked over him; her jewelry audibly jingled as she shook. ‘Found it,’ Tina stated, and pointed towards the graveyard; it seemed that the ominous signs were coming from that direction. Cindy turned her face to stare in the direction. ‘It seems someone unruly has turned up. Very well. Listen up!’ she turned to everyone gathered around. ‘I, along with my forces, will deal with this disruption. You can all stay put. But first, let us hold the tour-’
"No way! I'm going!" Lily summoned her motorcycle, waiting for Alex to get on board. "This dark stuff at the graveyard is full-on Horror territory if I've ever seen it! Isn't that right, Shannon?"
Lily was apprehensive at first, but she let out a giggle when she saw Tim sit on him.
"He really likes you, Alex! Anyway, I'm glad you're okay. Things are really starting to look up now." She lifted Tim off his head, and petted the weasel's head. ¨
"But that's a lot of pets you're taking care of. It's really sweet of you." She then went to the balcony, taking in the fresh air as she continued petting Tim. Then, she suddenly turned, a big grin on her face.
"Next time, you're taking me to solve crime too, Alex! I knew you sneaked off; I can tell it from your face. Besides, I can't wait to get to use my new magic."

A couple of days later...

A week later...

Another week later...

Black Star was the first to act, and charged into the frontlines. Plasma worth two entire CWM squads was fired upon him from north and northeast but Ojo's Orbital Deflector scattered the like an umbrella, green lines rapidly spinning around the Framewerk, drawing much attention from the Cruxi Beast down the line. The Thermal Scythe was swung in deadly motion, and pierced the hard shell of the muscled monster. However, Zim had to stop Black Star and reverse his charge; the blade of the scythe had embedded itself in the creature's throat, prevented from cutting through by the beast's arm clutching the shaft of the weapon. It gurgled and vomited orange blood on the scythe's shaft, refusing to let go of the weapon. The other Cruxi Beasts in the east saw this, and began moving in, intelligent enough to recognize Zim's moment of weakness. At that moment, Black Star pressed its palm against the Beast's wound, and unleashed the Wave Surger at point-blank range: the blazing beam punched right through and incinerated the monster from the inside, freeing his Thermal Scythe in the process.

Using Yeager's advanced acceleration systems, Roger was able to slow down the Frame's descent to the point that he only needed to make a single roll to fully recover from the impact, landing at the same relative velocity as a paratrooper. As he turned, he saw how Black Star's Wave Surger missed the second Cruxi Beast, who leaped into the air with bulging, glowing muscles to dodge the sweep. However, this left it easy pickings for Roger, who proceeded to unleash a storm of kinetic bullets into the organic monster's flesh, and it quickly dropped from losing momentum, wounded from numerous holes in it. The Wave Surger then hit the second Beast with a glancing hit sending the monster to fall with an earth-shaking hit before Ojo, causing the Frame to feel the shockwave hitting the Star Gazer's ring and nearly making the Frame fall backwards.

The third Beast lifted it's front arms, and used the heavily shielded appendages to absorb the worst of the blast, causing it to wallowing in pain as it's front was charred black; red veins bulged horribly around the monster, it's face now red as it roared loudly. With a well-aimed shot, Black Star saved itself from being mauled apart. And in turn, he drew the attention of the eastern Cruxi Turtle, who charged a shot, and fired.
Luckily for Zim, he had a guardian angel; Elizabeth was prepared for a possible attack from the cantankerous cannons, and activated Ojo's Star Gazer; a radiant light bloomed from the great circle on Ojo's back like the rising sun, and using its gravitonic power attempted to bend the Flux Vaporizer shot. The deflection was a success; the purple energy arrow was downed at I6, causing an explosion that created a crater on the square. The crater was deep enough for a mech to take cover in by crouching.

Redeemer joined Black Star in the assault at the eastern front, the Haathan shields already shining around the imposing Framewerk. With the Laser Repeater in tow, Valéria prepared for assault, and managed to react in time to a surprise attack; the third Cruxi Beast in the east had pounced with a great cry, careening through the air at fast speeds in an attempt to slam it's over-sized fists on top of Redeemer, using the planet's high gravity to its advantage. However, the pilot's high Synchro Rate allowed her to overcome the gravity, and lift the Repeater; a rain of red beams shot up into the sky to intercept the Beast. It was hit in the center of mass, having left itself open, and the Beast fell down dead, smoke coming out of its blackened chest.

Weissritter took combat position in expert fashion, hunkering down for maximum accuracy with the Neo Rifle steadied and aimed, ready for overwatch. "REC-1 reporting, got it!" Elise's voice sounded in the pilot's comms, and soon a small video feed was added to the HUD's corner; it showed the drone's POV as it flew above the battlefield, zooming towards Paladin and Caretaker. "I'll leave REC-2 with you as a spotter. Sending in location data!" And just as she got the words out, targeting reticules appeared on the display, followed by predicted shot trajectories. Jake saw that a Cruxi Turtle in the west was charging for a shot, and using Elise's assistance, succeeded in taking the shot. It hit the Turtle's energy shield, but due to being an energy shot, it overloaded the shield generator, causing it to create a small explosion on the Turtle's middle, where it's weapon systems were bursting out. As a result, the Turtle missed with it's Flux Vaporizer shot, and hit D8, creating another crater. Some small bio-mechanical appendages sprouted out of it's interior, like tentacles with delicate claws; they extended from below the Turtle's shell, and reached into the middle, doing something to itself. Two CWM squads then retreated, as if attempting to cover the Turtle.

Caretaker maneuvered behind the nearest piece of solid terrain she could find, which turned out to be a warehouse of sorts, granting the Framewerk partial cover; enough to take a few rounds of plasma that may be shot her way, but not much more. Fortunately, she was covered by Paladin, but unfortunately, he had not taken the fall well, and struggled to assume defensive positions. "Ariin!" Both Ariin and Katya could hear Elise's voice in the comms, and a moment later she opened a video feed of herself in a small corner of the HUD; it showed REC-1 floating above the battlefield, providing an eye in the sky. "I know it's a pain, but listen! Set up a wall just north of your position, in these coordinates." She projected an area in the Paladin's HUD with a green highlight, having scouted the perfect spot using her drones. "If you can't get it up in time, that northern cannon's gonna mess you up worse! I'll make a scan of Paladin's status, and relay that to you, Katya, so that Caretaker gets to work faster. Just hang in there!"

With Squad Sigma's intelligence specialist having given the groundwork by sending in data, Paladin got to work; Legion's mighty walls carved into the solid foundation of Fortress' surface, having seemingly blended in as another fortification among countless others. "Beasts on your left!" Elise called out, and added calculations to Paladin's aim matrix. With her aid, Pompey successfully landed on two separate volleys, with great success; Paladin instantly killed one Beast with a solid headshot, cracking the thick skull of the monster like a chestnut. The other one was less fatal, knocking one back with a shot that glanced from its tough shoulder and back, having braced like a rugby player on the move. But then, an emerald blaze pierced the Beast on the uncovered side, and it collapsed on the spot, burning with green fire from the inside. Ariin could thank Krista and her bug-like Hou-Yi, who once again joined Paladin in a deadly duo of demolition.

Unlike the humanoid Framewerks, Hou-Yi was only slightly affected by the increased gravity of Fortress thanks to it's balanced design and horizontally spread mass. As a result, she had no trouble adjusting to the adverse conditions and delivering some pain. Like a team of veterans, Caretaker covered the two heavy-hitters, letting loose with the Marker Light on combat mode, neon blue streaks flying at at an approaching CWM squad; they quickly retreated into cover. They took pot shots at Paladin, causing the plasma to glance off Legion, but in turn making a counterattack less reliable.

Uncharacteristically for the Cruxi, the two Cruxi War Machines on either side of Tayna did not immediately shoot at the Frame the first second it crushed one of their own under it's feet, allowing Anastasia to glow and create a strange scene, if only for a few seconds. It was possible that they were taken by surprise, but common knowledge dictated that Cruxi were difficult to surprise due to their assumed hive-mind. The other possibility, and one that Ritsu had to consider as she saw the footage from Tayna's POV, was that the Cruxi seemed to confuse Tayna with one of their own. "Anastasia...What are you?" She mumbled, a drop of sweat running down her forehead.

Anastasia took her chance while the Cruxi were distracted, and managed to latch on to both mechs with Tayna's powered arms; the Cruxi did not expect this, and they flailed as they were lifted into the air. And then, in a bombastic move, Tayna spun like an Olympic disc thrower, glowing with power, and threw the mechs as hard as she could, sending them flying through the air. The other Cruxi squad attempted to open fire on Tayna, but they also hesitated, their view blocked by allies being sent their way, clearly not understanding the logic behind the move. With that weakness fully taken advantage of, Ana succeeded with her combination attack; the Neo Angel took aim, and with a single shot of the L.S. Rifle, hit both of the flying CWMs. just as they were about to hit the other squad. As they were destroyed, the CWM self-destruct mechanism activated, and with two of them exploding simultaneously, the other squad was blown to pieces, leaving only a single CWM heavily damaged, covered in the rubble of its two other companions.

The CWM at the west had taken major casualties, and retreated back to defend the Turtle. The Cruxi Beast at B8 pounced on Tayna, slamming it's hard fists on top of the Framewerk just as the mech's Phase Shift ended, causing heavy damage to the Frame and cracking it's outer plates. The Beast grappled Tayna's arms, about to crush them-


Suddenly, the Beast gurgled, and vomited orange blood over Tayna's chassis, it's grip having loosened. It then dropped off, revealing Sköll behind it; with a calculated stab, it pierced the monster with MORS, and then decapitated the creature, spraying more of the icky orange goop onto itself. It turned out to be Irina's voice that Ana heard in her comms.
"Focus! We got work to do, freak!" Sköll sheathed the blade, and took out GAR, readying it for use.

The eastern front grew bolder with Cruxi Squads coming in and engaging Black Star; while the closer squads had little luck piercing Ojo's drone, the farther ones adding in to the energy managed to overload the drone's generator, causing the field to go online and damaging Black Star in a minor way; it's chest and shoulder wer hit by stray blasts, familiar chars once again forming on the appropriately colored Framewerk. The CWMS relocated to more cover in the vicinity, about to once again fire on what they deemed to be the priority threat.

Suddenly, a loud explosion could be heard in the distance, and squad Sigma saw a Framewerk crashing near one of the Cruxi Turtles on H2; it resembled a ninja, with a red sword attached to it's arm, and blue lines that glowed from the head part. It's pilot, Deitrich 'Deiter' Wagner, had fought with another battalion, but a hard blow from an unknown Cruxi had sent it flying far. As a result of the crash, Krieg had suffered moderate damage to its back, left arm and back of the left foot; they were functioning at 70% of maximum potential. The eastern Cruxi Turtle responded to the sudden proximity of an enemy unit by tucking it's limbs inside it's shell, and activating twin Plasma gatlings.

Dietrich felt something disturbing, as if he was overcome by a feeling of pride. Without him giving the command, Krieg rolled to the side to dodge the plasma, and in a single flowing move, jumped to I2, taking cover behind the Turtle to avoid the fire of nearby CWM squads, who prioritized the Turtle's safety over their own; the squad proceeded to close in on Krieg, turning their backs to Black Star and Redeemer. The two Frames REC-3 zooming out towards the newcomer. "Come in, Framewerk!" Dieter heard a young girl's voice, which had forcibly entered into his comms channel. "I don't know who your commanding officer is, but right now I'm taking over!" A video feed opened in the corner showing what looked like a 10-year-old redhead with an eyepatch and a beret. "Take defensive measures, and try to reach those two units over there!" She added an arrow to the HUD, and highlighted the two Framewerks on the opposite side of the battlefield. "We have an extraction ready in the south, get to it!"

Can't get better than a monkey with blinged out blaster rings.
Kingdom Hearts Thre-wait, too late.

Thoughts on KH3?

Are the tired to death disney story telling tropes still considered 'charming' by people approaching their 30s?

I've played the series ever since the original released, and it's still nostalgic for me. Sure, there's more plot and references I don't get, but that's not something I hold back against the series. KH3's some goofy (pun intended) fun.
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