It was just about twenty four hours later and Penny was waiting in the teleporter room for the Cardinal and for Alicia. The unceasing advantage of not needing sleep meant that Penny had taken full advantage of the time between last time she was at Beacon HQ and now.
She truly did hope that this next meeting would work out better, but as she said before. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. The fact that she was walking into a place where someone like her had never been before was cold comfort to her nerves.“I’m feeling like I’m back at the park.”
she would muse to herself. The thought would draw a soft smile from her, she had come much further than she would have expected since that night.“Hopefully not too similar. The last I recall, someone died at that particular meeting,”
Alicia said as she stepped into view. She’d gotten some sleep, prepared her arguments. She was as ready as she could be for this particular challenge that lay ahead of them. "Not the meeting I was thinking of."
Penny would say as she smiled at her friend. "I was thinking back on our first introduction. I'd love a repeat of that turn of events, but I'm not sure we will be that lucky."
It was easy to see that despite her dour words Penny had relaxed upon Alicia showing up.
It might not be much, but at least Penny knew she wasn't going in alone.
Cardinal Ishtar arrived a short while later, a white purse slung over her shoulder.
“Now then, it looks like everyone’s ready to depart,” she spoke to the two, and stepped inside the teleporter. “Penny, I am taking you to the Choir to decide your fate. That is not a lie or even an omission of the truth, as your fate is one with that of Penrose. However, you must follow my lead.” She gave one last nod to Elora, who was in charge of the machine’s operation. Elora nodded back, punched in the teleportation coordinates, and the three were off.
Once they arrived, they saw that they were in the Overcity, more specifically the Beacon embassy. It was an imposing building of white and gold, and resembled a lighthouse with the shining, circular chamber at the top. The building was heavily guarded by Beacon magical girls; they looked serious and devoted to their jobs, and Alicia noted that they resembled the Ascendancy troops in attitude.
“Halt!” One of the guards immediately shouted. “Identify immediately!”
Ishtar nodded, and opened her purse. “Cardinal Ishtar, supervisor to the Ascendancy task force.” She showed what looked like a document through her smartphone screen. She then closed her eyes as the guard cast some kind of spell over the three of them; Penny felt like she was prodded for illusions. “Understood,” the guard said afterwards. “These two are the representatives from Penrose?” She asked, and Ishtar nodded. “Yes. I have an appointment with the Choir, branch 47.” The guard turned her attention to the other two. “Very well. Now, it is your turn to identify yourselves.”
Penny would have no shame in admitting the fact that the Beacon embassy was at first a tad intimidating. The presence of the place was unmistakable, and the Cardinal’s words were front and center in her mind as she took in everything. That warryness evaporated and was replaced with exasperation when faced with the guards. She knew what to expect from the Ascendency, she figured she knew what to expect from these people.
She fought off the temptation to more brazenly display her mechanical nature and instead simply replied. “Penny Asimov, Penrose resident and Beacon initiate.”
She thought of announcing her other titles, but felt that would be more harm than good at the moment. Though she wasn’t going to deny them if pressed.
Stepping forward after Penny, Alicia faced the guards. One might consider security excessive, but after everything she’d been through it was hard to fault their caution. Considering this was a major location for a large faction, infiltration attempts were probably common. So she didn’t hold it against them. ”Alicia Hayden, Paladin Seraph of the Penrose branch of Beacon.”
The guard’s expression didn’t move as the two girls identified themselves, and another guard punched in the names into their device. “Penrose, huh? That is where the Ascendancy currently operates, correct?”
Ishtar nodded. “That is correct.”
Then the guard’s eyes tightened as she kept reading. “...What is the meaning of this, Cardinal? Why is a monster accompanying you?”
Penny could tell the air turned tense as every guard’s eyes were on her, their weapons held in their arms.
“I am here to take Penny Asimov to the Choir, so they may decide her fate. She is an abnormality that requires scrutiny of the highest order.”
The guard grimaced. “No corrupted permitted beyond this point. She is to be immediately-”
Ishtar suddenly stepped closer to the guard; Alicia and Penny saw her eyes shine with an unbending will. “She is not corrupted, as you see in that report. Therefore, by Beacon jurisdiction, she is allowed to pass. Or do I have to file a report to the Choir that my duty was obstructed by ineptitude on behalf of the embassy?”
The guard grit her teeth, looking furious, but then sighed and relented. “Let them pass.”
The door to the embassy building opened, and the three passed through to the inside, which was a veritable fortress; the sheer scale of the place was enough to make the Beacon headquarters back in Penrose resemble a shed. But Alicia and Penny didn’t have long to take in the sights before they stepped into a large, elaborate teleporter.
The three of them were surrounded by light, and once they could see again, they realized they were no longer in the Overcity, but on another world completely. They were in what looked like a sea of pure, white clouds, out of which jutted out buildings and other architecture made of resplendent golden and white materials. The blue sky was clear, with no sun or other source of light in sight, yet everything was illuminated brightly, as if light existed all around them instead of coming from specific sources, making for a disorienting first experience for the newcomers. In many ways, it resembled a mix of the Christian view of heaven and Mount Olympus of ancient Greek mythology.
“Penny, Alicia…Welcome to Luxia,” Ishtar announced. “The home of the Beckoners, and the seat of the Choir.”
Indeed, the two soon saw that the place was teeming with Beckoners; some more familiar looking like the ones back in Penrose, while others took on more strange or even abstract appearances. Yet they all shared a theme of light and benevolence, even if the theme varied in interpretation. Ishtar made a circle in the air with her fingers, and the clouds parted to reveal a road made of golden bricks. She then began to walk on it, and as she did, the golden bricks themselves began to shift and wave, causing an escalator-esque effect of propelling her movement. “Now, stay close to me. We will soon reach the Choir.” As she said that, the clouds further parted to reveal a gargantuan building in the far distance; it was made of countless towers built on the surface of what looked like a rotating miniature sun, the cracks between the towers shooting out rays of light like they were beams of golden energy.
Alicia’s head was practically on a swivel, eyes wide as she took in everything that was presented to them of Luxia. So this was where it all came from. She could have been annoyed at how ostentatious it was, but so close to the heart of the organization she’d turned her life to supporting, such thoughts were far from her mind. “Wow.”
Penny was in much the same boat as Alicia, the entirety of this place was simply awash with splendor. She was more aware of the ostentatiousness of it, but that was to be expected when she spent most nights sitting on a concrete floor in an abandoned warehouse, but she wasn’t holding it against the people here.
As they came to the end of the golden-bricked road, a magical girl approached them; she was dressed in white robes, and had a holy air to her, as if she were a priestess. “Cardinal Ishtar…We have been expecting you. Come, let us go to my office.”
The Choir member cast a spell with a golden seal, and the three felt themselves being drawn up by a gentle pull of gravity. They flew up to one of the towers on the bottom of the sun; the moment they stepped inside, gravity corrected so they stood on the floor. The inside was extravagantly luxurious, with modern technology blended together with a church-like aesthetic.
“Please, take a seat,” the Choir member spoke with a gesture to the chairs, which slid from the back wall to before them as the Choir member took her own seat behind her office desk.
“Now then, before you give your report…May I ask why you brought these two?”
Ishtar bowed, and then took her seat. “Lady Louhi, my report is related to these two. As you are aware, I was tasked with supervising the Ascendancy as they were sent to stabilize Penrose. However, some unexpected complications have arisen over time.”
The Choir member took a sip from a white cup. “Such as?”
“The Ascendancy suffered casualties due to a local group of terrorists posing as a media outlet. We have evidence of a suspected attack on the city from a force beyond the city’s current defenses. There is also something very notable about the local magical population. I have brought Alicia Hayden and Penny Asimov to testify on the matter.”
The Choir member looked down her nose at the two.
“...Well? Speak up, then. I do not intend for this meeting to last more than four minutes and twenty seconds of my time, so make it quick.”“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen”
Penny would remark quietly, more to herself than to the Choir member, but it wasn’t said quietly enough that it would go unheard. “Penny Asimov.”
Penny would once again introduce herself. “Spark carrying member of Beacon and Monstergirl.”
This time she leaned into the fact that she was more machine than human and let her chest fold open like a massive complicated flower, her Shine Spark gleaming brilliantly in the center.
[color=9e0039][u][b]“We are here to ask for information about Wonderland, as they’ve more or less declared their intent to invade Penrose,” Penny would go on to say after a moment of letting Louhi look at her opened chassis and Spark. [color=9e0039][u][b]“We were told you had that information” Penny would let her chest fold close.
Alicia nodded to Penny as she raised the first reason for their being here. ”That’s a big part of it,”
she agreed. ”There have also been questions of the Branch’s conduct towards the principles of Beacon, and I’d like to address that too.”
They might have a time crunch, but she did not intend to let it unnerve her.
Louhi raised an eyebrow at Penny's initial whisper. "And who are you?" She asked her, sounding offended. When she got the answer in addition to her presentation of her inhuman nature, her face visibly tensed, and her eyebrows furrowed. "What?!" Before she could further voice her shock and disgust, Alicia spoke up, and she scoffed. "Principles? You mean this affront to Beacon's very purpose? This apostate sacrilege?"
Ishtar now spoke. "Lady Louhi, what you see is not sacrilege. Penny underwent purification according to the tenets of our order, and was cleansed of corruption."
Louhi was not convinced. "But how is she still an abomination?" She pointed her finger at Penny. "You must have corrupted the very ritual! Rotted the Penrose branch!"
"No, the branch has not been compromised. Inquisitor Rachel can attest to that." She put her hands together in prayer. "What happened to Penny is a sign that times have changed, and that we can no longer hold firmly to our old traditions. We must change if we are to keep the light shining bright!"
Louhi slammed her table. "Preposterous! Purification is one of our oldest and most sacred of traditions. Are you suggesting that it is flawed, Cardinal? I won't allow such heretical thoughts to taint this hallowed domain!"
Penny refrained from rolling her eyes, but from her body language it was easy to see that she wasn’t enthused with the turn in conversation. “I’ve no idea how I would go about twisting the ritual.”
Penny would say “Lightning and Metal aren’t magics that can really do that to my understanding.”“Also I’m pretty sure my joining Beacon as I am has the backing of, at least one, Beckoner.”
Turning to Alica “On that, let me know if you see her, I’d like to give her my thanks. Something I’m not recalling ever doing before.”
Alicia held back a sigh and an eyeroll as things escalated between Louhi and ishtar. Things were going about as well as she had expected they would, though they could take some solace in the fact that they had not gotten angry first. Then again, they were used to it enough that it was unlikely to have happened anyway.
She glanced over to Penny and then shrugged. ”I’ll try to remember,”
she offered. It had been a hot minute since then after all, so the name did not immediately spring to mind.
For now her focus returned to the discussion at hand. ”Purification is still important, but forces such as the Mint have been able to deceive and mislead girls into being opposed to us. To say nothing of times when the strengths we had turned out to be hollow. Unless we can recognize our own failings, this will just keep happening.”
Louhi's eye twitched, and she took a deep sigh, attempting to calm herself. "Mint…Is it true, Cardinal? That the Mint really has developed new ways of corrupting Mahou?"
Ishtar nodded solemnly. "It is. Penrose branch has developed new ways of protection against such forces in the form of the White Coin. Penny here contributed to their initial discovery by the Howell twins, I believe."
Louhi's eyes widened. "Really now? Are they safe?" "Yes," Ishtar answered. "Inquisitor Rachel has deemed them suitable for wider distribution."
Louhi shook her head, amazed by the turn in the discussion. "I can't believe it…A monster, in the ranks of the Beacon, and having assisted in new ways of combating the Mint…Still, I can't deny what I clearly see and know to be true. And if a Beckoner made such a decision, then it must mean they have somehow seen beyond the veil of fate…” Louhi sighed, rubbing her temples with her hands. Finally, she made a forceful groan.
“Well, putting that aside for now, you mentioned that Wonderland is targeting Penrose? But why would they be interested in such a hostile region?"
Ishtar's head lowered. "I believe…They are after the Nexus there."
Louhi gasped. "Oh my goodness…"
Alicia sat back, pleased that her efforts had found fertile soil in Louhi’s mind. At least, enough to bring an end to the debate for now. She didn’t expect this to be the end of things, but it was good enough. For now they returned to the pressing matter of Wonderland. ”That’s why we need you to allow us access to the files related to Wonderland, so we know what we’re up against. Because they’re coming whether we’re ready for them or not.”
Penny was more wary of the easy seeming success. She guessed that Louhi was either easier going then she first guessed, or that she trusted Ishtar more than Penny had guessed. One or the other. Still, now wasn’t the time to look a gift horse in the mouth, she supposed.“Rachel also mentioned that there might be political issues with our intention to defend our home.”
She would add to the topic of Wonderland. “Any information on that end would also be appreciated.”
“Yes, that would be true.” She tapped her fingers on her desk. “Now, what I say here cannot be disclosed to the public. You see, Wonderland is an independent nation. While the Beacon is committed to upholding peace and order in both the mundane and magical communities, legally we cannot directly interfere with their actions. However, we can apply sanctions on them-”
“Sanctions?” Ishtar interrupted. “Wonderland is invading, and all you do is send them a letter saying you don’t approve? Is that it?”
Louhi shook her head. “You don’t understand the situation. For a magical nation, Wonderland has a significant military might. And…They have been confirmed to possess weapons of mass destruction.”
“As do we…So there is a chance that if Beacon escalates the conflict between them and Wonderland, it would result in catastrophic damage,” Ishtar followed up.
“Exactly. So if Wonderland decides to claim Penrose, then Beacon has no choice but to quietly give up the territory and withdraw their local branch…Even if it results in them obtaining the Nexus.”
“But there has to be something we can do!” Ishtar slammed her fists on the desk.
Louhi sighed, and then lifted a finger.
“...There is one way. If Penrose were to declare themselves a magical nation and formed an official alliance of defence with Beacon, then Beacon would be committed to ensuring its independence is respected. However, no lone city has ever accomplished that in the history of magic.”
Without a word Penny would stand up and start pacing the length of the room just behind the chairs. She didn’t care how either Ishtar or Louhi took her doing this in the middle of a conversation, as after learning the context of how bad Penrose’s situation was this time, it was either indulge in her humanity or disconnect from it.
She was on her third lap when she spoke a question, her eyes never deviating from her pacing. “What is involved in declaring ourselves an independent magical nation?”
Louhi began to type on her desk computer; soon enough sophisticated hologram screens appeared in the air.
"First of all, you need to have an already established magical government,which seems to be the case based on Rachel's report," she noted as she went through various links. "While very small, it seems you have managed to create a foundation for a functional society of Mahou, which is rare. However, this has yet to be formalized. You need to fill out paperwork for various aspects of your fledgling kingdom and establish Penrose as either unified or otherwise stable to accommodate your rule, with a certain degree of agreement in the magical populace. I'll send you the paperwork which includes the exact terms."
Ishtar bowed her head in gratitude. "Oh thank you, Lady Louhi. You don't know how much this means to us."
The Choir member shook her head. "I am simply giving advice, no need to thank me. But back to the topic of Penny…I have made an appointment with the Ecclesiarch. She is to see you in two days at 3.45 PM."
Ishtar blinked. "Huh? But why?"
"While I can handle the bureaucratic side of things for the suggested alliance, only the Ecclesiarch has the authority to sign any treaties Beacon may form with other organizations or nations. She also needs to assess you for your…unusual circumstances."“I have a question,”
Alicia said as things seemed to be reaching something of a conclusion. Aside from the part where she’d thought they already had that meeting scheduled. But maybe she was just mistaken. Still, there was something else bugging her. “If Wonderland is willing to move in with force and brush aside or expel any Beacon presence operating in the area, why would any formal arrangement stop them? Especially if the Nexus is as important as you guys are making it out to be.”
Penny kept to her pacing, seeming to ignore the fact that she had a meeting with an even higher up Beacon. Which was the case actually, she had more important things to work out at the moment, mainly Penrose, as she doubted that she actually had the pull to get ‘legally’ instated as Queen.
She did turn gaze away from her pace route to Alicia at her question, her own curiosity on that topic open to see.
"There are a couple of reasons," Louhi responded. "First of all, while we were aware of Wonderland's recent mobilization, we did not expect them to actually go after the Nexus in Penrose. As far as our organization was concerned, our international relations matter more than a singular population."
Ishtar grit her teeth, finding her words painful to hear.
"So you don't actually care…"
"Of course we would have preferred to avoid such a situation, but the risks with interfering outweighed the estimated benefits for such a problematic city. Even the Ascendancy suffered casualties trying to stabilize the area. No offence, Paladin Seraph."
Louhi took a sip of her cup before she continued.
"The other reason is putting pressure on Wonderland. When they see that Penrose is legally on equal grounds as them and backed by Beacon's interests, there is an improved chance they are willing to negotiate instead of just coming in and claiming what they want by force, because they would knowingly meet greater resistance. Is that a sufficient explanation?"“That sounds like we’re making a lot of assumptions,”
Alicia observed as she leaned back in her seat. Her arms were folded over her chest, and she now wore a small frown as she took in what Louhi was saying. ”They’re already willing to fight Beacon, and a formal declaration of a polity won’t change the forces arrayed against them.”
As she said it, an idea occurred to her. It was probably crazy, but it seemed like it was a good way to level the odds that seemed to be against them. There was no harm in bringing it up. “If they want it so badly, why don’t we use the Nexus?”
Louhi's eyes widened at the suggestion. "The Nexus? Are you out of your mind?" She slammed the table. "That would mean meddling with the crucible of magic itself. In only this millenium have we even begun to understand how they work. But throughout history we have seen civilisations like Atlantis and El Dorado fall for attempting to use them. It's too risky."
Ishtar's brow furrowed as she thought. "What if instead of using it directly, we just draw magical power from it? Even a little bit would surely help."
Louhi pondered. "Well, I suppose that in moderation, it wouldn't be impossible…"“This is all predicated on Beacon staying in Penrose.”
Penny would chime in still pacing back and forth. “Formally establishing us as an independent magical nation isn’t as cut and dry as you seem to be thinking. Just under half of Penrose dislikes Beacon purely on the prejudiced principles it enforces.”“Sanctuary is the best bet of a formal governmental center in Penrose, and while they are willing to work with Beacon, the vast majority there won’t willingly serve under Beacon at the moment.”
She would explain. “And as an aside, I’m with Louhi on tampering with the Nexus. The inherent chaos of the city leads me to believe that messing with it is a bad idea, unless you are willing to radically shift your perspective on Monsterization.”
Alicia conceded the point with regards to the Nexus, simply pleased to have more information than she had before. So she did not belabor any additional details as Penny raised her own problems with the plan of action that they had before them. “Pretty much,”
she agreed with a shrug. “In that vein, can we take this to mean you’ll allow access to the files on Wonderland?”
Louhi sighed, and took a sip of her cup.
"...Very well. I shall grant you access rights to the files. However, you all must swear a sacred oath of using this information only to protect Penrose and its citizens, and not for selfish or immoral reasons."
As she said this, she stood up, and held her hand forward, the palm pointing down. Golden wisps of magic flew around it.
"If you break this promise, you will be met with a divine punishment. Now then, what is your answer?"
Ishtar held her hand out. "I swear by the light of justice."
Penny looked at Lohui’s glowing hand with a notable amount of suspicion. She figured that Light users could do something like this but she was still wary about putting herself under a magical contract. It hardly mattered that Beacon was more like Archons than Devils, the loss of agency, even if it was in line with what Penny would have done anyway, rankled.
Nevertheless “To protect and serve”
Penny would agree with a nod as she mimicked Ishtar, and held out her hand.“I swear,”
Alicia agreed without hesitation as she raised her hand. That was one that didn’t require much thought.
The girls placed their hands over Louhi’s, and felt as the Choir representative’s magic washed over them as if a warm breeze had passed. When it was over, Louhi withdrew her hand, and swiped her hand. “It is done. I have granted access to you two, Ishtar and Alicia. Penny, you may also receive it, but only if the Ecclesiarch deems you worthy.” She sat back down on her seat.
“That is all. Now, the allotted time for this meeting is about to end, and I must return to my work. Goodbye, and may the Beacon guide your path.” Ishtar let out a sigh of relief once the three returned back to Penrose. However, it was still not quite the end, as far as Penny was concerned...