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4 yrs ago
Ended up sick, trying to respond once I get better.


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After Caroline’s purification, Justine reluctantly brought her to the Crimson Cradle headquarters, giving her own bed to her long-lost sibling while she slept on the couch or an unoccupied room Maura may have had there. Initially, Justine was glad to have reunited with her, and showered her with constant attention. Caroline seemed to adjust well to the change in scenery, or rather, she didn’t seem to react at all. She silently stared at everyone for most of the time, and when she rarely spoke, it was only to Justine, and in short sentences. In time, Justine’s enthusiasm gave way to awkwardness and apathy, having realized that not everything would be fixed once Father’s influence was gone. They weren’t a happy family, but a pair of traumatized girls, their former madness having served as a buffer to the issues within them.

Justine continued serving Maura, patrolling the city and exterminating rogue monsters. She grew more confident and diligent in her work, yet a certain distance also gradually formed between her and the Witch of Death. While Justine was grateful, she was also wary of her, especially if she attempted to approach Caroline any further than usual. Still, Caroline’s unusual behavior continued to unsettle her.

One day, as twilight descended upon Penrose, Justine stood over the town hall, having decided to give Lily a phone call. The energetic girl immediately responded.

”Hi, Justy! Been a while since we’ve talked~ How are you and Carol been doing?"

Justine sighed.
”Hello, Lily. That is actually why I called you in the first place.”

Justine sat down at the edge of the roof, letting her feet dangle in the air.

”Caroline has been eating and sleeping regularly. And she doesn’t show any signs of physical sickness. But…I can tell she is not well.”

Lily lowered her tone, having realized this was not a regular chatting session.
”Oh, that sounds serious. Is there something about her behavior that concerns you?"

”Yes. She rarely talks, and doesn’t show much emotion in her expressions. She also has nightmares nearly every night. I think she is mentally ill.”

”Have you taken her to a psychiatrist? That could help her.”

Justine blinked. ”What is that?”

”They are someone who deals with mental illnesses. I think there was one in Silverburg…Yep, I can send a link to their webpage over Glimmr.”

”Uh, are you sure about this, Lily? That this psych…er could help? She won’t be sentenced to a madhouse?”

”Oh no no no, madhouses haven’t existed for centuries now. Today’s mental healthcare has improved by bounds. You can trust me on this.”

Justine sighed, but then nodded to herself.

”Okay then. Thank you for the advice, Lily. Goodbye.”

”Talk to you later! Byeee!”

As she closed the phone, she saw as the lights in the city began popping up, starting from the nearest streetlight and spreading into the distance like countless stars.

In present day, Justine had returned back to Penrose after she took Caroline on a follow up visit from Silverburg. Her concerns were remedied when the psychiatrist explained they would start with simple sessions to ease Caroline into the process. She happened to spot as Finn and Oliver rode off on a motorcycle, and flew after them.

”What’s going on? Did something happen?” She yelled from behind them.
"Hi there! This is Annabell with my weekly vlog."

Sometime last autumn, a certain magical girl had decided to start posting videos over Glimmr.

"As promised, I'll start by telling you what the magic card I got yesterday is..."

At first they were simple 5-second gag videos, but in time, they developed into entire streams where she would share experiences about her magical life in Bolorton, a quaint little farming town.

"...That movie was pretty okay. I liked the main character and the whole story revolving around her past and stuff..."

As a veteran magical girl who possessed both Wood and Light specialties, she might have been over-qualified for a place as devoid of action as Bolorton.

"...I've never seen a goblin fly so far. It hit McDonald's barn and woke him up. Luckily I scared it away before he got out in his jammies, toting that o'l shotgun of his~"

But it was her hometown, and she loved it.

"It's a beautiful day today, as you can see. Not a single person is out today...That's kind of weird."

Even that day, she was filming the sleepy little town.

"Oh well, I guess today just happens to be more quiet than usual."

But on that day, everything would change for Annabell. And life as she knew it would end.

"Anyway, I happened to find these cute earrings over at the garage sale and-"

The screen shook as a loud noise boomed nearby, causing her to drop the earrings.

"What was that? A bomb? Did those goblins bring bombs again?"

The screen shook again. Smoke could be seen rising from far in the background. Annabell grabbed the camera and aimed it around, causing the feed to become blurry.

"Oh no...This can't be happening!"

The camera happened to aim towards the fields, where some kind of movement could be glimpsed.

"Hey, what are you doing-"

The camera suddenly broke, ending the livestream.

And the person on the other side, Lily, jumped out of her sofa, and ran over to Alex.

”Alex, we gotta help Annabell! Her Monthly Anime Reviews have always been gold!"
She blurted out, only to blush.
”-And her town's in danger, can't forget that!"

She ran out, having already chanted her incantation as she stepped outside.

She got on her motorcycle with Alex, only to smack herself on the forehead.

”Rats, I forgot! Bolorton's super far away! Even with my bike, it's gonna take an hour! Maybe I could text Mariette to give us a portal..." She took out her phone, and wrote a quick text message to the girl, as well as any other magical girls she had on her contacts.

[baddies in bolorton, need portal, meet ya at penrose park <(`^´)>]

Then she turned to Alex.
"Any other ideas in case that doesn't work?"

At Beacon HQ in Penrose, the news of the livestream also quickly spread around the members, and they reached Alicia and Kimble as they were in the rec room. The bringer of the news was Hudie, one of the Ascendancy officers.

"Did you see the video, Paladin Seraph? Apparently Bolorton's getting attacked by something so big even the resident guardian was alarmed. We're planning to send a team there to check up on it just in case," she stated. Kimble turned to Alicia.
"What should we do, Alicia? I know it's not really our place to handle other town's problems..."

As per Penny's orders, Tina sent one of her birds to shadow after Robert as he left the city on a bus. Unbeknownst to him, however, Penny had hacked into the camera installed in his hat, and used it to see where he was headed. He ended up at a distant town hundreds of kilometers away called Bolorton. There, Penny saw him greet what seemed to be a contact of sorts at a local bar; a sleepy-looking girl with blonde hair and blue eyes.
"There's a change of plans. Let's go back," he informed the girl, who mumbled in return as she rubbed her eyes. "Already? And I had such a nice dream...Oh well. I'll send word that we'll be arriving."
The two of them headed out on car; Robert was driving, while the girl sat next to him, sleeping. They ended up at what looked like an empty field. However, it was there that the two Overcity Shifted, and Tina's bird was forced to turn back.

Penny's surveillance feed persisted over the dimensional hop, however, and she saw that the two ended up at a military outpost in the Overcity decorated with Wonderland's stylized heart insignia. It was manned by soldiers wearing face-concealing gas masks; their helmets and uniforms had a playing card theme to them, with clubs serving as regular troops, hearts as their officers and commanders, and diamonds as specialists such as cooks, medics and engineers. Despite this, no spades were to be seen. The two were met with salutes as they passed, confirming Penny's suspicion that Robert served as a higher-ranking member of some capacity. She saw as they passed through a portal built in the camp, and ended up in Wonderland, a whimsical and saccharine world where music played and people danced with smiles and laughter in their faces.

Penny noticed that the exact position where they ended up was at a military camp similar to the one in the Overcity, except it was even bigger, and housed various vehicles and heavy armaments, from regular jeeps and troop transports to even tanks and planes. More salutes followed as the two approached the castle sitting in the center of Wonderland, it's appearance causing Penny to be distracted by the various little things that populated the world, to the point she couldn't focus her attention on the structure itself. Fortunately, before Penny realized it, she was now looking at the courtyard of the castle, where Robert spoke to a couple of Clubs guarding the gates.
"Name: White Rabbit. Title: Royal Foreign Affairs Minister and Ambassador," he announced. The girl then spoke up: "Name: Dormouse. Title: Royal Dream Minister and Assistant to Head of R&D."

The Clubs nodded after checking on a notepad, and the two were permitted inside the castle. Penny noticed how various magical wards were turned off, their symbols flashing and fading away as they passed through the corridors. More importantly, there were also electronic devices such as surveillance cameras and motions sensors, and set to work on passing through their encryptions. To her chagrin, these were more advanced than regular encryptions in the human world, and so it would take her time. While Penny worked on hacking, she saw as the two entered the throne room, where a group of people had gathered.

The first thing Penny noticed was the smirking man who greeted them. "Well, well, well, look what the cat brought in. Or, would it be the mouse in this case? Either way, looks like you royally screwed up, Rabbit." The other people included a dapper boy wearing a monocle, a regal girl holding a book, a morose-looking girl with a cape and staff, and a monster girl sitting next to the throne. Dormouse removed her magical disguise as well, revealing her mouse ears.

Penny saw how Robert pointed at the first boy with his finger, sounding furious. "March Hare! You're the reason I failed my mission!"
The March Hare mockingly lifted his hands. "Oh? You're blaming me, now?"
"You were supposed to be scouting Penrose, not releasing monsters in there! What were you thinking? It was by pure miracle I didn't end up imprisoned or executed!"

"It was by my decree."

The entire court, including Robert, turned silent, and turned to bow as the Queen of Hearts arrived, and slouched on her throne.

"The March Hare was initially intended to simply infiltrate the city. That is true. However, I changed my mind."

Penny saw as the camera pointed down at the crimson rug as Robert bowed. "B-But...Why, Your Highness?"

"Because you were going to visit at that time. I decided I didn't want to waste that opportunity, and had the Hare carry out a terror strike. As a result, we obtained valuable information on the local defenses, did we not?"

Robert lifted the hat back up, and Penny saw the bored look on the Queen's face.

"Y-Your Highness...Surely the March Hare could have carried that mission after mine-"

"SILENCE!" The queen suddenly screamed her lungs out, causing Robert to stumble backwards.
"That is the reason, right there," she said, and pointed her sword at Robert; Penny saw how it glowed with powerful magic.
"For the longest time, you have disappointed me, Rabbit. Your endeavors to convince the ignorant slaves have failed, time and again. Those fools do not listen to reason or logic; their minds and souls have been twisted by the Powers. The only thing they understand-" she stabbed her sword down, "is force." She then lifted it back up. At this point, Penny managed to breach the encryption.
"So, I decided to have you act your part, so that-"

"Your Highness, a moment of your time!" The boy wearing the monocle suddenly spoke.
The Queen of Hearts scoffed.
"What is the meaning of this interruption, Mad Hatter? If you test my patience, it's off with your head."
The Hatter tapped at his monocle. "The security system has been compromised. And the cause is..."
He circled two fingers around his monocle, and then stared right at Robert's camera. "Ah, yes...Our Rabbit has turned traitor."
Before Penny could further anchor her presence into the system, he drew a magic symbol with his fingers, and suddenly Penny's camera feed was cut off with a slight electric jolt, kicking Penny out of the system and snapping her back to reality.

.:⋮Meetings P.2⋮:.

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...
@Majoras End

Lily sighed in relief when Roxanna, despite initially looking like she was about to reject her offer, reluctantly took the piece of paper from her.

”Y-Yeah, that’s fine. To be honest, I’m feeling a bit tired too, haha~!" She lied, still energetic as ever. Once MDP gave her last words and subsequently ended up distracted by Snoopy, Lily turned to Alex. She nodded in agreement with his suggestion to check around the city or contact people for intelligence.
”Good idea, Alex!” She was about to speak up when Penny addressed the crowd, and informed them that most of the monsters had been taken care of.
”If that’s the case, then me and Alex could take one last tour around Penrose before calling it a day!” She took Alex’ hand, noting Dina’s words.
”A war, huh…Well, anyway, thank you for your help, everyone! Let’s continue to keep Penrose safe for everyone!” And with that, the two rode off. Though Lily wasn’t as successful with making a new friend as she hoped, at least she managed to create a possibility for it. And Lily was happy settling with just that.

Justine lifted her red eyes up from Caroline to Miko, her expression unmoving like a portrait.
”...I will protect my sister,” she simply stated, and afterwards turned to Maura. Her expression turned to relief when she saw the purifying potion.
She looked up to Sann once she left, feeling bittersweet about their encounter. On one hand, she genuinely was grateful for Sann, yet she also felt pity for the ire she drew from the others. Nonetheless, now was not the time for her to think on such matters.

”...Thank you, Mistress,” she softly expressed her gratitude for being given the potion, and gently fed the tonic to Caroline. Soon enough, the comatose girl glowed a white light, and once the light faded away she opened her eyes.


Caroline did not speak, and slowly blinked. Justine caressed her hair comfortingly.
”It’s okay, Caroline…You don’t have to say anything…”

”...Big…Sis…” She whispered.

Justine gasped, and a tear emerged from the corner of her eye.

”That’s right, Caroline…Big sis…Is here.”

She sighed, and let Caroline stand up with a wobble, holding her close as she turned to Valerie, and nodded.
”Yes, I’m ready to go now.”

“Well, sometimes you need to try your luck~” Sally responded playfully to Alicia, “Especially when it comes to cake. There’s so many flavors out there you might never know existed until you try something new.” She then hoisted Sakura over her shoulder, causing the serpentine girl to flop comically. “Of course! I bet Sakura will also love to have some cake.” Soon after, the Beacon Mahou disappeared with the monstergirl in tow. And in her bliss, Sakura would only later realize that she had to foot the bill.

But was there truly a price to put on pure bliss? Nobody can say.

Later that day, the missing Beacon girl arrived at headquarters, still wearing the bandages from the doctor that Mariette brought to her. She was greeted with cheers from having survived the insurmountable odds, and there was much rejoicing.

However, elsewhere, there was grumbling.

“...Yes, that’s right. Covington is secure, and the P-Project is on schedule.”

In his monochrome office, Al Scarpe was speaking on the phone.
“However, our agents have reported that Wonderland is on the move. No, they just made an initial scouting move. Likely tipping their toes in the water in Silverburg. No, you don’t need to worry. I’ll…Handle it. Goodbye.”

Al placed the handset of the antique telephone back on the base, and placed his head on his leaning hand.

“Geez Louise, she just had to decide to come here first, didn’t she?” He leaned back on his chair, and lit a cigar. “I don’t have time to deal with her bullshit…I need to round up walkers, and get in talks, fast.”
Al puffed a ring of smoke.
“After all, can’t let this dump burn to the ground…” He chomped on his cigar, causing it to drop on his desk and light it on fire. He simply stared into the fire.
“Not when I’ve worked myself to the bone to make it profitable, dammit!”

”Oh, Hi MDP, good to see you!"

Lily accepted the hug from MDP with a bit of reservation, but it was a distraction that allowed her to momentarily ignore the initial awkwardness of the situation. She nodded as MDP made a case for her speech mannerisms to Roxanna, followed by the Angel girl agreeing to it. Come to think of it…Wasn’t that girl at the rave way back when? Lily intended to ask her about it.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Roxanna interpreted Lily’s words as chastising her.

”Ahh, that’s not what I meant!" Lily moved her open-palmed arms before her frantically, looking flustered.

However, that was when Roxanna apologized, and explained her own point of view, causing Lily to calm down with a sigh of relief.
”Ahh, so it was a bit of culture shock! Like when I explained about the daki I ordered!" She blurted out, before turning silent for the rest fo the conversation.

At the end of it, she simply nodded, letting MDP speak first out of politeness. Once MDP was done, she added:

”I’m sorry if I came off as condescending or rude, Roxanna. I didn’t intend to dismiss your feelings on the matter."

She then pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket, and gave it to Roxanna. The paper had a row of numbers with Lily’s name on it.

”Anyway, if you ever want to…you know, do magical girl stuff, hang out, or whatever, umm, here’s my number. For the phone, I mean, haha."

“The Valkyrie girl, right? I saw her at the party too!” Sally piped in as Alicia explained what happened, having released Aurelio when he struggled to breathe. “She’s cute, but a bit loco in the coco if she does stuff like that. I mean, I can be a bit careless too, but that’s going too far…” She leaned her head to look at where Alicia’s hand circled her recent battle wounds.
“How about we celebrate this with some pastries? I heard Silverburg has this really nice cafe where you can get chocolate mousse! I could really go for something sweet!”

However, before Sally could fangirl over cakes too much, Sakura arrived with perfect timing.
“Hm? Who’s that? Hey, watch your mouth! You can’t just-” The ditzy girl started, before she puffed her cheeks upon realizing who she was. “Sakura! Why you little rascal!” She blinked as Sakura looked like she was about to once again call the storm…only to cutely fail, causing Sally to giggle as she walked up to her-.
“Oh, you’re so silly, Sakura!” Before the serpentine girl realized it, now she was the victim of Sally’s suffocating hug, looking like a wiggling salmon that’s been caught by a bear.
“You’re so cute~!”

Using her Beast magic, Dina successfully called in some of the crows that had been flying around the area; the birds were compliant as they perched on Dina’s arms, as if they were trained animals. Afterwards, Dina inspected the area where the March Hare had made his “burrow”, and noticed a stray piece of the magitek radio that he had used: it resembled some kind of microconductor, only it had a tiny yellow gem installed inside it. The gem still seemed to hold a miniscule amount of mana inside it as it faintly glowed.

Penny contacted Elora, who only took a second of typing before she responded back: “Patrol identified, codenamed Winky Puffs. Members are Bloom Belle, Stella Stars, Riven Rock, Stormy Sea, and Marine Plunder. Estimates based on data indicate only one survivor. Sending a cleanup crew to the area,” she stated professionally, with no hint of emotion. "Oh, and in case she didn't mention it," she added, "Penny, Alicia, the Cardinal has requested a meeting with you both for next week."

Justine’s eyes met Valerie’s when she non-verbally chastised her, and she averted her eyes; there was still tension between her and the android girl, and she had difficulty facing her admonition. Right now, Caroline mattered more to her than her own pride, and she wouldn’t try to excuse her feelings. Not that she had much time to ponder that once Valerie confronted Sonia. Justine did not know what to think about her sudden appearance. Did she look for her? And now that she did, what will she do.

The former maid’s glared daggers upon her, her expression cold like ice. At an instant, she disappeared from the rooftop, and appeared at talking distance away from the group.

”Who gave you permission to speak on behalf of Lady Justine?”

She spoke the words out with thinly-veiled hostility.

”Or do you need to be taught manners?”

Having expressed her displeasure at the android, she shifted her attention to Justine.

”Please excuse me for taking this long to find you, my Lady. Now, shall we depart? Father has waited for your return.”
She asked, holding her hand out for Justine.

The former vampire’s eyes widened as she looked at the offer. She then looked down at Caroline, who slept in her arms.

”...No. I’m not going back, Sonia.”

Sonia’s expression tightened.

”But why? Are you not Justine von Visceral, the Sinner of Lust and champion of Father’s will? Why would you grovel before these peasants? Why would you let them shame you like this?”

Justine's expression turned angry, and she bared her teeth.

”You’re the one who shamed me! You were supposed to look after Caroline, and she disappeared! And did Father help? No, he abandoned her!” She caressed Caroline’s head.
”No matter what happens, I will not lose her. Not ever again! I’m done with Father.”

Sonia’s open hand curled up into a fist, and she took an exasperated breath.

”So it is true…They ruined you.”

”No, Sonia. You don't understand! Father has just been using us, all this time. It was only after I was purified that I could accept that. Or are you also brainwashed by him? Is revenge the only thing you care about?”

Sonia shook her head.

”That’s what these mongrels deserve for hurting you and Lady Caroline! You wanted revenge, didn’t you? It’s still not too late to take it, my Lady!” She now gave her hand out in a more demanding manner.

Then she sighed.

”I believed you would rise up above all else and attain glory and power, to be Father’s vengeance upon the mongrels. You would have shone a radiant crimson, like the blood moon. But you've lost your drive...It seems I was mistaken.”

”Sonia, enough!”

Justine trembled.

”Don't you see? If I actually succeeded in that plan, I would have destroyed all emotions, all feelings…So what would happen to you, Sonia?”

Sonia froze, taken aback by the realization she had. Her eyes then turned wide, and she slightly shook at the weight of the truth.

”No, that's not...I didn't...”

”That’s right. You never considered that possibility, because Father blocked it off. But now that I brought it up, you’re forced to comprehend it. Father can take over your mind…But he can’t take over your heart.”

It was now Justine's turn to offer her hand.

”But it's fine. You don't need to listen to him anymore. We can-Ah!”

However, before Justine could speak any further, Sann swooped upon the sisters, a sweep of her wings enough to blow a gust of wind that caused the twins to stumble. Enclosed in her egg-like shell, the Valkyrie’s roost caused Justine to be still in surprise.

And then, the three of them shifted away, causing Sonia to gasp.

”That harpy! What does she think she is doing? Ahh, this is all so irritatingly confusing...What did you mean?”

Then, she disappeared without so much as a goodbye, as if it all was but a passing daydream.

Sann’s Shift brought the three of them to a deserted region of the Overcity, where a sparkling lake of gentle blue shimmered. In the far distance, the colossal Crystal Wall of the Overcity could be seen, glowing in colors of the rainbow like a multiversal lighthouse.

Justine removed herself from Sann’s embrace while still holding Caroline, seemingly upset.

”W-What are you doing? Why did you take me here?” She asked, looking angry.
”I know you can bring back the dead…But Caroline is still alive. I know she is! All she needs is one of those potions, and I’m sure she will recover.”
Her eyes glowed red as she realized Sann’s intentions.
”Does the Mint want to make a new deal with me?”

”Th-That’s not what I meant, it’s just…" Lily attempted backpedaling on her words. She listened as Alex explained his views on the battle, and how he didn’t mind getting hurt in the process.
”Yeah, we’ve been in worse…It’s just, ever since the Christmas party, I’ve started to realize I have a bad habit of not paying attention to how others might be feeling. So I thought that, umm, maybe…" She stopped herself with a nod.
”No, you’re right. We did beat those monsters, after all. If it was anyone else, I’m sure they’d have been worse off." Her smile began to gradually return to her.
”Now let’s finish the job!"

Soon enough the two arrived at the Industrial District. Lily hopped off her motorcycle, and ran to the gathering of Mahou present, waving her arm as she approached them.
”Hey! Sorry for being late! Had to deal with some monsters up on central. Is everything handled here?" She asked, and looked up to the sky; the flock of birds had started to scatter, the mysterious man’s Beast magic having been released from them.

She returned her eyes back to the crowd, and noticed Roxanna in the crowd. She greeted the girl, seemingly ignoring the accusations she threw at MDP.
”Oh, you must be new here! Hi, my name’s Lily Lightning, but my friends call me Lily!" Past her bright smile was a hint of nervousness at the tense situation.
”I see you’ve met MDP, haha! Don’t mind her, she can be a bit, uh, ditzy."

As Alicia and Aurelio recovered from their fight with the wendigos, Alicia heard elora’s voice in the communicator: “The situation has stabilized; the major packs of wendigos have been eliminated, leaving only lone stragglers. A couple of other squads are chasing after them for the cleanup as we speak. Mission complete. Over and out.”

Soon, they saw Sally running to them, having teleported in from a nearby rooftop.
“Hiii!” She cheerfully greeted the two. “How ya doing, Alicia? Looks like you had your work cut out for you this time, huh? We also had some wendigos out at the city limits. The things were all over town, so I thought I’d come in to check.” She pondered with a finger on her lip, having seen the piles of ash scattered around. “But you were lucky you had Aury-Poo here to help you! He’s such a gentleman~” She grabbed Aurelio, and smothered him with her lethally affectionate embrace.

Robert smiled pleasantly when Mariette accepted the letter, and bowed like a sophisticated butler. “The Queen of Hearts will look forward to your attendance. Goodbye for now, Miss Pedersen~” And, like an actor taking exit stage right, the boy turned and walked out of the door, having disappeared, but not before Mariette got a glimpse of him taking out what looked like a large golden pocket watch from his pocket. Once he was out of sight, Mariette could tell using Absolute Direction that he had left this dimension.

Finn and Mayra, though surrounded by snarling wendigos, quickly got to work in taking them out in a dance of destruction. Having already had experience with fighting a much larger horde, and still blessed by the enchantments from before, Finn successfully destroyed three of the wendigos, his fiery attacks making short work of the fiendish monsters. Mayra, while held back by her decision to take a more localized fighting style, still erupted a shower of lava-hot punches and kicks, accompanied by dark hexes and crooked casts that crippled the creatures, totaling six downed wendigos. The remaining one was shot out by a gauss cannon shot from Penny who had arrived after, flying inches away from Mayra’s cheek.

Hanna and Fubu blinked in surprise when Monica approached them and invited them to mourn their friend over at the Sanctuary.
“R-Really?” Hanna asked, baffled by the kindness she showed. “You’re sure it’s okay? I mean, after all that…” She took the minotaur girl’s hand and shook it with both hands. “No, we’re the ones who should apologize. We were hunted by Beacon in every town we’ve gone to, so we didn’t think things would be that different here. Thank you!” Fubu also showed gratitude with a bow. “Of course, we can tell you everything we know. We promise to carry our weight and work, if it means not having to constantly watch over our back. Thank you.”

Justine did not notice Valerie’s arrival, having been absorbed by her sister’s tragic fate, until she spoke, causing her to gasp.

”Valerie! Caroline’s dying!” She called out to her, tears, streaming down her face.

”She’s no longer breathing!” She pressed an ear to her chest. ”And her heartbeat’s slowing down! Please, save her! I beg of you!”

However, upon hearing Valerie ask the others and Connie’s tearful response, she sobbed in turn, having lost all hope of saving her…Until she heard a certain magical girl’s voice call out to her: it was the last person Justine expected.

”...Deni?” She whispered, her eyes wide as the little ronin girl knelt next to her; her face was white, as if she’d seen a ghost.

”B-But, Caroline…She…” She tried to put words together, but she was unable to form the sentence, shocked by Deni’s selfless gesture to save her sister. She further flinched when Miko also joined, the two of them having laid their healing hands upon Caroline.
”And Eli too…Th-thank you. Thank you so much!” She managed to say, holding back from bawling as the immense feelings of gratitude and relief washed over her.
Caroline’s breath had returned, yet it was still weak, barely drawing in air. Her heartbeat kept beating weakly. Justine took a firm grasp of her hand.
”Caroline, don’t give up! Don’t go towards the light!”

Then, she felt a wave of magic, like a burst of golden wind, blow out from behind her; Sanngridr had performed a Barrage spell, causing her Reinforcement to explosively reach out to the entire group including Caroline, further supporting her life. Everyone else felt all pain disappear, their wounds from the wendigo fight having been sealed. Caroline slightly jumped, as if hit by a defibrillator, and Justine placed her ear against her chest once again.
”I can hear it…Her heartbeat’s steady!”

However, despite having been saved from the jaws of death, Caroline still laid on the ground, motionless, as if in a coma of sorts. Justine caressed her cheek, hoping she might wake, but she knew it to be futile.
”She’s not waking up…She needs the potion.”
She stood up, picking Caroline down from the ground as she did so, and turned towards Valerie.
”Valerie, she needs a purifying potion before her condition gets worse again. It saved me, so it should save her too. Can you call´Mistress and ask if she has one?”

Whether Valerie responded or not, she afterwards addressed Sanngridr.
”Sanngridr, thank you. This meant a lot to me,” She said with hesitant gratitude, and bent her knees, as if attempting a curtsy while still carrying Caroline in her arms.
However, before she could further speak to Sann, Sakura interrupted her, having also been rejuvenated by Sann’s spell. She averted her eyes as she bit her lip, seemingly shamed by Caroline’s antics once she got a good look at the serpentine girl’s severed horn.
”On behalf of Caroline, I apologize. I didn’t expect her to show up again. But thank you for stopping her, Sakura,” She called out to Sakura as she left, hoping her words reached her.

The second message Sann sent received a reply: “Understood.” Sann knew it was only a matter of time before they tracked her down. And sure enough, both the Valkyrie, and eventually Justine as well, could see in the far distance, up on top of a tall building, the person looking down over the scene.

Justine froze, as she recognized the person.


Lily sighed in relief once Alex noticed his wound, though her sad expression didn’t change.

”I guess it’s worse everywhere else," Lily answered, and summoned her motorbike. She took out her phone, seemingly about to call someone, when she looked up at the sky ”I see a lot of birds heading over to the factories over on Industrial. I think we should go there next."

Once Alex was on board, the two of them headed off as usual. However, Lily continued to be gloomy behind the steering wheel.

”H-Hey, Alex…I’m sorry." She paused, as if to recollect her words, before continuing.

”For putting you in danger like that, and letting you get hurt. I mean, I’ve gotten hurt too; comes with this job and all. But I’m usually so fast I can dodge most attacks. But you’re always putting yourself out in harm’s way. Even if you can heal, I just…I don’t know, I feel guilty about it."

At the apartment where Mariette had collected various civilians, the injured Beacon girl was resting, bandaged up like a poor mummy costume for Halloween. When Mariette approached her, the girl visibly tensed up. “Y-You’re the one who rescued me, right? Th-thanks…”
She then saw the tentacles that emerged from portals around Mariette, and the girl blushed. “W-Whatever you’re thinking of, it won’t work. I won’t break!”
She was breathing unusually heavily, with something resembling a smile on her face. “No matter how much you torture me-!”

That was when Mariette asked her questions, causing the girl to blink. “O-oh. You just want…information.” Looking embarrassed at her misunderstanding, she glanced away with a cringing face, and then sighed. “A-Alright, I’ll tell you.” She sat up on her bed, and looked down at her hands. “It was me, Bloom, Stella, Riven, and Stormy. We were doing our usual rounds when we happened to see someone up on top of the iron smelting facility. Pretty sure it was a magical boy. Th-that’s when the monsters attacked us. I think heard him say something about unifying or unification, but at that point I was too busy swinging my sword at some snapping jaws to hear more.” She then blinked, as she looked straight at Mariette…Or rather, at something behind her.

“Oh, it was him! That’s the guy!”

Mariette’s Light magic detected the statement as the truth.

When she turned, she saw her point at one of the civilians she had rescued. The boy in question stepped out of the crowd, and bowed.

“Oh, my deepest apologies for interrupting your conversation.”
He had a pleasant smile and relaxing demeanor about him, making him very approachable for a stranger…And that caused Mariette to feel even more put off by him.

“It seems your friend has mistaken me for someone else.”
Mariette detected the statement also as the truth.

“Anyway, I should introduce myself. My name is Robert White. I am pleased to meet you, Miss Pedersen. On behalf of the Queen of Hearts, I would be honored to give you this.” He reached for a letter tucked in his jacket, and graciously handed it out to Mariette. Just like the one before, this one also had the royal wax seal with the stylized heart symbol, marking it as genuine.

“Her Highness would like to invite you to a friendly game of croquet. It is a very important date, so please don’t be late~” he said, referring to the famous line spoken by a certain white-coated lagomorph. But the way he said it was still humorous, to the point even the Beacon girl let out a nervous giggle. Whoever this person was, they were very charismatic…And dangerous.

At the hospital, Alicia readied a blade of light despite her wounded condition, one arm clutching at her side as she endured the pain. However, Sanngridr was more than prepared to punish the offending monster who dared to sink their teeth into her, piercing the beast’s heart with her Valkyrie’s Tear, followed by casting a rune written in the fiend’s own blackened blood and searing the monster from within, causing it to howl pitifully as it scattered into ash.

By the time Sann was done, Aurelio had already moved to mend Alicia’s injuries as the battle had ended, relieving her suffering. Sanngridr also took a moment to heal her wing, molting broken feathers as new ones grew in their place. Thyen, without as much as a a goodbye, the Chooser of the Slain departed on ebony wings, heading towards the bank’s direction.

At the Penrose Bank, Miko and Ronin hesitated once Sakura had drawn Caroline’s ire, torn between fleeing the scene or aiding Sakura. Gaia chose a third option, and attempted to pacify the two combatants by enveloping them in a large cloud of very potent narcotic spores. This further drained Gaia, leaving her with only a little bit; the next spell she would cast would result in her transforming back to normal. However, the verdant girl did not have much time to think on the consequences when Sanngridr arrived, having taken the twins under her wing.

The spell was partially absorbed by Sakura’s aquatic barrier, the rest blown away by the serpentine girl. Caroline also noticed the spores, and breathed out fire, burning the spores out of the air.

”Caroline is not going to wash Caroline’s teeth!! It’s not Caroline’s bed time yet!” She screamed, and then delivered a blow that severed Sakura’s horn. Caroline jumped back after the hit, swiped it downwards to quell the flames, and licked her blade, tasting the blood on it. This caused the demented girl to giggle madly, seemingly elated.

”Sweet red! Just like Caroline remembered, sweet red!” She brandished her sword, lighting it up once more as she dashed once again at Sakura.
”Caroline wants more! More sweet red! MORE!”

In response, Sakura mightily shrieked, and the weather itself turned to a storm, causing Caroline to stop and blink in surprise as Sakura was surrounded by the raging winds, a creepily open smile on her lips.

”Haa ha haa!” She laughed, even as Sakura charged, channelling her destructive magic onto the red-dressed maniac. The entire street shook from the impact, and windows shattered. The rain continued to stain the street with water…and carried shades of red with it; Caroline’s blood. The Killing Blow, just as Sakura planned, caused a bolt of thunder to strike at the moment the two collided. Caroline laid on the street; Her red dress was bleached into shades of pink by the intensity of the energy that had struck her. Her arms, legs, and face were burnt. Her mad giggling was replaced by gurgling blood from her throat. Sakura also lay nearby, panting unevenly as she was also frazzled by the blow, but to a much lesser extent. Even so, she was in need of immediate medical attention.


Justine arrived, having quickly descended down to Caroline. She held Caroline in her arms, tears staining her cheeks.

”Caroline, stay with me!” She pleaded, but Caroline didn’t respond. She sniffled.
”I’m sorry for how much I hurt you, Caroline! I’m sorry for not being there for you when you needed me the most! I let my desire for revenge consume me! It let me down a horrible road of despair!”
She scratched the concrete-paved street next to Caroline with her long nails, breaking them.
”I did terrible things, thinking I’d avenge you, when I should have tried to heal your heart instead! I was so stupid! I’m sorry! So sorry!” She slammed her fist down, causing cracks to form on the street.


Justine froze upon feeling Caroline’s hand weakly rising to touch her cheek.

”You…Came for Caroline…You cared…” She faintly spoke as she opened her eyes, even as the pool of blood, diluted by the water, spread.

”Caroline!” Justine held the hand on her cheek.
”You will be alright, I promise! Just stay with me! I’ll never leave you again!”
However, Caroline coughed blood in response.

”...Caroline…knows….Big sis…Will always…be with…me…”

Then, she closed her eyes…And her hand went limp.

Justine continued sitting on her knees, holding Caroline, as she quietly wept.


At the industrial sector, the battle came to a decisive close with Penny’s earth-shaking arrival; with a mighty force, bolstered by Dina and Angel of Hope, the Builder Queen paved the streets with the ashes of the wendigos, covering for the Sanctuary warriors who were about to reach their limit. Like Laughing Octopus in the beginning of MGS4, Penny tore through the ranks of monsters. Assisted by everyone else, including Oliver who picked off more distant wendigos with firebombs, and MDP who blasted a few more with pretty beams of deadly light, the battle was finally over; what wendigos remained were either incapacitated, or slowly regenerating.

“Phew, we survived,” Hanna commented, holding her arm due to a bite wound she had incurred, which had already began to close thanks to Reinforcement magic.
“Yeah…” Fubu agreed, though she frowned. “But not Karen.”
“Oof…I guess we’ll have to hold a funeral for her.”

However, even after the wendigoes were destroyed, birds continued to ominously gather in the sky. Though they have failed to harass anyone, having been shocked into nuggets or burned into hot wings by Dina’s phoenix, they still flew in circles above, almost as if they were watching.

Having realized this oddity sooner than others, Finn went to investigate the nearby factory, followed by Mayra. There, they heard someone’s voice in the distance; they seemed to be talking to someone else.

“Yes, the nexus has surpassed our expectations. I assure you that you will be pleased by its potency, Your Highness.”

The two reached the main production hall, and up on a walkway next to the windows Finn saw the source of the Beast magic: a masked man in a decorated suit was speaking to an old-fashioned corded telephone attached to a strange device. The device emerged out from a suitcase much smaller than the device itself, and had glowing crystals and blue wires interspersed with electronics, buttons, dials, and an antenna on top. The antenna slowly rotated, and Mayra realized that she had seen something similar used on a dimension she or one of her colleagues had visited; it was a magitech radio of sorts. It also seemed to be capable of cloaking it’s user from magical or technological surveillance, with only the Beast magic having been able to be traced.

“The local defenses are unorganized but not to be taken lightly. Penrose is unsuitable as a landing point for our troops. Silverburg on the other hand is lightly defended and within marching distance. I recommend-”
The man stopped having noticed the arrival of the two.
“Ending call. Hail Wonderland!”
He then placed the corded phone back on the device, and pressed a button; the device sunk into the suitcase as it closed, leaving no trace of the device.
The man picked up the suitcase, and faced the intruders. He then placed a sealed letter on the windowsill, and dusted off his coat. He smiled smugly.

“Ignorant slaves to the Powers.” He snapped his fingers, and ten wendigos suddenly emerged around Finn and Mayra, having arrived from summoning circles; it seems the mysterious man had prepared for being found out. As the wendigos attacked, the man dashed out, swift as the wind, and disappeared completely.
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