I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO PUT HERE AS A BANNER!
It didn’t take long for Nuncio to get Sammy to leave the sanctuary. When he told her that someone had insisted they leave Penrose, she acted like she couldn’t be bothered. But when she heard that Nuncio had been unattended with another woman, Sammy was a bit more interested in meeting them.
Well, interest was one way of putting it.
The tiny detective practically dragged her boyfriend out of Sanctuary, pulling him by the back of his head. ”According to my deductions, the harlot is waiting for us out here.” She waved around her magnifying glass. ”Show yourself, harlot!”
Shion turned towards the couple before looking around for a moment, confused. ”... Me?” she asked, pointing to herself when she noticed nobody else around the immediate area.
Sammy looked at Shion, then at Nuncio. He gave a single nod, which caused Sammy to release him before walking towards the girl.
”Yes, I have deduced who is responsible for this ‘disruption.’ According to my sources, you are Shion, correct?” Sammy didn’t stop walking until she was a foot away from her. The detective needed to swing her head back to look Shion in the eyes. ”So what’s this about getting me to leave Penrose? There’s far too much going on to properly leave alone. The Mint, Beacon, the coins, the murders, it’s all connected somehow.”
Shion deadpanned at Sammy. ”Everything is connected somehow, that’s how things are. As for those things in particular… Well, I know that the Mint, or at least one of their enforcers, wants you guys out because you’re too… innocent? Weak? Something like that, and considering what might be happening soon… You’re gonna not want to be here.”
”Something’s happening?” Sammy’s pupils expanded, practically turning into saucers. ”I was not told of any happenings! You must divulge everything you know. Less my ability to solve the case go down by .015%. Unlikely to cause failure, but a statistical anomaly I will not soon ignore!” Nuncio just stood up and dusted himself.
”Might be happening. And I’ll tell you, if you promise to leave ASAP. There’s not really anything that involves you in it, I think.”
Sammy, in rather dramatic fashion, spun a hundred-and-eighty degrees before slapping her hand against her own forehead. ”B-but, I cannot!” She looked over her shoulder at Shion. ”Who will solve the case if I don’t? Who, among those left in Penrose, are not in the pockets of those powerful organizations?”
”Man, I don’t even know anyone other than me now that the P.I. stopped telling me things. But if you tell me what you know, I’ll try to figure it out for you, I guess? I don’t have any resources but time anymore, but that’s a powerful one.” Shion said as she crossed her arms, somewhat upset at having admitted that she was clueless about Penrose’s goings on lately.
Sammy’s lower lip trembled. ”W-well, you don’t sound as knowledgeable as you first let on.”
”But she does sound like she’s trying to be helpful.” Nuncio coiled his arms around Sammy’s shoulders. ”Sammy, I know this case means a lot to you. You were never one to give up when it meant bringing villains to justice. But you’re not just a lone detective anymore. You’ve got Faith and myself with you. You were captured once, and Lotus was killed by some Beacon fanatic.”
”B-But-” She was trembling in Nuncio’s arms.
”You’re the only reason I haven’t fled Penrose right now. But please think of Faith. She’s already lost so much, and I really can’t look after the two of you.” He sighed. ”Look, there are unsolved mysteries all over the world. Paranormal happenings only you can get to the bottom of.” He looked at Shion. ”I know it’s hard to put your faith in others, especially strangers that you just met. But if you can’t put your faith in her, put it in me. Let her take your place here and we can all continue our adventure elsewhere. We can continue to look for Binky outside of Penrose while Shion keeps an eye around here.”
Sammy took a deep breath, sighed, and closed her eyes. ”You still love me, right?”
”I haven’t stopped thinking about you once.”
”Heheheh.” She wiped one of her eyes before looking at Shion. ”Alright, let’s hear what you have to say.”
”Alright, so… This isn’t going to sound believable, but it’s true. There’s a theory out there that with enough magic, you can create something that’ll totally upheave the magical ecosystem of patrons and magi. What I know is that, if things are going the way I hope they are, Penrose is going to become the site of the debut of one of those events. I don’t know if it’ll actually come to pass, but if it does it’s going to bring in a lot of magical beings that you won’t want to be around for, so this is going to be for the best in two ways.” Shion sighed, hoping once again that Makoto was on to something. ”Anyway, that’s what I know, so if you want me to take up this case for you, I’ll need to know what you know, too.”
”I see, well, I always knew something was afoot.” Sammy looked to either side of herself. ”Well, news about it has quieted down, but Binky was the one who made the red coins. I don’t know what his game was, but he was ‘captured’ by Beacon, and not long after they started to roll out their white coin. Coincidence? I think NOT!” She threw out her arms, and even Nuncio couldn’t contain her. ”And speaking of coincidences, is it not amusing that after the majority of Penrose’s magical girls were abducted that Penrose itself becomes the playpen of monsters? A likely excuse to send in Beacon Special forces: The Ascendancy!” She was pacing back and forth in front of Shion. ”All the while strange murder is taking place, and while investigating one such case I was abducted by Mint agents! The dead girl in question was a monster girl. Why would Mint waste their time with one of those with the Ascendancy around? Certainly there must be something big enough that it has the two of them wrapped up in it. Are they on the same side? In competition? Regardless, the two of them deal in secrets and lies.” Sammy brought a hand to her chin. ”This information about an upheaval of the food chain, it makes sense. That must be what they’re trying to control.” She stopped walking. ”…It’s just like all of Aigorost’s champions have been saying…” With a sigh, she turned to Shion. ”You are a brave woman, Shion. I might not be scared of this coming apocalypse, but I have to look out for my friends. Perhaps you have no difficulty staying because you have none, or they are elsewhere?” She hugged herself. ”It feels strange to leave here with so much undone, so much left to deduce and see, but it is as Nuncio says, there are other mysteries to take care of. Perhaps in time we will meet again.”
Shion was stunned a moment from the levy of information she received. Still… ”Yeah, you’re right. That all does seem a bit too much to be a coincidence. Though I wouldn’t call myself brave, thank you for trusting me. I’ll do my best to figure this all out, and if I do, I’ll see what I can do to get the answers to you. I don’t like half-assing things.” Shion smiled. ”Good luck out there, you two. And make sure to get… Crap, I forget her name. But there was a third I was supposed to get out of Penrose alongside you two. I’ll even escort you out if you need.”
”It was Faith.” Nuncio added simply.
”Huh?” Sammy raised an eyebrow. ”How would you know?”
The mobster shrugged his shoulders. ”Just a hunch, there are three of us right? Faith has to be number three.”
Sammy nodded. ”…Yea, that makes sense.” She and Nuncio walked away.
A sigh left faith’s lips as she waited on the park bench. It was still cold out, but Faith’s jacket was plenty to keep warm by. At least it was enough to prevent her from getting sick. The cold wasn’t something she cared for at all. She much preferred the other seasons, as you could actually see things bloom. But the now-ruined Penrose more or less looked the same regardless of the time of year. A coat of snow on ruined buildings was nothing to really get excited about.
Faith wasn’t even sure why she had to wait here. Nuncio had told her to be at this very spot, and Faith had decided to show up early to not keep everyone waiting.
“H-Hi, Faith!” Connie called as she and Mia approached. Faith nearly jumped out of her seat, until she realized who was speaking to her. “It’s r-really nice to s-see you again,” she added with a smile, while she reached into a coat pocket and retrieved a small piece of paper. “Uh, t-this is the invitation t-to that C-Christmas Party I t-texted you about,” the timid girl explained, handing the paper to Faith. “I, uh, t-thought it m-might be fun, a-and, um…” she trailed off as she fully noticed just how gloomy her friend looked.
“This goofy dolphin’s hosting it,” Mia added, in an attempt to make things a bit less awkward. “He’s got his very own beach dimension and everything. Gotta say, it’s pretty weird, but it sure beats the hell outta this place…”
“S-So, um, h-how have you b-been doing?” Connie asked, having finally summoned up the courage to voice the question she was somewhat afraid to learn the answer to.
Faith pinched the ticket between her fingers and gently pulled it from Connie’s grasp. ”It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” She examined the ticket, pulling it tight between her two hands. Despite having a more mature appearance than Connie, her fingers were comparatively small and delicate. ”I think we named Hilda Bell, didn’t we? That was fun.” A wistful smile crossed her face. ”I still miss Lotus, I’m a little disappointed with how easily Penny became queen. I hear she’s a Beacon plant, but she’s so strong no one would dare try to take her throne from her. Just as well I didn’t get involved in that I suppose. B-but it hasn’t all been bad!” She turned to Connie and made her smile as big as she possibly could. ”I made a friend, and we ate some ice cream! And you two are still here. But, well.” She looked ahead. ”I don’t think Penrose is for me.”
Connie frowned when Faith mentioned how much she still missed Lotus, and then went on to talk about someone named Penny becoming queen. Connie didn’t know anything about any of that, but it was clear to see it was something that greatly bothered Faith. There was still so much about Penrose’s magical community that was a complete mystery to Connie. Take Beacon, for instance. A lot of people had called them dangerous extremists, but other people thought of them as heroes, and the few members she had briefly met had seemed nice enough… But what was the truth? Who and what was she to believe? It was all so confusing…
Connie was shaken out of these thoughts a moment later, when Faith brightened and told them about a new friend she had made, and how they’d eaten ice cream together. That made Connie a great deal more relieved, but then…
“N-Not for you?” Connie echoed, her confusion clear in her voice. “D-Does that m-mean you’re l-leaving…?”
Faith pressed her knees together. ”Conni I-” With a huff, she lowered her head. ”The choice is not entirely my own. I know the local forests need me, but I’m ill equipped for city life. Lotus has been slain, I was nearly devoured, Cindy’s regime has been completely taken over, not to mention Beacon is looking for me, and my first friends in Penrose are urging me to leave.” She pulled on the hem of her coat. ”It feels like I’m running away, but I think it only feels like that because you two can’t come with me.”
“I-It’s okay,” Connie told Faith, while placing a trembling hand on her shoulder and giving her what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’ll r-really miss you, b-but I understand w-why they want you to l-leave. I-I mean, i-it’s not all t-that s-safe around here… Oh! B-But d-don’t worry about us!” she hastened to add. “T-Thanks to you, w-we’ve made a lot of n-new friends, a-and I’m getting a lot better at c-controlling my m-magic, too!”
“And don’t worry about the forests, either,” Mia added with a grin. “If anyone starts screwin’ around with ‘em, they’ll have to deal with me.”
Sitting down next to Faith, Connie wrapped her up in a big hug. “You’re s-such a good person, Faith. I’m s-so glad I got the c-chance to be your friend.”
Faith let out a soft grunt as Connie embraced her. ”Well! I’m glad I got to meet you too~! And your words are reassuring, Gaia.” After returning the hug, she eased Connie back into her seat. ”I may be leaving, but I’ll still have your phone numbers. So we can stay in touch if you like.” she smiled. ”But I understand, there’s nothing quite like surviving together in a rough neck of the woods.”
“Y-Yeah! We t-totally can!” Connie agreed after Faith noted that they’d still be able to call and text each other. “A-And h-hopefully you can s-still make it to the Christmas Party,” she added. “S-Since it’s k-kinda in another d-dimension, you s-should be able to get there n-no matter where you m-move to! Oh! A-And that invitation I gave you can d-duplicate itself, so you c-can invite your other f-friends too!”
Faith looked at the ticket in her hand and, sure enough, it became two tickets with just a thought. ”Well isn’t that neat~!.” she giggled. ”I’ll see about attending. But for now, there’s still time before the others arrive. Was there something you wanted to do before I go, Connie?.”
Faith’s question caused the timid girl to frown in thought. “Umm… N-Not really…? I, uh, j-just w-wanted to invite you to the p-party and c-catch up on things…”
“How about we build some snow forts?” Mia suggested.
“T-That’s a great idea, Mia!” Connie gushed, a happy smile spreading across her face. “W-Would you like to, Faith?! I-It’ll be j-just like the day we f-first met!”
The fairy girl closed her eyes. The day they had made snow forts they were on a great plane. Just a giant sheet of snow that had only been marked by their mock battle. A white, barely used canvas that the four of them could mould into whatever they desired. They had spent a fair bit of time moulding the snow drifts into tunnels, walls, and other simple structures. Then they hurled snowballs during a snowball war afterwards. A lot of fun was had.
When she opened her eyes though, Faith didn’t see a white canvas. She saw some tall buildings, roads that had plowed away most of their snow, given this was one of the few places where vehicles could actually drive. Most of the snow was brown, some was even black. And instead of having the entire evening to themselves, they had just a few minutes. The three of them.
”We could try.” Faith stood up and walked towards a mound of snow. ”So do you have any plans after the Christmas party? Any reason why you keep trying to make friends? I imagine you’ll have quite a few before long.”
“O-Oh, um, n-not really…” Connie replied, her high spirits having been lowered a bit by Faith’s somewhat sullen demeanor. “A-And, well… B-Besides Mia, I n-never had any friends u-until just recently, s-so I just t-thought it might be n-nice to s-see if I could m-make some more… A-And I’m sure y-you’ll make l-lots of new friends, too!” she added with a smile in an effort to cheer Faith up. “I-I mean, it s-shouldn’t be any p-problem for someone as k-kind and helpful as you.”
”I’ll probably be alright.” She had pulled a large styrofoam drinking cup out of the trash and was using it to make small rooks for her fort. Once the cup was packed with snow, she’d turn it over on top of her fort and pull it away to create a base. Then she just had to use her gloved finger to shape the top like a castle. ”Seriously though, Connie! Most magical girls these days are vying to rule penrose, start some mega faction, or upset the balance of things! It’s almost an oddity that you two have such humble goals.” She looked to Mia. ”Though I suppose having a lot of friends is something like having a team. Some squad of individuals who share your ideas and are willing to fight to protect them.”
“I guess you could say that,” Mia replied as she helped Connie with her fort. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that Connie’s not really a typical magical girl, and the only balance my Patron cares about maintaining is the one between humanity and nature. I gotta admit, though, before Connie became a magical girl herself, I really didn’t want to have much to do with the whole thing,” she added. “I just did what Mother asked and then got back to my life as quickly as possible. But now, I’ve gotten sucked into this whole crazy community, and, yeah, it can definitely be dangerous, but seeing Connie make so many new friends has been really cool. So I got to thinkin’ maybe it’s not all that bad, y’know?” Picking up some sticks, she stuck them into the side of their fort’s tallest tower to serve as menacing spikes. “I mean, if more people can just learn to look past their differences and become friends, then maybe a lot of this place’s problems would go away. Like, there’s this one girl who calls herself ‘Magical Dream Princess’. She’s actually trying to get a member of the Ascendancy to be friends with this monster girl she knows. It’s totally nuts, but so is MDP, so it might actually work!” she added with a laugh.
The far more likely scenario was that this “magical dream princess” would be both physically and metaphorically crushed when said ascendancy member ran through her monster girl partner and she was tried and executed as some sort of criminal. But it was nice to see that Connie’s naivety might have been rubbing off on Mia a bit. She smiled to herself and placed some icicles around her tower. Though rather than making them into deadly spikes, she used them as bars for the windows and doorways. ”We can all change ourselves, Mia, but changing others is another thing entirely~!” She laid out more icicles in front of her tower to make a sort of draw bridge. ”But it’s good that you’re finding people you resonate with. Perhaps it’s that luck that drew us together in the first place.”
“Y-Yeah! T-That has to be it!” Connie agreed. “I-I mean, w-we could have run into some r-really horrible people out t-there in the w-woods, but instead, we met you! J-Just think!” she added excitedly. “I-If we d-didn’t meet you, then w-we wouldn’t have gone to the r-rave. A-And if w-we didn’t do that, t-then we would have n-never met Lily, or Emily, or M-Miss Sakura, or Ronin, or Hildebell!” she noted, using her fingers to count each new friend.
Faith sighed. It would take a long time for her to heal, but Connie’s words made her realize something. While the last few weeks had been hard for her, they hadn’t been hard for everyone. To Faith, the rave was a horrible death trap that claimed many lives, and ruined several more. But it did bring Connie and Mia in touch with other like spirits. She could at least live vicariously through Connie, just until she got her feet back under herself.
”Then I hope they bring you many more good memories!”
Faith took a step back from her fort. It wasn’t much larger than the cup she had started out with. But she could at least be proud that she made the most of the time she had been given. Hopefully her friends would do the same.
”According to my deductions…” a tiny detective leaned around a snow bank. ”…He’s not here either?”
”Sammy!” Faith turned to her pint sized friend. ”Where’s Nuncio?”
”He said he was going to meet me right here.” She thumped her foot.
”Well you’re just in time!” Faith gathered up a handful of snow. ”I was worried I’d be outnumbered in the coming war of winter~!”
”War?” Sammy lifted a hand to her hat. ”What is this war of winter? Why I have I not heard of it until now!”
“Pretty sure she means a snowball fight,” Mia replied with a grin as she formed a spheroid projectile. “And I don’t think that snowbank’s gonna be of much help!” she added as she flung her snowball in a curving arc, which took it over the snowbank and onto the top of Sammy’s head. “Come on, Connie! Let’s show ‘em how it’s done!”
“O-Okay!” Connie replied, while hurriedly scooping up some snow of her own. “W-Watch out, Faith!” she warned with a laugh. “Mia’s been h-helping me practice my t-throwing! I c-can actually h-hit things now!”
”I look forward to seeing how you improved! But I won’t go easy on you!”
Sammy stepped out from behind the snow bank with a snowball wedged in the top of her oversized hat. Mia’s snowball had crushed it over her eyes. ”I appear to have been struck by a snowball, but I fear the two of you have mislabeled this bout. It is not a fight, nor is it a war...” Sammy pulled her hands out from behind her back, revealing two snowballs. ”This will be a massacre!”
They let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered them anyway.
Not even a few minutes after Shion had seen the two off did she hear a familiar voice from the shadows.
”You did well, Shion.” Vermin killer stepped out from between two buildings and adjusted his hat. ”There’s just one thing left to do.”
”If it starts with a ‘K’, I’m going to murder you. Regardless of what it is.” Shion said as she turned towards the new arrival.
The smug grin on VK’s face only grew wider. ”This might be hard to believe, but I’m not one to go back on my word, even to a former vermin. While I am something of a romantic, I can’t say I’d ever consider doing anything with you quite so uncouth. You’re reasonably attractive as well as intelligent, but falling in love with my targets is something that I’ve only done once.” When Vermin Killer reached up to adjust his hat, his form fell away from him like a fog. As the smoke cleared, Shion could see Nuncio was in his place, wearing VK’s clothes over his own. ”But to be fair, I had fallen for her before the Mint made her a target.”
”Y’know, I was sort of expecting ‘kill,’ but I’ll take the compliment. Still, that’s quite the double life you must be living.” Shion paused a moment. ”Why’d you need me to get her out if you were already a part of the group you wanted out?”
”Because there was no way I was going to get Sammy to budge. As someone who’s friends with ‘Makoto,’ I’m sure you’re aware friendships in the Mint are a rare thing. Regardless, having a successor to the case of the red coins is all Sammy needed.” He shrugged. ”And with Sammy convinced, Faith would soon follow. Perhaps my former target was a strange choice, but I’ve already told you why I selected you. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I had some admiration for my former target.” Rosa walked out of the shadows beside Nuncio and rubbed against his leg. ”I’ve decided to end my double life here. The mint has chosen to hold what I love hostage, and I refuse to work for them a second longer.” He lowered his hand onto the affectionate tiger’s head. ”Vermin Killer is not a single person though. Agent Viper has been acting as a double of sorts when I am unable to take Vermin Killer’s persona myself. Though I am the one who controls all of the animals, so you need not fear my predators any longer. We did this during the rave incident when I convinced the mint to release Sammy as a way to gamble for the dream almanac.” Nuncio’s smile faded. ”Unfortunately, I do not know much about what the mint is doing at the moment. They tell us as little as they have to. But I will answer any questions you have to the best of my ability.”
So I’m guessing the ‘Viper’ is still going to be after me. And what is this ‘dream almanac’? In fact, what actually happened at the meetup that was going around on Glimmr? I assume that’s the rave you mentioned?
”I’m unaware of what her assignments are. She was primarily paired up with me to help Violet Covington recover the dream almanac. Unfortunately, I know little about the almanac itself. The name suggests it has something to do with foretelling dreams. I know she was very interested in locating someone who was giving people nightmares. To my knowledge though, the only magical girl who can use nightmare magic in Penrose is a girl named Connie Williams. As for the event on Glimmr. That was the rave but…” Nuncio groaned. ”I don’t really know what happened? I thought Viper was going to help me get the stupid book from Mariette. From what I heard, a psychic nuke was triggered and it killed damn near every Beacon girl at the rave. Including two squadrons of Ascendancy! Then someone triggered a lightning nova that wiped out almost everyone else. It was a massacre! Cindy Ford left the rave to meet with the Cardinal and was slain, along with a few other magical girls. One of my friends were among them, and Faith almost lost her life too…” The mobster hung his head. ”But yes, Viper was the one who set things up so that the Mint could do away with Cindy Ford. They tried to kill the Cardinal too, but were unsuccessful. It’s a wonder we get anything done when we’re so eager to turn on our own.”
”Yeah, tell me about it. I’ve heard horror stories from Makoto too, but… seriously? Nearly everyone there died? Including Cindy? Glad I didn’t go, then. Sorry to hear about your friend, though.” Shion sighed before her eyes lit up. ”Wait, if Cindy is gone… I don’t suppose you know where she kept her stuff, huh? There’s a certain chest I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on, if it’s not already been snatched up by someone. I had tried half-heartedly to get it before, but she didn’t fall for it.”
”I do not personally know, unfortunately. I would think one of her surviving protege would know. Perhaps Goblina or someone like that. Alternatively, the Beacon twins Janet and Jenna were at the scene. As known mind readers, they might have gathered something from her.”
Shion thought for a moment. ”If nearly every Beacon girl and two squads of Ascendancy were wiped out, does that mean the Mint is declaring war on them, or was it someone else who did it? I guess trying to kill the Cardinal would itself be an act of war, too. I don’t exactly have an in with Beacon, so this may be a bit more difficult than I had hoped, now that I know that.”
”I believe the intention was to drive a wedge between corrupt magical girls and Beacon, like Justine did a few months prior. Unfortunately, many magical girls noticed the Mint’s involvement, so our involvement is pretty much the worst kept secret of Penrose. Cindy’s forces are now headed by a Beacon sympathiser, which has made Beacon’s position even stronger. I have no love for Veronica, but I can almost understand why she split off. Al just can’t run a tight ship.” Nuncio smirked. ”But there’s some good news for you. Beacon isn’t as united and strong as it appears on the surface. There’s quite a bit of infighting, mainly between the Penrose branch and the Ascendancy. Alicia Hayden will bark and wag her tail at the Ascendancy’s call, but others like the Beacon twins may be able to humor you. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details as it’s not part of my assignments.”
”Sounds like those twins are my best bet in all regards, then. And here I was working so hard to… Nevermind. Anyway, good luck with whatever you do next. Getting out of the Mint is hard, but a good idea.”
”It is hard to do anything alone, Shion.” Nuncio cast Vermin Killer’s coat into the air. ”But if you can make trustworthy friends, you’ll be able to accomplish quite a bit.” When the coat fell back on top of Nuncio and Rosa, the two seemed to disperse into crows. ”Don’t let Sammy down now. I still have my connections..”
Shion waved dismissively. ”I don’t plan to let anyone down.”