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With the burly weretiger (whose name was apparently Lorenzo) now undeniably out of action, things seemed to have finally quieted down in the casino’s main hall. After taking a moment to collect herself, Ashley took the opportunity to leap over the teller counter and take a closer look at the elevator controls. Sure enough, there was a security keypad barring access, but no sooner had she reached it, then Ellie’s voice called over her earpiece with the code. “Got it,” the Knight of Tomorrow confirmed. “Six-one-three-seven,” she repeated, pressing the relevant digits on the keypad. The high-tech heroine was grateful for how swiftly the code had been obtained, and she only hoped Ellie and Mika’s return to the elevator would be equally swift. In her mind, she could hear the ticks of a clock as each second elapsed, and as she held the elevator door open with one hand and covered the room with the techno-wand she held clasped in the other, Agent Orion kept her eyes peeled for the sight of the two agents returning from around the corner they had disappeared behind moments before.

Soon enough, the two agents reappeared, first Ellie, followed by Mika a few moments later. However, to Ashley’s surprise, the feline agent wasn’t alone. The teller the beanie hat bouncer had used as a shield was with her.

“She knows where Binky’s being held?” Ashley echoed, not exactly expecting a humble teller to be so knowledgeable, or cooperative. Yet, those thoughts were pushed aside when she noticed the woman’s bloody wound. “That doesn’t look too pleasant,” she noted with a frown as she clipped her techno-wand to her belt and held out her gloved hand. “If you move your hand, I can patch you up,” she told the woman with a reassuring smile. Assuming the teller did so, Ashley’s hand would become enveloped by a soft green glow, and, placing it over the wound, she would bathe it in healing energies for several seconds.

One might question the logic of employing a melody on a mere civilian, and one who worked for a monster-run crime syndicate at that, but Ashley’s reasons for doing so were twofold. Firstly, she wasn’t about to let a non-combatant die of blood loss, especially not after being used as a human shield. Secondly, and of greater importance to the mission at hand, it would simply be foolish to allow such a valuable asset to potentially bleed out before guiding them to where Binky could be found.

As she worked, the Knight of Tomorrow thought over Mika’s request to stay topside and guard their escape route. On the one hand, she would rather not split up what was already a rather small team, nor was she particularly keen on having the youngest and most inexperienced member be the one to stay behind, especially when said member was limited to melee combat. That said, Agent Cerberus's suggestion was still a sound one, it was just that Agent Orion saw a far better alternative.

“That’s a good idea, Cerberus,” she commended the cat girl. “But I think Angel is more suited to defending an open location like this,” she added. “Conversely, her ability to fly will be severely limited in cramped corridors, while your speed and skill at close quarters combat will be far more valuable in such an environment. Therefore, unless anyone has a serious objection, I’d like Angel to remain here, while Witch Hunter, Cerberus, and I head down to rescue Binky. Oh, and you as well,” she added, looking up at the teller. “I’m so sorry, but I don’t believe I ever got your name.”

18 | Female | GEMINI | Vision of Tomorrow
Implements of Tomorrow | Wand, Shield | Arcane | Tune of Tomorrow
Raiment of Tomorrow | Stride of Tomorrow
Light of Tomorrow | Light | Power of Tomorrow
PRO-TEK 4000 Defensive Surgery Implement | Kevlar Coat, Kevlar Padding, Medical Supplies, Tazer, Clip Light
[Reveal (2), Purity (4)], Damage (2), Damage X (6), Shield (4), Reflect (4), Heal (6), Major Heal (18), AoE (2), Powerful (0), Piercing (2)


[Silver Touch][Powerful][Heal] = 90 mana


As it transpired, Ashley would not be able to take out the charging weretiger and jump over the teller booth’s counter. Much to the Knight of Tomorrow’s considerable shock, the burly bruiser was surprisingly nimble, and her eyes widened in disbelief as the weretiger dodged her initial energy beam in a burst of preternatural agility. Thankfully, she was able to adjust her aim enough for her second bolt to at least strike the furious feline’s shoulder, although the injury didn’t even seem to slow the brute down. Bracing herself, Ashley grunted with pain as the weretiger slammed into her energy shield and pressed her back against the teller booth.

Still, this was actually to Agent Orion’s advantage as, at such close quarters, her beastly foe was no longer able to dodge her attacks. Not only that, but Estelle had even managed to get behind him and deliver a powerful kick to the back of one of his legs, destabilizing the massive creature. Not about to let such an opportunity go to waste, Ashley’s energy shield glowed brighter for a moment as arcane energies built within it, before being expelled in a mighty blast of destructive power. With the burly brute hopefully reeling from this surprise attack, especially when coupled with Estelle’s own, the Knight of Tomorrow slightly lowered her shield to jab the pointed prongs of her techno-wand into the chest of the ferocious feline and fire off a potent energy bolt at point blank range.

Even as this battle was occurring, Ashley dimly heard Mika’s annoyed voice saying something about a security code, followed by an equally pissed off inquiry about whether or not Ashley had even bothered to check the elevator in the first place.

I’ve been kinda busy… the high-tech heroine grumbled to herself, although she knew this was neither the time nor the place to actually give voice to such a retort.

As it was, while the possibility that there would be some form of lock on the elevator had occurred to her, she’d figured they could simply brute force their way through it if such turned out to be the case. Either way, getting in and out as fast as possible was still the Knight of Tomorrow’s top priority. Maybe it was a mistake to not ensure every hostile in the casino’s main hall was neutralized, but every second they delayed gave their adversaries more time to ready their defenses below ground. Unlike with the disastrous assault on Justin’s mansion, they currently had the element of surprise, and Agent Orion wanted to ensure they made the most of it.

That said, Ashley couldn’t stop Mika from darting after the individual she suspected was in possession of the code, with Ellie loudly announcing she’d assist the feline agent in her pursuit.

“Roger,” Ashley acknowledged as she watched the angelic agent dart off.

I really hope she never gets assigned to a stealth op…

18 | Female | GEMINI | Vision of Tomorrow
Implements of Tomorrow | Wand, Shield | Arcane | Tune of Tomorrow
Raiment of Tomorrow | Stride of Tomorrow
Light of Tomorrow | Light | Power of Tomorrow
PRO-TEK 4000 Defensive Surgery Implement | Kevlar Coat, Kevlar Padding, Clip Light
[Reveal (2), Purity (4)], Damage (2), Damage X (6), Shield (4), Reflect (4), Heal (6), Major Heal (18), AoE (2), Powerful (0), Piercing (2)


[Silver Touch][Damage] = 24 mana


Despite her best efforts, Dana couldn’t keep her face from turning a bright shade of red when Aiya inquired if there might be someone in particular she was looking forward to kissing, the Duodecim girl’s lips curling into a mischievous smirk as she did so. “W-Well, uh…” Dana stammered, her mouth forming a sheepish smile as she scratched the back of her head and giggled nervously. Yet, before the sunny sharpshooter could come up with a coherent response, Aiya went for the killing blow by nonchalantly mentioning that a spare cabin was available for those wishing to engage in more… intimate interactions.

At this, Dana was sure she could feel her heart abruptly stop beating, even as blasts of steam shot from her ears. A quick glance at Noah revealed that the big cadet was looking equally uncomfortable and, as with Dana herself, he seemed unable to articulate any sort of response to Aiya’s playful teasing. The irony of the fact that she was now getting a taste of her own mischievous medicine wasn’t lost on the young Ars Magi, although, thankfully, Aiya mercifully chose to end the torment and offer the pair a way out of the awkward situation. “O-Other games?” Dana echoed, the Norban desperate to latch onto anything that might provide a means to escape the humiliating spotlight that had been placed on her and Noah. “T-That sounds like it could be fun, right Noah?” she asked the big cadet in a hopeful tone.

As it happened, not only was Noah equally eager to move on to other things, but two other cadets were kind enough to join the pair in their game of cards. Soon enough, the awkward exchange with their host was but a distant memory and Dana was back to her boisterous and bubbly self. The rest of the night passed in a blur of fun and frivolity, until the Assurance finally returned to the dock in the early hours of the morning. Yet, before making her wobbly way off the yacht, a quite tipsy Dana had still managed to give Noah a quick kiss when no one was looking. Just thinking about that moment brought a contented smile to the cheerful Norban’s face that persisted even after she had returned to her dorm, collapsed onto her pillow, and drifted off to dreamland.

By the following morning, however, those dreams had turned into a nightmare, and that smile was long gone. In its place was a wince of painful discomfort as the sound of Penny’s groaning voice woke her with a sharp lance of pain to her aching head. “P-Penny…?” Dana mumbled, her own exhausted voice sounding just as anguished as her roommate’s. “H-Holy crap… You look terrible…” she added a moment later as she slowly opened her burning, groggy eyes and got her first glimpse of the bespectacled Siscian’s haggard visage.

Just then, a knock on the door sent another spike of pain shooting through her, forcing the Norban to squeeze her eyes shut and press her pillow against both sides of her head. “Owww…” she groaned. “N-Not so louuuud…” she whined in protest, carefully opening one eye to see that Penny had opened the door, revealing a surprisingly perky Priya. Wonder what she’s doing here… Dana idly pondered as she closed her eyes once more and pulled her covers back over her head. S’kinda early… However, before she could drift back into blessed unconsciousness, the suffering sharpshooter dimly made out Penny saying something about a hangover. Huh… So this is what a hangover feels like… Dana thought to herself, before giving voice to a small giggle. In hindsight, she probably should have expected as much. The party had been such great fun that she had quickly lost track of just how much alcohol she had consumed, and now she was paying the price for that not-so-slight slip-up. Thankfully, Priya had come bearing gifts, namely, various items to help get Dana and her roommate back on their feet. “Y-Yeah…” Dana confirmed when Penny asked if she needed any of Priya’s offerings. “I-I’ll have some in a… lil’… bit…” she mumbled before slipping off into slumber once more.

When she woke up again a few hours later, Dana found that Priya’s gifts did a world of good. While she hadn’t been feeling very hungry, and thus chosen to forgo the eggs, the water was gulped down with the speed of one dying of thirst. Yet, it was the aspirin that she was most thankful for. It might not have fully cured her headache, but a dull soreness was far more preferable than a shooting pain. Slowly but surely, Dana made her weary way to the dorm’s common room, where she wasted no time in sprawling her tired body across the room’s comfiest couch. “Yeaaah…” the Norban replied with a drawn-out sigh when Penny noted that drinking so much just might have been a mistake. “I’m kinda startin’ to think the same thing…” she added with a wry smirk as she turned her head to face the bespectacled brunette.

As was often the case, a news report was playing in the background, and the mention of the approaching Nox front caused Dana to perk up. “Hey, they were talkin’ about that the other day, right?” she spoke up. “Ya think it’s gonna turn into a full-blown storm?”

Such storms were blessedly rare occurrences for an inland city like Norba, but even Dana’s monolithic, man-made mountain of a home had felt their fury, and she dimly remembered how worried her parents and siblings had been when the entire city went into lockdown ten years prior. She and her family had ultimately weathered the storm just fine, but she later learned that Voids had still managed to breach the city’s outer defenses and wreak havoc in its otherwise impregnable residential core. If one were to strike a sprawling port city like Palmyra, the damage was likely to be far worse. Then again, while it might lack the extensive defenses of consolidated, fortress-like Norba, it did have one distinct advantage Dana’s home lacked- Nova Lux. With the world’s largest concentration of Ars Magi on hand to help defend it, Dana was confident Palmyra could withstand whatever tempest the Earth’s corrupted atmosphere cared to dish out.

However, the following days would put that confidence to the test, as Dana, her teammates, and the entire population of Palmyra watched the Nox front strengthen into a raging cyclone of cataclysmic proportions, one that would almost certainly strike the city head-on. Tensions mounted as the city prepared, the term “Storm of the Century” being used more and more often by increasingly anxious voices to describe the swiftly approaching tempest. A day before the storm was due to hit, Dana and her team were told how they would be aiding the city’s defense. Team Three, along with the rest of Nova Lux’s student body, would be held in reserve, placed at key locations around the city to respond to any potential incursions, while the veteran Ars Magi stood guard on the front line of Palmyra’s perimeter wall. Although Dana did her best to keep her team’s spirits up with encouraging words and discussions about where in the city they might be assigned, even the irrepressible Norban couldn’t help but feel that they would soon be facing the biggest challenge of their young lives…

When the tempest hit at 4 pm the following afternoon, Dana and the rest of her team found themselves stationed in Nova Lux’s own Grand Hall. In light of their various predictions on what far-flung point of the vast metropolitan area they’d be assigned, it was almost comical how close to their dorms they had actually ended up. Yet, this was clearly no time for levity. The last time the group had been in this hall, they had been attending a mandatory ball, but now the festive ambiance of music and light hearted conversation had been replaced with the far harsher sounds of clipped orders, roaring wind, and pounding rain, punctuated by sudden, jarring thunderclaps. As the apparent command center for the school’s defensive operations, the rest of the hall was occupied by several clusters of officers, gathered around their respective workstations. Not wishing to interrupt their obviously important tasks, Dana decided to content herself with watching their monitors from afar, alongside the other members of her team.

At first, the grinning gunslinger’s full attention was fixed on the various monitor screens, her auric eyes flitting from one display to another in an attempt to spot the first sign, the first hint, of a disturbance, but as the hours dragged on and afternoon turned to evening, the lack of activity gave rise to a sense of increasing boredom. Without anything else to occupy their racing minds, the members of Team Three turned to admittedly awkward attempts at small talk.

“Really startin' to think they should’ve made those indoor gardens, y’know?” Dana quipped with a smirk as she watched the stately trees beyond the rain-lashed window nearly bend over backwards in the howling, hurricane-force winds. “Still, this storm’s got nothin’ on Team Radiant Storm, right guys?”

“I wish…” the Norban replied with a sigh when Penny jokingly asked if any of her companions had brought some playing cards.

As it was, aside from the tracksuits they had on, none of the girls had been permitted to bring anything other than some water and light snacks. While Dana could sort of understand the logic behind such a decision, that still didn’t make it any less annoying. Yet, just as the tedium of waiting was about to become unbearable, something finally happened.

At first, Dana had thought the sound was simply another thunderclap, but that idea was swiftly rejected. Not only did the detonation sound slightly off, it was immediately followed by an array of warning lights flashing into existence on the officers’ myriad screens and consoles. Indeed, those same officers were even now in a state of urgent motion, and it wasn’t long before the senior officer present began snapping orders to Dana and her team. The school was under attack, and they were to head to the medical wing immediately. However, it was the officer’s next words that made Dana’s blood run cold.

The enemy they would be facing weren’t Voids.

They were Ars Magi.

At first, Dana wasn’t sure she was hearing correctly. Sure, she had seen Victoria Glass duel what looked like another Ars Magi on the Laurus’s rain-lashed deck during her initial trip to Palmyra, but she had simply assumed that it had been nothing more than a Void capable of mimicking such a form. Perhaps that was case here as well, she pondered. Then again, perhaps actual Ars Magi truly had sided with the Void for whatever inexplicable reason in a chilling real-life analogue to one of the most shocking episodes of Guardian Gunslinger Alexis, an episode in which a team of Alexis’s most elite allies revealed that they had been secretly working for the evil Doktor Xylannis all along! That said, the idea of Ars Magi, paragons of heroism that they were, voluntarily joining the inhuman enemies of their species was utterly incomprehensible to an idealistic girl like Dana, and she soon found herself wondering if the hypothetical traitorous Magi had actually been brainwashed instead. Yes, she realized, they could be victims of some new type of Void puppet master, forced by it to work against their former allies to ensure its own nefarious ends. Even so, whether mind-controlled puppets of the Void, or autonomous agents working towards some currently-indiscernible goal, Team Radiant Storm would almost certainly be going up against full-fledged Ars Magi, with all the abilities such a title entailed…

Clenching her hand into a fist, Dana called upon the power stored within her Armagus and, after the flash of a golden sunburst, the grinning gunslinger was once again bedecked in her Parma, her shining Gladius held at the ready.

“Okay, guys!” Dana called as she followed after Penny. “Let’s show these jerks what Team Radiant Storm can do!”

There was no doubt that this would be their greatest challenge yet, but Dana was confident they would be up to the task.

They would have to be.

Despite the force of Ashley’s arcane energy bolt striking the dangling weretiger square in the back, the creature seemed completely unaffected by the ugly wound and singed fur that resulted from the attack. Indeed, the force of the blast had actually propelled the fearless feline back onto the second floor, where it renewed its assault on Estelle. Even so, Ashley couldn’t afford to be distracted by this unwelcome turn of events, not with more immediate concerns to focus on. The most pressing of these was the muscle bound brute of a weretiger, who, having blocked the Knight of Tomorrow’s energy beam with the bulk of the slot machine he’d been preparing to throw, was now charging toward her with wild fury.

Whirling to face him, Agent Orion brought up her energy shield and pointed her techno-wand at the beast’s head. As she took aim on the rapidly approaching monster, the high-tech heroine saw that her initial shot had actually managed to inflict some damage, even through the creature’s improvised shield. Thus, she figured a similar attack would more than suffice, especially against the brute’s unprotected cranium. Holding her ground before the charging carnivore, the Knight of Tomorrow fired off another neon green energy beam, which she immediately followed up with an equally potent energy bolt for good measure.

Meanwhile, most of the other agents were still occupied with their various opponents, although Mika had just finished off her immediate targets and was now heading back to the elevator, as per Ashley’s instructions. While Ellie had acknowledged her order, a quick glance in the angelic agent’s direction informed the Knight of Tomorrow that she would be attempting to extricate Estelle first. Assuming her two-stage attack had taken the burly weretiger out of action, Ashley would hastily vault over the teller booth and take up position next to the elevator behind it to cover the other agents’ retreat.

18 | Female | GEMINI | Vision of Tomorrow
Implements of Tomorrow | Wand, Shield | Arcane | Tune of Tomorrow
Raiment of Tomorrow | Stride of Tomorrow
Light of Tomorrow | Light | Power of Tomorrow
PRO-TEK 4000 Defensive Surgery Implement | Kevlar Coat, Kevlar Padding, Clip Light
[Reveal (2), Purity (4)], Damage (2), Damage X (6), Shield (4), Reflect (4), Heal (6), Major Heal (18), AoE (2), Powerful (0), Piercing (2)


[Silver Beam][Damage] = 36 mana


As each guard moved to draw their weapons, Ashley took them out in turn. Even it they were just ordinary humans, they were working for monstrous criminals who had abducted her ally and mentor. That made them enemies, and the Knight of Tomorrow would treat them as such. A panicked scream from behind her did nothing to break the high-tech heroine’s focus as she continued her work of methodical threat elimination. It clearly wasn’t Estelle or Mika’s voice, which meant it was nothing to worry about, at least as far as Ashley was concerned. Yet, perhaps she should have been, as the next thing she knew, the beanie-wearing bouncer was running past her, dragging a very wounded (and very hysterical) teller along with him as an obvious human shield. However, before Ashley could fully comprehend this unexpected development, she was forced to dive to the side in order to avoid the slot machine hurtling towards her. Impacting the booth behind her, the makeshift missile destroyed whatever obstruction might have prevented anyone from leaping over said booth and reaching the elevator beyond.

“Well, that’s convenient,” Ashley muttered as she aimed her techno-wand’s glowing tips at the projectile’s source, a muscle-bound weretiger on the far side of the hall. “Here’s a thank you card.”

No sooner had the burly beast turned to face her after picking up another slot machine, then a lance of neon green incandescence shot forth from the Knight of Tomorrow’s twin-pronged instrument to spear his chest. Not relying on her meager shield to protect her from the possibly-still-being-thrown slot machine, Agent Orion once more leapt out of the way of its path. As she did so, the high-tech heroine noticed that Estelle had moved up to the second floor and forced a second weretiger over the safety railing. Readying her techno-wand, Ashley took careful aim on the falling feline, before snapping off a luminescent energy bolt. Hopefully that would take it out of the equation as well. Regardless, a prolonged engagement like this was not something they could afford, not when time was very much of the essence.

“Agents! Fall back to the elevator!” Ashley snapped over her communicator. “We can’t get bogged down here!”

18 | Female | GEMINI | Vision of Tomorrow
Implements of Tomorrow | Wand, Shield | Arcane | Tune of Tomorrow
Raiment of Tomorrow | Stride of Tomorrow
Light of Tomorrow | Light | Power of Tomorrow
PRO-TEK 4000 Defensive Surgery Implement | Kevlar Coat, Kevlar Padding, Clip Light
[Reveal (2), Purity (4)], Damage (2), Damage X (6), Shield (4), Reflect (4), Heal (6), Major Heal (18), AoE (2), Powerful (0), Piercing (2)


[Silver Beam][Damage] = 36 mana


After the meeting, Connie and Mia opted to return home ahead of everyone else. The events of the day had been stressful to say the least, and the pair were both ready to unwind, with Mia planning to play some video games, while Connie listened to some music and snuggled with her stuffed animals.

When they would finally get back to their room, Connie’s school bag would be sitting open on her bed. Not entirely out of place, maybe their mom put it there or she had just forgotten to move it. While picking it up off the bed, she would catch a glint of something inside. Taking a closer look, there was a dusty glass bottle with a golden top and crimson smoke slowly swirling inside.

“U-Umm… M-Mia…? W-What’s this?” Connie asked with a confused frown.

“No idea,” Mia replied, moving over to take a closer look. “Almost looks like a…” the tomboy’s voice trailed off as an idea occurred to her. “Wait a minute… Is this that djinn girl’s lamp?”

“Y-You mean the o-one from the C-Christmas party?” Connie inquired.

“Yeah, Ruby,” Mia confirmed. “She was at the meeting tonight, too, at least for a little while. Wonder how this got in your backpack, though…”

“Uh, d-do you t-think we s-should open it?” Connie asked hesitantly.

“We should probably wait for Miss Kayli to get back,” Mia advised. “Chances are, it was meant for her anyway.”

Despite not handling the object, the top shifted and twisted loose with a satisfying pop. As predicted, the smoke poured out and formed a human figure, though her lower half remained the red smoke. She was very clearly Ruby, but had matured into a young woman. The golden ring on the bottle clicked open and reached its way out of the bag, resizing and clasping gently around Connie’s wrist. ”Ah ha.” She looked around the room for a second. ”Oh thank goodness. I was worried I might end up buried in a desert or something.”

Her attention turned to the two girls, and specifically to the object now locked around Connie’s wrist. She smiled and seemed relieved. ”Well what are the odds. Congratulations, Master Connie. You have the great privilege of being my first official Master!” Floating down her legs would form and she would bow.

“M-M-Master…?!” Connie yelped in surprise as she struggled to process everything she was seeing and hearing. “B-B-But, w-why m-me?” the terribly confused girl asked as she looked at the bracelet that was now hanging from her wrist. “A-And, u-um, d-does t-this mean I-I get t-three w-wishes?”

Ruby would shrug just a bit. ”I can’t really answer that first question. My magic always pointed me where to go, so I guess this is just how it works now.” The uncertainty didn’t seem to bother her much as she moved on. ”Buuut, that does mean you have three wishes. Your standard fair as far as limitations.”

Connie swallowed. At face value, this seemed like an amazing stroke of good fortune. Depending on how powerful the wishes were, she could potentially make all sorts of things better. She could wish for Sammy and Nuncio to be brought back to life. She could wish for a nicer, less scary Patron. She could even wish for Wonderland to call off its impending attack. Yet, she also knew that, even if these things could be wished for, how the wishes actually played out might be very different from what she’d intended, so she would have to be very careful with how she chose to proceed…

“G-Gosh… U-Ummm… D-Do t-these wishes h-have any l-limitations?” Connie asked. “L-Like, I-I know I p-probably c-can’t wish for m-more wishes, b-but, um, w-would s-something like k-keeping Wonderland f-from a-attacking P-Penrose, or b-bringing someone b-back to l-life be t-too much?” she added. “A-And e-even if y-you c-could d-do it, w-would a w-wish like that b-backfire into s-something a-awful? O-Oh! A-And, a-also, i-if y-you, um, d-don’t really l-like being a d-djinn, w-would I b-be able to w-wish for y-your f-freedom?”

Given who she was talking to, Ruby expected there to be questions. Waiting for the nightmare girl to finish she considered each one. ”I can’t prevent Wonderland from attacking. That would be forcing their will, but you might be able to wish for something to help against them. Affecting unwilling magical girls and boys doesn’t usually work. Bringing someone back depends more on how long it's been, so probably not if it’s been longer than a day.” Some of these she wasn’t entirely sure on herself. They used to be things she couldn’t do so she wanted to air on the side of caution. ”Unfortunately there isn’t a way to undo what’s happened to me. I had a brush with too much magic and it’s stuck.” She frowned a bit, but it seemed more in jest than sadness. ”Don’t worry about me. I made my bed a long time ago.”

“O-Oh, I s-see…” Connie replied glumly. That really didn’t leave a lot of options… “U-Umm, i-in that c-case, can I t-think about it a bit, or i-is there a t-time limit?” she inquired, while nervously fidgeting with her hands.

The young woman would shake her head. ”There’s no time limit. You are my Master until your three wishes are used or you wish me away. I do look forward to what you have in mind though.” She would tap a finger to her lips and hum before leaning closer and touching the clasp around Connie’s wrist. ”Let me take care of this so it isn’t so awkward.” The chain and bottle would retract and shrink down as the whole thing would become a golden bracelet with a sizable ruby gem inset on it. It was still too small to remove, but wasn’t uncomfortable in any way.

“O-Oh! U-Uh, t-thank you…” Connie told the djinn girl softly. “A-And I-I’m glad there’s n-no rush,” she added, sounding considerably more relieved. “I-In that c-case, I-I g-guess I s-should t-take some t-time to t-think things o-over, m-maybe ask s-some f-friends f-for their a-advice…” she added thoughtfully. “D-Do you h-have any ideas, M-Mia?”

For her part, the tomboy had been listening to the conversation with a mixture of fascination and concern. After all, the last thing she wanted was for this “gift” to somehow leave her beloved best friend feeling even more miserable.

“I don’t know, little sis,” Mia replied with a frown as she scratched the back of her neck. “I mean, I guess wishin’ for all of our friends and everyone else in the city to be kept safe from Wonderland might be a start,” she offered. “Or is somethin’ like that too much to ask for?”

Rubbing her chin, Ruby would consider the prospect. ”I think it might be. Protecting everyone from an entire kingdom is a big ask. Though, someone wished for something similar in the past. They were able to protect the public from magical attacks, but not magical girls. That protection stopped when the one that wished for it left Penrose.” Those events felt like an eternity ago. Actually, that was a thing there had been talking about during the meeting wasn’t it? That took a lot out of her then, but as a full Djinn she wasn’t entirely sure of her limits.

“S-So, um, c-could we m-maybe try that?” Connie asked hesitantly. “I-I really d-don’t want to s-see anyone else g-get h-hurt… O-Or k-killed,” she added softly.

”You'll have to put it into a wish of some kind.” She would instruct.

“O-Okay,” Connie nodded, taking a deep breath. “U-Um, s-so, I-I wish for e-everyone in P-Penrose to be p-protected from b-being h-harmed or k-killed by Wonderland.”

Calling upon her magic, the Djinn felt out the wish. It was a tall order and as she reached out the line of magic broke out into more and more threads until she could no longer keep track of them all. Snapping back into the moment she would shake her head. ”I’m sorry Master. That wish encompass too many for my power to reach. Wonderland is a strange and powerful place.” She seemed disappointed that she wasn’t able to achieve what was asked of her.

“O-Oh… I s-see…” Connie replied with a sullen frown. “T-Thank you for trying, though…” She thought for a moment as she considered what other possible wishes she might ask for. “U-Um… I-I guess I’ll n-need to a-ask my f-friends to s-see if t-there’s a-anything a w-wish might be a-able to h-help them w-with…” she noted. “B-But, b-before that, i-is there a-anything y-you’d like me t-to wish f-for on y-your behalf?” she asked the Djinn with a hopeful smile.

She really shouldn’t be surprised that one of the girls that Kayli adopted was the giving sort. With as many wishes as she’d given out over the years, you would think that it would be easy to come up with one herself. She could, but it made her a lot more happy when it was from someone else. Put on the spot though she was finding it hard to find anything that would work. As a magical girl she was more a proxy and that made it easier to skirt the line. As a Djinn though, she almost couldn’t grant her own wishes. A couple times she opened her mouth to say something, but then stopped and had to rethink it as it just wouldn’t hash out in her head. ”I would like to seeee…” She struggled until she stopped trying to be as charitable. ”you… not be… less confident.” As odd as it sounded, it was the best way she could articulate it. Making Connie the focus was strangely easier than for anyone else. She was her Master currently so that likely was the cause.

“Y-You… W-Want me to b-be more c-confident…?” Connie asked, sounding more than a little puzzled. “I-Is t-that something y-you could h-help me w-with?”

Seeing that Connie picked up on what she was implying, Ruby nodded. ”If that is something you wish.” She would give a nervous smile. ”Sorry if that sounded a little rude, Master. I’m not quite myself.”

“T-That’s o-okay!” Connie was quick to reassure the Djinn girl, holding her trembling hands up in a placating gesture. “I-If you’re not f-feeling all right, i-is there s-something I can h-help you w-with?” she asked, her visage and voice filled with concern.

”It’s the nature of a Djinn. I am here to serve you. Master, not the other way around.” She would say calmly while holding her hands up as if to say she couldn’t help it.

“B-But, i-isn’t answering o-one of m-my questions s-still s-serving me?” Connie asked, tilting her head in slight confusion. “E-Even if t-that question was w-what y-you would w-wish for i-if you could m-make a w-wish of your o-own?”

”In a sense. I can answer questions, but even if I wanted something I probably couldn’t do it because I would know it’s not really your wish.” It was clear that Connie was intent on giving something back before anything else. It was a little more than frustrating to Ruby as she was fighting her instincts. Something came to her after a bit. ”Master, I don't think you understand. I’m not like you or Mia. I can't just do whatever I want.” Ruby would point to the bracelet. ”That is my prison. Granted, an extremely comfortable one, but still a prison. It limits me. So as long as it is bound to you I have to do as you wish, not as you say.” She put her hands together in front of her as she spoke in a slightly firmer tone.

“I-I see…” Connie murmured, her eyes downcast. “A-And I’m s-sorry for m-making things s-so d-difficult…” she added with a sniffle as she tried to fight back tears. “I-It’s just that, w-when I s-see people s-suffering, I w-want to do a-all I c-can to h-help them. A-As for h-helping me to b-become more c-confident, that’s s-something I’d like, too,” she explained with a small smile. “I-It’s just… w-well, I k-kind of w-wanted to b-build that c-confidence on my own… B-But, um, t-there is o-one t-thing you c-could maybe h-help me w-with…” the timid girl noted, while continuing to fidget with her hands. “I-I’d really l-like to s-stop b-being a-afraid of m-m-masks… Y-You s-see, I-I’ve been w-wanting to t-take a p-picture of M-Mia and I in our m-magical girl f-forms to go w-with this one h-here,” she continued, gesturing to a framed photo of the pair making a heart with their hands. “B-But, s-since I w-wear a m-m-mask w-when I t-transform, I-I’d n-never be a-able to l-look at it… S-So, um, i-if you c-could do that, t-then I would r-really appreciate it!” she finished with a hopeful smile.

Stepping over and reaching out, Ruby would pat Connie on the shoulder. ”Hey, it’s alright, Master. This whole thing with the bottle and rules, it’s new to me too. It’s not any of your fault.” She would put a finger under Connie’s chin and tilt her head up so she could look at her directly. ”If you want the mask off, then you’re going to have to start with ‘I wish…’ Okay?”

“O-Oh, um, I-I didn’t w-want to r-remove it,” Connie corrected. “J-Just my f-fear of it. S-So, um, i-if that w-works, then, I-I wish I c-could s-stop being a-afraid of m-m-masks,” she told the Djinn girl with as much determination as she could muster.

Blinking for a second, Ruby wondered if her mistake in intent was Connie’s roundabout way of explaining things, or her reaching for greater, more consequential wishes. The line of thought abruptly stopped when she heard the word “wish.” A simple ask. It was a start she supposed. ”As you wish, Master Connie.” Snapping her fingers, nothing obvious or remarkable would happen. ”Your request has been granted.” Waving her hand over her face she produced a frowning jester’s mask. The fear that Connie would expect never rose as if the mask wasn't even there.

“O-Oh gosh!” Connie gasped in happy surprise, while clasping her hands together. “I-It really worked! W-We can f-finally take that picture, now, Mia!” she added, turning to her friend with an excited smile.

“Sure can, little sis,” the tomboy confirmed with a grin of her own. “In fact, we could do it right now if ya want,” she added.

“Y-Yes, let’s!” Connie agreed with an enthusiastic nod. “U-Um, w-would you m-mind taking the picture?” she asked Ruby, while offering the Djinn girl her phone.

The mask would disappear. ”Sure.” Taking the phone, she would give them time to get ready before taking a few pictures. She would then hand it back for them to review.

“O-Oh wow!” the now transformed Connie gushed as she looked at one of the pictures. “I-It looks g-great!”

“It does indeed, little sister,” Gaia confirmed with a serene smile.

“T-Thank you so much!” Connie added, looking back up at Ruby, before rushing over to give the Djinn girl a big hug.

Ruby returned the hug, though maybe not as enthusiastically. It wasn't like she had a choice to not grant the wish. ”You're welcome, Master Connie.”

“S-So, um, s-since it’ll p-probably be a l-little while b-before I f-figure out w-what my other two w-wishes will be, I, uh, g-guess you c-can go back in y-your bottle n-now,” Connie told her. “B-But, o-only if you w-want to!” she hastened to add. Clearly it was quite difficult for such a kindhearted and timid girl to give others orders.

Ruby would nod. ”That might be for the best. It really isn’t that bad in there, so it’s not like I hate it. If you need me then all you have to do is rub the gem.“ Ruby would turn into a wisp of red smoke and would seep into the ruby on the bracelet.

The next morning, Kayli had not come back from wherever she’d gone. The girls would take the bus to school. Morning passed into afternoon and when they returned from school there was still no sign of her and no response from her phone. Eventually, as the sun was beginning to lower its way toward the horizon, a magical girl in all blue would arrive and enter the house. Before either Connie or Mia could check to see who it was, Kayli would appear next to her. The two would look at one another for a second. ”This isn’t the same as with Jenna.”

Shaking her head in agreement, Kayli would speak up. ”Definitely not. Girls, I’m home!” The two would make their way to the living room.

“W-Welcome home!” Connie would call out as she hurried down the stairs with Mia close behind. “W-We were s-starting to get w-worried…”

“Yeah,” Mia added. “And who’s this?” she inquired, turning to look her guardian’s companion over more carefully.

Kayli would give them both a hug. ”Sorry for worrying you. If I'd known it was going to take as long as it did I would have warned you. Directing their attention to the girl. ”This is Janet. You may remember her as a knight with her twin sister Jenna. This is a little more like how she looked when first becoming a magical girl.

Janet would wave lightly to the two girls. ”Hello. Nice to see you again.”

”The reason I was away was to find the Nexus. Well, I found it and it is alive in a sense. It's difficult to describe but after passing it's tests and speaking with one of the Grand Magistrates I accepted the responsibility of becoming the Guardian of the Nexus. That is where Janet comes in. I am technically her untransformed form, so I get to stay here with you, while she is the Guardian half meant to protect Penrose and the Nexus.” She would hold up a finger to clarify. ”There will be times that I will have to rejoin Janet. She is not as strong whenever we are apart. But keep in mind that we share most of the same consciousness, so anything you tell her I will know as well.” That was probably a lot to drop on them, so Kayli explained it calmly to hopefully keep things from being overwhelming.

“G-Gosh…” Connie whispered, her mind still trying to make sense of everything Kayli had told them. “U-Um, o-okay,” she added a moment later, before turning to face Janet. “I-it’s um, v-very nice to m-meet you,” she told the other young woman with a kind smile.

“Same here,” Mia added. “I’m not gonna even try to make sense of all this ‘Nexus’ stuff, but I trust you both to keep it safe. Oh, and if ya ever need any help, Connie and I would be only too happy to lend a hand, right little sis?”

“R-Right!” Connie agreed with an emphatic nod. “S-So p-please don’t h-hesitate to ask!” she added, clasping her trembling hands together.

”I will be needing both of your help. I may be the guardian, but if we want to put an end to this constant fight for power then we have to do it together. We will need the others as well. With enough of us we can seal the Nexus. We will also need the Queen of Hearts to be in the right place, so there is some planning to do. She would explain.

“G-Gosh… T-That s-sounds r-really c-complicated…” Connie noted with a frown. “B-But Mia and I will d-do our b-best!” she added, clenching her fists with determination.

“Damn straight, little sis!” Mia added with a grin, while putting an arm around her friend’s shoulder.

While this development was a little late as the meeting that had just ended the other day, Janet was sure they could get in contact with enough people to accomplish the goal. Kayli and Janet would both notice the object around Connie’s wrist, able to clearly see the magic infused in it.

”Connie, what is that you’re wearing?” While the magic seemed familiar, she wasn’t completely sure it was the same as what she suspected.

“O-Oh! U-Um, t-this is f-from R-Ruby, the D-Djinn girl,” Connie explained, holding up the bracelet and pointing to it with a trembling finger. “S-She s-stopped by a-after w-we got b-back from the m-meeting and t-told me I w-was her n-new m-master.”

”New master?” She would ask out loud. ”Can I speak with her?”

“O-Oh, uh, I-I guess so…” Connie replied, sliding her shaking fingers across the bracelet. “U-Um, R-Ruby? C-Could you p-please come o-out?”

The red smoke would swirl out of the gem and form Ruby. ”Yes, Master Connie?” She would turn her head and spot Kayli and Janet. ”Oh! You made it did you? Congratulations.”

Kayli would put her hands on her hips. ”What’s this about Connie being your master?”

”Well, by granting your wish I had a brush with the Nexus. Unlike you I didn’t have protection from its power. It could have killed me, but instead it did what Ilum always threatened me with and turned me into a Djinn.” She held up her arms to show the shackles. ”Bindings and all. Then I found myself here with Connie and she became my Master. At least until she finishes her three wishes, and then I’m not quite sure what comes next.”

Well, that all checked out. She would look over to Connie. ”Well, it looks like it’s you’re lucky day. Have you made any wishes yet?” She would ask out of curiosity.

“I-I have,” the timid girl confirmed with a nod. “I-I wished that I w-wasn’t afraid of m-masks anymore.”

”Mmm, a good choice.” She would step over and give Connie a hug.

“T-Thanks,” Connie replied with an appreciative smile as she returned the embrace. “N-Now I w-won’t have to w-worry about accidentally l-looking at my reflection w-while I’m t-transformed,” she explained. “P-Plus, Mia and I were f-finally able to have a p-picture taken of us in our m-magical girl forms!” she added happily. “W-Would you like to s-see it?”

”I would love to see it.”

Retrieving her phone, Connie showed Kayli and Janet the picture Ruby had taken of her and Mia.

Kayli and Janet would have a similar reaction as they both leaned closer and smiled practically in unison. It gave credence to the idea that they were linked in some way. ”Thats a lovely photo. I'm so glad that you're able to do these things now.”

Kayli would look over to Ruby. ”Thank you for helping my daughter.”

”Just doing my job for Master Connie.”

“I-I’m h-having some t-trouble deciding w-what my other two w-wishes should be,” Connie confessed. “S-So, um, d-do you k-know of a-anyone who has a p-problem that a w-wish might h-help with?” she asked Kayli and Janet.

Crossing her arms for a moment, Kayli would consider the question. ”Angel of Hope has some friends that needed some kind of help. I don't know all of the details, but I was going to find out soon.”

“W-Well, I’d l-love to h-help them i-if I can,” Connie replied. “S-So, um, c-could I come along w-when you m-meet with her?”

”Of course. Though you will be going with Janet since she is the one able to properly use our magic.” She would point out.

“O-Oh, um, o-okay,” Connie acknowledged. “A-And c-could Mia come, t-too?” she inquired, pretty sure she knew the answer, but wanting to make sure, just in case.

”I don’t see why not.”

“S-So, uh, w-when were you t-thinking of m-meeting with them?” Connie asked.

”I’m still working that out. I didn’t expect to be gone for a whole day. There are important things that I need to take care of first.” Updating Alicia being the first thing on her list.

“O-Oh, I s-see…” Connie replied. “W-Well, um, p-please let us k-know when y-you d-decide,” she added, clasping her shaking hands together. Not only was she eager to help others in need, but she wasn’t sure exactly how long she was allowed to hang onto Ruby’s lamp for without using another wish.

It would be a day or so before Janet was free to meet up with the Angel of Hope and her compatriots. After being led by the Angel to the back room of A Taste of Heaven Tea Shop, The Keeper, along with Connie and Gaia would find a motley assortment of magical girls seated around a table. Among the more notable were a blue-skinned young woman with four arms, an incredibly sickly-looking girl in some form of containment field, and a girl wearing a raincoat, who was being drenched by the storm cloud hovering over her head.

“Warmest greetings once again, Miss Angel,” a small fairy announced as she fluttered up to the new arrivals. “Might these be the friends you mentioned?”

“Yes,” the Angel confirmed with a radiant smile. “These are the kind and selfless souls who have agreed to alleviate the tragic burdens of all gathered here,” she added, gesturing to her companions.

And thank fuck for that…

“H-Hello, I-I’m C-Connie,” the masked maiden introduced herself with a small wave. “I-It’s v-very nice to m-meet you. T-This is m-my b-best friend,” she added gesturing to the verdant maiden beside her.

“Gaia, Daughter of Mother Earth,” the botanical beauty greeted with a demure curtsy. “A pleasure to make your acquaintances.”

”It’s nice to meet you all.”

“Thank you all so very much for coming,” the fairy told them with a curtsy. “I am Healing Fairy Isis, the humble organizer of this support group. Going clockwise around the table, we have Kali, Selene, Alice, her friend Margret, Akari, and her friend Miyuki. I take it the Angel has told you about our members’ various problems?” she inquired.

”To a degree. I should be able to get a much better idea now that I’m here in the flesh.” Using her Third Eye, Janet would take the opportunity to check on each one of the girls. Mainly, she was looking for the debilitating aspects of their magic.

With Kali’s she could tell right away she could assist without much fuss. Her magic had been tailored just for such a thing; Akari’s situation she could perhaps deal with, Oddball specs were harder to read directly so it would probably be best to ask a few questions; Alice’s gave have her a familiar feeling, being that Janet could see aspects of all other specs shifting in and out. It was almost like a less refined version of her own magic. It could perhaps be tamed; Selene was one that she might have to do some thinking for. That didn’t mean there were no options at their disposal.

Having taken stock of everyone, Janet would smile and hold her arms out. ”My, I see the kinds of trouble you have had to deal with. I’m sorry you’ve all had to go though this. I have good news though. I believe we should be able to help each of you in some way.” She wanted to be sure to utilize the right fix for each, so she would spend a little time and allow each of them to explain their ailments in more detail. With that done Janet would begin by turning to Kali. ”If you consent, I can remove the corrupting magic that has turned you into a monster girl. You will become a normal magical girl without the need feed off life force or deal with the other negative mutations.” She would hold out a hand. ”If that is something you would like then please take my hand.”

“O-Oh, wow…” Kali gasped as she slowly held out her hand. “I-I would love that!” she added, tears of joy filling her eyes.

Taking hold of the hand, a soft glow would build and pass from Janet to Kali. Purifying magic swirled around the two. Firstly, the gnawing hunger that had been gripping the girl faded away. She could think clearly again. Inch by inch, she began to shrink down from her towering height to a more typical size for an overdeveloped magical girl. The additional arms retracted and shrank away while her blue skin changed to a more natural dark tone. Janet steadied the girl as everything had changed. ”You have been purified. You are now free from the corrupting magics.”

“I-I don’t believe it…” Kali whispered in awe as she looked over her changed body. “I-I’m normal again!” she cried with joy as she embraced Janet. “Thank you so much!”

”You're welcome.” She returned the hug.

“H-Holy crap…” Alice whispered.

“OMG! That’s so amazing!” Margret cheered.

“I-I’m (cough!) S-So… happy… for y-you,” Akari told Kali with a tired smile.

“Same here!” Miyuki added, giving the purified girl a thumbs up.

“Oh, how wonderful!” the Angel declared, clasping her hands together as her eyes filled with joyful tears.

“Uh, can I go next?” Selene asked.

”Of course. Yours I see a few options. There are some out there that can absorb your excess magic, we would need to find such an individual and I would be more than happy to assist in that; You could use a Red coin that can alter your magic; Or Connie here could ask a friend of ours to assist you with your magic.” Since this one had a few different options she wanted to present them so that Selene could decide.

“Well, I’d like to get this shitty situation resolved sooner, rather than later, and I’ve never even heard of a Red coin before,” Selene explained. “So, uh, who’s this friend of yours?” she asked Connie.

“O-Oh! U-Um, h-her n-name is R-Ruby,” the timid girl replied, slightly startled at becoming the center of attention. “S-She’s a d-djinn, a-and can g-grant w-wishes.”

“No shit?” Selene asked, her eyes going wide. “That sounds awesome!”

“Yes, most extraordinary indeed!” the Angel concurred.

Holy fuck… That djinn girl bullshit is real, too?!

“O-Okay,” Connie said with a nod. “I-I’ll s-summon her t-then.” Sliding her shaking fingers over her bracelet, the masked maiden called, “R-Ruby? C-Can you c-come out p-please?”

Smoke would pour out from the ring and form into Ruby. She would glance around at the gathering and the space they were in. She wasn't really a fan of being in such a public place, but she didn't really have a say in the matter. ”Master Connie. How may I serve you?” She would bow to Connie.

“U-Um, w-well, t-this is S-Selene,” the masked maiden began, gesturing to the raincoat-wearing young woman. “S-She c-can’t c-control her m-magic, s-so u-um, I-I was w-wondering, w-would you b-be able to h-help with t-that?”

Glancing over to Selene, Ruby’s eyes would drift upward to the cloud. After a moment, she would turn back to Connie. ”Yes Master, I believe something could be done about that.” She would refrain from any suggestions.

“O-Okay,” Connie nodded. “T-Then, I w-wish for S-Selene to b-be able to c-control her m-magic.”

”As you wish.” The young woman would face Selene and reach a hand out. She first would take hold of the cloud and pull it away, bringing it in close and whispering something to it. Her other hand would be placed on Selene's head. Selene herself would feel a shift in her magic. Her aptitude to sense and direct her magic increased as she gained access to Mana Channel. Releasing the cloud, it dissolved and swirled around the water girl. As if possessing a slight control of the weather, the external expression of Selene's magic became linked to her mood. If she was sad or depressed then the raincloud would return, windy if anxious, sunshine when happy, stormy if angry, and so on. It might not be exactly what she wanted, but the girl wasn't doomed to live in perpetual rain.

Retracting her hands, Ruby would bow to Connie. ”Your wish has been granted.”

“D-Do you f-feel any b-better?” Connie asked Selene.

“Y-Yeah…Thanks,” the storm maiden replied to both Connie and Ruby. “My magic’s still insanely strong, but I feel like I’ve got more control over it now, so I guess that’s better than nothing.”

“It looks like you now have access to Mana Channeling,” Miyuki noted, an energy visor appearing over her eyes as she ran a diagnostic scan on Selene. “It’ll let you transfer some of your mana into a secondary vessel so that it isn’t so overwhelming,” the technopath explained. “Normally, that’s another person, but I think I should be able to create a device that can serve as a container. That way, you hopefully won’t have to deal with your magic bothering you while you’re not transformed.”

“Wow… Uh, thanks, Miyuki,” Selene told the gadgeteer, clearly taken aback by all the recent revelations.

“No problem!” Miyuki replied with a cheerful smile. “I love making new gear, especially if it helps my friends! And speaking of friends,” she added, her tone becoming substantially more sober. “Could you help Akari next?”

“P-Please… L-Let Alice g-go… (cough!) n-next…” Akari wheezed.

“But…” Miyuki began, before noticing the pleading look in her sickly friend’s tired eyes. “Okay…” she relented with a resigned sigh. “I guess you’re up next, Alice.”

Looking between the remaining two girls, Janet would reassure them. ”I should be able to help the both of you.” Stepping forward, she would wave a hand over Alice. Being connected to the Nexus, she could feel a similar link between it and the girl. ”Please hold still. This might be a little intense.” Giving Alice a moment, Janet would then place a hand on the girl’s head. Alice’s magic would shift and redirect to the Nexus through Janet herself. The magical surge hit like a truck, but it was obvious that the Guardian was acting as a buffer to protect Alice from being overwhelmed. While her magic didn’t change, the range of the Oddball magic compressed and narrowed. The highs dropped and the lows rose as the girl’s connection with the Nexus’ power stabilized.

As the magic turmoil began to settle, Janet would remove her hand and Alice’s magic would reconnect to its normal flow. Her magic was still random, but it would no longer be entirely useless or uncontrollably powerful. Internally the girl could feel that with the right practice or training she might even be able to influence the manner in which the magic manifested.

Taking a deep breath and getting herself in order again, Janet would clasp her hands together. ”You’re magic has been realigned with the Nexus. Your spells should now be more moderate when you use your magic.”

“T-Thank you,” Alice said after taking a moment to regain her bearings. “I-I’m not sure what the Nexus is, but I’ll take whatever help I can get. M-Maybe now my magic can actually be useful.”

“OMG! I’m so happy for you!” Margret squealed, rushing over to give Alice a hug, followed by Janet. “Thank you sooo much for helping my BFF!” she told the Keeper with a cheerful giggle.

”You are very welcome.” She would return the hug. Once released she would turn to Akari. ”And of course last, but certainly not least, let’s get you out of this chamber so you can be with your friends.” Magic building up around her, the surrounding air became cleansed.

Before anyone could object, she stepped over to the hatch, would crank the latch, and pull the door open. The deathly air that escaped hit Janet’s aura and became instantly clean. Forming a ball of magic in her hands, it drifted up and flew toward Akari. The girl was enveloped in light as the healing and purification magic took away each illness one by one. After about half a minute the glow began to die down and Akari stood with a clean bill of health as she did when first becoming a magical girl.

“A-Akari… You’re cured!” Miyuki cheered as she deactivated the containment field and embraced her friend. “Oh, I can’t thank you enough!” she told Janet. “And you, too, Angel!”

“Simply seeing this selfless champion healed of her afflictions is all the thanks this humble servant has need of,” the Angel replied, clasping her hands over her chest.

Fuck… Wish I had that kinda cheat code level power…

“You have my thanks as well,” Akari added with a demure bow. “I must confess, it does feel wonderful to be able to breathe freely again, and now I shall also be able to cure even more suffering people of their ailments.”

“Um, do you think it would be possible to infuse some of your healing power into a medical device?” Miyuki asked Janet, holding up one such ultratech apparatus. “That way, I’ll be able to heal Akari myself if she starts to absorb too many illnesses again.”

Janet would look down at the device. ”Perhaps, but not at this time. I must be ready for the upcoming conflict in Penrose, so I only have so much to use freely. If Akari seeks out a healer regularly then they should be able to keep her healthy without needing a significant intervention.” Though she would willingly assist again, she didn't want Akari having to rely on just her to stay well.

“Oh, I see,” Miyuki replied. “Well, if regular healing magic will work on her now, then I should be able to ensure she remains in good health,” the technomancer added with a confident grin.

Janet would take a step back and lean over to Angel slightly. She would whisper and respond to the inner monologue. ”It doesn't come without its responsibilities.” She would smile gently.

“Oh, yes indeed,” the Angel replied, sounding only slightly startled. “This humble servant would imagine so. After all, those blessed with great powers must always strive to use them for the good of others and with the utmost of care.”

H-Holy shit… C-Can she hear thoughts, too?!

”Not something I do regularly, but I sensed a conflict in your emotions. I presume Angel of Hope takes the reigns whenever you transform?” It seemed like Janet hadn't been ease dropping much until that point. The mental message had a friendly, understanding tone to it.

Uh, heh, y-yeah… “the Angel’s” mental voice conceded awkwardly. That fucking fuzzball forces me to act all stupid whenever I transform… the mental voice grumbled. It fucking sucks…

Seemed the two were both present and aware at the same time. She would address them both then. ”I see. Is this something you can control? Maybe there could be something of a compromise.”

If I could control it, do you think I’d still be acting like this?! the mental voice shot back. It’s like some kinda fuckin’ compulsion…

Well then. Suppose this wasn't the most unusual circumstance to find a magical girl in. Patrons and magic always seemed to have varying impacts on an individual whether intended or accidental. After a bit of probing it seemed like this was something that Angel's patron put in place. Given the disparity between the two, Janet wouldn't be surprised if a humble champion was the goal and the one ultimately chosen didn't fit the mold. ”You might already suspect this, but from what I can tell fostering some humility and restraint might allow you to bridge that gap and have more control when transformed.”

You mean just fuckin’ accept it?! How the hell is that supposed to help?! Can’t you do something with your cheat code magic? Y’know, something that actually works?

”Accept it? No. I’m not the biggest fan of Patrons forcing things on their charges. But I have dealt with my share of mental conflicts. I’d rather give you the best shot of keeping control since it’s likely that some time after I’m not around that your patron will try and put things back the way they want things and you’ll be right back here again. You don’t have to be a bleeding heart, just tone down the sass when the job calls for it and be yourself any other time.” She did her best to reason with Angela. Perhaps she should put her in contact with people she could properly vent to. She wouldn’t be the only one dropped into a position they didn’t ask to be in.

I already have to act like some self-effacing shit head while I’m transformed, so why the hell would I want to try being that way twenty-four fuckin’ seven?! No thanks! And if you’re so worried about my dumbass patron, then can’t ya just get me a new one? That seems like something that OP as fuck djinn girl could do, even if you can’t.

Janet would glance around in the room of happy faces. Things were up, and she didn’t want to sour the mood by bringing Angela out here and now. ”Very well. Once things are done here then I will free you from your mental bonds. We’ll see if there’s anything else we need to do after that.”

Great, then let’s get this over with…

“Oh my heavens! Seeing you freed from your various afflictions fills this humble servant with such abundant gladness, good champions!” the Angel declared with a dazzling smile, even as tears of joy glistened in her eyes.

“On behalf of the Inconvenient Magical Abilities Support Group, I wish to convey my deepest thanks,” Isis said as she fluttered up to the Angel and gave a respectful curtsy. “Both to you, and to your generous companions. I only wish there was some way I could repay the great kindness you’ve shown us.”

“Simply knowing that this humble servant was able to help in making this miracle possible is a more than sufficient reward,” the Angel replied with a demure curtsy of her own.

If things work out, the Keeper will be handling that part… Oh, and the most heavenly bliss that kind Master Chiichuu shall award me with for accomplishing this noble task should not be discounted either! As much as I hate to admit it…

“Y-Yes,” Connie spoke up. “I-I’m j-just glad R-Ruby and I w-were able to h-help,” she added, her mask forming a happy smile as she clasped her trembling hands together.

“You did a wonderful job today, little sister,” Gaia told her timid friend with a warm smile as she placed a hand on her shoulder. “I am so very proud of you.”

Giving Connie a hug, Janet would encourage the girl as well. ”Yes, great job Connie. You always have such a big heart.” Though Janet was the one speaking, the words clearly were coming from Kayli.

Janet would turn back to the others and put her hands together. Giving a humble bow she would address them. ”I'm glad that we were able to help you all. I hope to be a resource to your group in the future.”

Saying their final farewells to the support group’s various members, Janet, Connie, Gaia, and the Angel began to make their way back home.

“Many blessings be upon you all, most generous champions,” the Angel bid the others when the time came to part ways. “It would be this humble servant’s great pleasure and honor to be permitted to again assist such noble paragons in the service of those in need at some point in the hopefully not too distant future,” she added with a kind smile.

And more importantly, fix that fur ball’s fuckin’ brainwashing…

”I hope to have the opportunity again as well. Now let's take care of your issue.” She would stop and turn to Angel of Hope. Reaching up she would place two finger against the magical girl’s forehead. The compulsion that had a hold of Angela would begin to fade as her true personality was able to surface.

“H-Holy fuck… the “Angel” breathed, her eyes going wide. “I can curse!” she added with a giddy laugh. “I can say whatever the hell I wanna say! This is fuckin’ awesome!”

For their part, Connie and Gaia both gave voice to a startled gasp at their companion’s massively altered demeanor.

“Mother’s Mantel…” Gaia murmured.

“U-Ummm… M-M-Miss A-Angel….?” a very confused Connie asked hesitantly. “A-Are y-y-you… o-okay…?”

“I’m more than okay,” the angelic maiden replied with a grin. “I’m fuckin’ fantastic! My moronic patron forced me to act like some stupid ‘goody-two-shoes’ whenever I transformed,” she explained when she saw the look of utter bewilderment that was still being displayed by Connie’s mask. “But now I can be my real self in both forms! Still… You’re right about that stupid fuzzball tryin’ to change things back to how they were,” she added, glancing at Janet for a moment, before turning her attention back to Connie. “But you still have at least one more wish left with that djinn chick, right?!” she asked eagerly. “That means you can wish to get me a new patron!”

“W-W-Well, um, I-I g-guess I-I c-can t-try…” the masked maiden conceded, running her shaking fingers over her bracelet’s glowing jewel.

Ruby would once again appear before the group and turn her attention to Connie. ”You called for me, Master Connie?”

“Y-Yes,” Connie confirmed with a nod. “I-I’d like to g-give M-Miss A-Angel a n-new p-patron, a-and I was w-wondering if t-that was s-something y-you think you m-might be a-able to d-do.” she explained, while nervously fidgeting with her hands.

Ruby would look at Angel for a second. ”Perhaps. If that is also something she wants.”

“You bet your ass it is,” the Angel confirmed with an adamant nod.

”Then you must make your wish, Master.” She would look back to Connie.

“O-Okay, s-so, u-um, I w-wish for M-Miss Angel to h-have a b-better p-patron, o-one who r-respects her a-and allows h-her to b-be herself,” Connie stated. Although she was still deeply confused by the whole situation (and especially the Angel’s new, far less angelic, personality), she was also firmly opposed to anyone controlling the behavior of others without their consent. Thus, she wanted to do everything she could to help the Angel out with her current problem.

”As you wish, Master.” Turning over to Angel she would lean a bit closer. The request was fine on its own, but she knew nothing of Angela and her personality. ”What is it you desire?” She would ask for further detail. She had something in mind, but it might not fit the mold in this case.

“Well, I guess I just want a patron that’ll give me more freedom, and won’t force me to act like some wimpy ‘paragon of justice’ or any other fucked up thing they have in mind,” the Angel replied. “Basically, what I’m saying is, I want to still be able to act like myself while I’m transformed, without any weird restrictions or compulsions.”

After a moment of silence she would nod to herself. There was a parallel that she picked up on about Angel and her personality. Standing back up to her full height, Ruby would put her hands on her hips. ”I accept your terms.” Holding a hand out, the bracelet around Connie’s wrist would unlatch and fly to Ruby, returning to its bottle form. Uncorking the top, she pinched something at the opening and pulled out a document. ”It wasn't long ago that I dealt with such compulsions from my own patron. I did not escape the consequences put upon me, which is why you see me as you do now. However, I believe I can provide what it is you seek.” Reaching out, she would present and allow Angela to read the contract.

The doc stipulated that Ruby would become her new patron for the purposes of maintaining her as a magical girl. As a Patron, there would be requests to complete tasks without any compulsive components to force Angela into doing them. Angel of Hope will be given Closure to avoid retribution from her former patron and be reborn as a new magical girl based on her true self rather than anything Ruby might prefer.

“Wow… This is great,” the Angel said as she read over the contract. Indeed, it looked as though the djinn girl had really covered all the bases. “Thanks,” she added, turning to look up at Ruby once she’d finally finished reading.

Ruby would produce a pen and sign her name down at the bottom of the contract and then pass it back for Angela to sign. With the deal sealed, smoke bellowed out from the bottle and merged with Ruby as she turned to Connie. ”Your wish has been granted.” She would disappear into a cloud of smoke and retreat back into the bottle. A trail of smoke would split off and wrap around Angela, lifting her off the ground and rapidly pulling her in after her new patron. In the blink of an eye the bottle would vanish leaving the trio to go on their way. Reality rewrote itself so that after helping her friends, Angel of Hope had gone off on a new adventure.

“I must say, that was a most unexpected turn of events,” a visibly shocked Gaia remarked.

“Y-Yeah…” a similarly bewildered Connie agreed with a nod. “S-So, um, I g-guess we c-can go h-home now, r-right , M-Miss Janet?”

”Yes, it's been an eventful day. I think getting in a little time to relax would be good.” She would step over and give Connie a warm hug. ”You did a good job today. I'm very proud of you.”

“T-Thanks…” Connie replied in a soft voice as the cheeks of her mask began to turn red. “Y-You and R-Ruby were r-really amazing, t-too,” she added with a smile. “I-It m-makes me r-really happy to k-know that w-we were able to h-help so many p-people today.”

The knowledge didn’t fully wipe away the feelings of pain and worthlessness brought about by her failure to save Sammy and Nuncio, of course, but at least it was a start.
None of your extra characters' Leitmotifs have grades.

To Ashley’s pleasant surprise, the initial stage of the operation proceeded smoothly, with Ellie and herself both entering the casino without trouble and crossing the main hall to the rear teller booth with a similar lack of obstruction. Ellie had played her part in their little ruse to the hilt, and Ashley couldn’t help but admire her fellow agent’s skill and enthusiasm.

“O-Oh, um, I-I suppose so…” Ashley stammered a nervous response to her partner’s playful in-character inquiry, keeping up her own role as the socially-inept introvert of the pair. “I-It certainly has a distinctive, um, ambiance,” she added with an awkward adjustment of her glasses.

As they moved through the hall, Ashley’s eyes scanned the room, taking in every detail. She had to admit, it was a fairly typical casino, all things considered, with nothing particularly out of the ordinary about its general layout. Yet, it was the small collection of remaining patrons she paid the closest attention to, making carful note of their number and locations. Soon enough the pair were standing before the teller booth, behind which was the elevator entrance. One of the men behind the booth, a rather intimidating-looking fellow in a leather jacket and sporting several ear piercings and a white wool cap, seemed more than a little pissed off about something. However, before the obvious bouncer could utter a single angry syllable, Mika and Estelle chose that precise moment to burst through the nearby vent…

Even as the bouncer whirled around to confront the new arrivals, who had provided just the distraction she was hoping for, Ashley promptly entered the esper state, her oversized hoodie and jeans morphing into a white, ultratech bodysuit with neon green accents, while in her right hand was grasped a twin-pronged techno-wand. The plain, unassuming Ashley Avenir was now Agent Orion, The Knight of Tomorrow.

Since she had full trust in Mika and Estelle’s ability to handle the bouncer, especially in such close quarters, where their melee instruments could be used to greatest effect, the high-tech heroine turned her focus to her impetuous partner. While Ellie had transformed only a split second after Ashley and had almost immediately propelled herself into the air, in that small window of time between transformation and takeoff, the Knight of Tomorrow had activated her glowing energy shield and gently tapped it against the angelic agent, who would subsequently find herself encased in a protective aura of neon green energy.

With her flashy entrance, Angel was sure to draw the lion’s share of attention from any security personnel that might be stationed in the main hall, and so protecting her was Ashley’s primary concern. For her part, the Knight of Tomorrow raised her shield to cover her torso, while preparing to snap off a quick energy bolt from her techno-wand at each revealed hostile in turn, starting with the closest, and aiming for their center of mass to ensure the best chance of a hit. Hopefully, the bouncer behind her would be dispatched swiftly, and they could all retreat down the elevator, since a prolonged firefight in such an open space was something she very much wished to avoid...

18 | Female | GEMINI | Vision of Tomorrow
Implements of Tomorrow | Wand, Shield | Arcane | Tune of Tomorrow
Raiment of Tomorrow | Stride of Tomorrow
Light of Tomorrow | Light | Power of Tomorrow
PRO-TEK 4000 Defensive Surgery Implement | Kevlar Coat, Kevlar Padding, Clip Light
[Reveal (2), Purity (4)], Damage (2), Damage X (6), Shield (4), Reflect (4), Heal (6), Major Heal (18), AoE (2), Powerful (0), Piercing (2)


[Bronze Touch][Shield][Reflect] = 80 mana


A short time earlier, at the dance pad…

“Oh look who shows up again!” Penny says when Dana finds her again. “Seriously, you run off and left me behind!

“Oh crap… Sorry, Penny…” Dana replied with a sheepish grin, while scratching the back of her head.

“Still, it’s fine. Had fun? What happened with you?”

“Well, uh, the soaker sniping was goin’ great, until Priya and Noah teamed up and threw me in the water,” the grinning gunslinger explained with a giggle. “After that, we had a super fun chicken fight! It was great! Priya’s really tough,” she added, holding up two clenched fists. “But I still managed to beat her!”

“Oh, right, let me introduce you…”

Penny then proceeded to introduce Dana to some of the new friends she’d made in their time apart, causing Dana’s grin to widen even further.

“Hey guys! It’s really nice to meet ya!” the sunny sharpshooter greeted in her typical exuberant manner. “Thanks a bunch for lookin’ after my pal, Penny, here,” she added, putting an arm around her bespectacled roommate’s shoulder. “She gets kinda nervous around new people, so I’m really glad she was able to make some friends!”

Later, below deck…

Before Aiya could answer Dana’s inquiry, Nicole (unsurprisingly) announced that she, too, wished to play spin the bottle. However, it was Penny’s uncharacteristically enthusiastic response to this that really caught the cheerful Norban’s attention. Indeed, it was such a compete 180 from the reluctant, socially-anxious girl she had boarded the yacht with that Dana couldn’t help but wonder if the drinks they’d been offered were drugged. After all, she’d been drinking a fair bit, and she felt fine. Penny couldn’t possibly be that much of a lightweight, could she?

“Uh, you okay, Penny?” Dana asked with a frown as the bespectacled Siscian nearly fell out of her seat.

“Alright… If you say so…” the Norban hesitantly told her roommate when Penny rather unconvincingly assured her that she was fine. “But, uh, maaaybe hold off on the drinking for a bit,” she suggested with an awkward chuckle.

Dang… I was hopin’ she’d loosen up, but not this much… Heh, girl really doesn’t do anything by half measures…
It was Christmas.

A time of merriment and cheer.

A time of gifts being given and received.

The Wise Scientist had hoped to contribute to these festivities by bestowing upon a particularly special individual a particularly special gift. And so, the Wise Scientist had created a most festive apparatus, an apparatus which promised to bring great joy and delight to one very lucky person. A Christmas Miracle Machine. Alas, that device, which had taken the form of the most sublimely perfect of Christmas Trees, was now nothing more than a pathetic pile of ash and soot, and as she gazed down at what remained of her invention, reduced to this wretched state after having bestowed its miraculous power upon a certain someone who had proven herself manifestly unworthy of receiving such a blessing, the Wise Scientist could not help but be filled with the deepest despair. Much like her poor creation, the Wise Scientist’s hopes for a merry Christmas also lay in ruins. It had once held such great promise, and yet, now all that remained was…


What was this?

There, amidst the charred remnants of her once glorious creation, a faint glow could be seen, where none should have existed, as if it were the last, flickering embers of the final star, mere moments before the heat death of the universe snuffed out its radiance forever. Kneeling down to take a closer look, the Wise Scientist saw that the pale emerald incandescence was emanating from a small spheroid, about the size of a marble. It was one of the tree’s many ornaments, simply a humble power accumulator. It should have been utterly destroyed, just like every other aspect of the once magnificent machine, but it hadn’t… Upon carefully retrieving the sphere from where it lay, the Wise Scientist began a detailed examination, one which, to her great surprise, ultimately revealed that the glowing orb had become infused with a staggering amount of transcendent energy. The innocuous device was now a Vessel, one filled with unimaginable possibilities…

Yes, the Wise Scientist reflected, this remarkable artifact would serve as a most suitable instrument with which to make right all that had gone so very wrong. But first, the Wise Scientist realized that if the Vessel was to succeed in its new task, it would need to be carefully modified. Most importantly, much of its vast power would need to be sealed away, lest the very, very lucky individual chosen to be its bearer be reduced to the same pitiful state as the pile of ash it had been plucked from. Of course, full access to all its myriad abilities would be granted in due time, but it would be a gradual process, proceeding in several stages as the very very special individual acclimated to its power. Slowly, but inexorably, each new aspect would be unlocked, until, at long last, complete mastery would be attained, and the Vessel’s very very lucky barer would reach the very APEX of poly-plenumic power…

Today may have been completely ruined. Today, the Wise Scientist may have utterly failed to display her full super-scientific prowess. But tomorrow…

Tomorrow, she would show them what supreme success truly looked like…

Tomorrow, she would show them all…

Ashley Avenir awoke with a yawn and a stretch, the last vestiges of her dimly-recalled dream vanishing one by one as the sound of each new note of her alarm’s pleasant melody reached her ears. Slowly opening her eyes, the young woman was greeted with the sight of a vibrant blue sky, while warm rays of sunlight poured through her window to bathe her blanket-covered body with their comforting radiance. She couldn’t help but smile at the beauty of such a sight, one which kept her from noticing just how much more brilliantly her grimoire was glowing as it rested upon her nightstand. Indeed, it was almost enough to forget the horrors of the past few weeks, the Diver’s cataclysmic descent having ravaged her own heart just as comprehensively as it had the city of Pax Septimus. Some of her comrades were still missing, as was her mentor, Binky, and another, Su Fang, was dead. Yet, just as the city was slowly getting back on its proverbial feet, so too was Ashley herself.

Her apartment had been spared the brunt of the Diver’s wrath, and the minimal repairs it had needed were completed mere days after the behemoth’s defeat. Others had not been so fortunate, and Ashley had spent many long hours assisting with volunteer relief efforts, at least when she wasn’t training, patrolling, or visiting Finn at the local hospital. Although she hadn’t been swift enough to keep up with Oros, the Depraved Esper had apparently had a change of heart regarding the young agent, as when she finally arrived at Finn’s hospital room, Ashley had found the boy alone and unharmed. It was a minor blessing, in the grand scheme of things, but one she was still immensely thankful for.

The successful liberation of both Betty and Pac-A-Fist from Justin’s vile clutches was also an achievement to be celebrated, a fact that hearing the sound of the latter’s voice as she listened to her podcast, The Arcade, gave Ashley ample proof of. Today, Pac was interviewing Dana Noel, the official spokesperson for (and unofficial leader of) Argentum Civitatem’s flagship freelance esper team, The Seven Nation Army. As Ashley listened while conducting her morning hygienic routine, she couldn’t help but reflect on the profound contrast between Argentum Civitatem’s reputation as America’s “Shining City”, and the cursed conurbation that was Pax Septimus. It was her fervent hope that, one day, her new home would shine with the same radiant splendor. A formidable challenge, to be sure, but Ashley found that focusing upon this ultimate goal bestowed renewed conviction upon her efforts to attain it. Indeed, just a few days earlier, news had been received detailing Binky’s possible whereabouts, and tonight would see the commencement of an operation to retrieve the captive agent. To that end, Ashley had determined to spend the day in preparation for the upcoming mission, a course of action she felt sure her missing mentor would approve of. However, before she could head out, there was one very important obligation she needed to attend to…

Before coming to Pax Septimus, Ashley and her little brother, Adam, had spent every Saturday morning watching the latest episode of Knights of the Cosmos. It was her brother’s favorite comic, and he held its animated adaptation in equal reverence. As such, the pair had made it a tradition to sit side by side and enjoy each new episode while having their breakfast. Of course, it wasn’t exactly possible to continue this cherished tradition in its usual form, now that she had moved to another city, but Ashley had promised her brother that she would continue to watch Knights of the Cosmos every Saturday, at 9 a.m. sharp. That way, they would still be viewing it together in spirit, if not in person.

Pac and Dana were in the midst of discussing how cool it was that they both wielded energy pistols as their instruments when Ashley muted the volume on her phone and switched on the tv, just in time to hear the first swelling notes of a majestic opening theme…

The epic opening sequence of Knights of the Cosmos gave each of the titular Knights an opportunity to display both their prowess in battle, as well as their unique personalities. It began with Vyk Vega, a cocky and brash member of an avian race possessed of powerful pyrokinetic abilities, flying rings around a three-headed, crocodilian, cyber-ogre space pirate, before finishing off his massive foe with a pyro lance and, upon landing atop its prone form, blowing smoke off his finger as if it were the barrel of a pistol. Next, Quinthonis Quasar, a super genius among even the other super geniuses of his frog-like amphibian race who commanded mighty mental powers, was engaged in a duel of intellectual enigmas with Singularion, the hyper-intelligent omnimind of Synthanis VII. After that, the orange-skinned, crimson mohawked Pallara Pulsar, greatest champion of a proud and noble warrior race, took center stage, slicing apart the tendrils of an eldritch void fiend with her gleaming, two-handed energy blade as she leapt from asteroid to asteroid, her toothy grin giving ample evidence of her delight at facing such a challenging foe. Things then shifted to a more tranquil scene, as the blue skinned, teal-haired Stella Starlight, the kind and gentle emissary of a pacifistic race with powerful healing abilities, freed a pair of star dragons from the clutches of a malignant corruption, restoring both their bodies and minds with a serene smile and a wave of her glowing hand. Even young Timmy Tellus, junior space navigator in training and official sidekick of the Knights, got a brief moment in the spotlight. And last, but by no means least, was the Knights’ gallant leader, Captain Conway Cosmic, a true paragon of heroism and justice! Once all five (and a half) Knights were assembled, the thrilling theme swelled to a climactic crescendo, before fading away like wisps of stardust as the episode proper began…

S1 EP13: “Showdown with the Space Emperor!”

A dark and foreboding theme accompanied a slow pan across a craggy, volcanic vista, until ultimately coming to rest upon the sinister spires of an imposing fortress. Inside the throne room of this shadowy citadel, surrounded by its gothic opulence, a tall, ostentatiously attired figure, whose every aspect evoked menace, stood upon a raised dais, admiring a gargantuan machine, which completely dominated the vaulted chamber.

“At last, the time has come…” the figure began with a wicked smile. “Now that my Nega-Nuclonic Superluminal Sublimator is complete, I shall employ its tachyonic tubular spacial warping capabilities to eliminate all my hated foes in one magnificent stroke! Yes, I, Space Emperor Nefario, Speaker for Khen’Bronne, SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS!!! Thus, with the end of the wretched Cosmic League, democracy and civilization shall CEASE FOREVER!!! HAAAAHAHAHAHA!!!” tossing his head back and spreading his arms wide, Nefario gave voice to a peal of deranged laughter, before composing himself once more. “And with nearly all the vaunted Knights of the Cosmos imprisoned in my chronolock capsules,” he added, gesturing to a row of glowing crimson cylinders. “Only one being remains who can stop me now…”

The next instant, a massive explosion herald the arrival of said being, who dropped down through the gaping hole in the ceiling to land between Nefario and the line of chronolock capsules, his fall being cushioned by a pair of counter-gravity boots.

“Captain Cosmic!” Nefario exclaimed, his eyes going wide.

“None other!” the paragon of interplanetary heroism replied with a confident grin, his lantern jaw, slick, black hair, and crisp pencil mustache presenting a visage most valiant. “Your wretched scheme has failed, Nefario!” he declared, pointing a gloved finger at the sinister sovereign. “Surrender, and you have my word as a Knight of the Cosmos that you’ll be given a fair trial.”

“Surrender?!” Nefario scoffed. “I think not! Like your compatriots, you have fallen into my trap! Now you shall share their fate!” Raising a clawed hand, Nefario fired a crackling crimson beam at Captan Cosmic, who barely dodged in time, causing the ruinous ray to shatter the chronolock capsule behind him. “Even your Beta Wave Personal Energy Barrier cannot hope to withstand the unrivaled destructive power of my Superion-class Nefario Beams!” the vile villain taunted. “Nor can your Alpha-class Proton Pistol possibly penetrate my Super Superlative Negation Screen!” he added when Cosmic snapped off a proton bolt, which harmlessly dissipated against the field of force surrounding Nefario.

“That my be, Nefario,” the courageous captain conceded, even as he dodged each of the emperor’s consecutive blasts in quick succession. “But raw power isn’t everything. It’s how you use it that counts, both your own, and your opponent’s!”

It was only as Cosmic dived out of the path of his latest beam that Nefario realized the courageous captain’s true plan. Each time a shot was fired, it shattered one of the chronolock capsules containing a captured Knight, and now all of them had been liberated from their chronometric confinement…

“Perhaps I alone am no match for you and your sinister science, but with my fellow Knights beside me, I know the day shall surely be ours!” Cosmic declared, his heroic voice filled with unshakable determination.

However, it didn’t take long to realize that something wasn’t right, as the eerily emotionless and dead-eyed Knights began to surround their leader in a distinctly threatening manner…

“You fiend!” Cosmic bellowed in indignation. “What have you done to them?!”

“Why, nothing more than implanting them with my nanoscopic mental manipulators and turned them into mindless puppets who heed my every command! Haaaahahahaha!”Nefario revealed with a gleeful cackle as the mind controlled Knights closed in on Cosmic. “Unless you strike down your own comrades, you will surely fall by their hands!”

“Never!” the courageous captain shot back. “The will of a Knight is not so easily broken!”

Closing his eyes and furrowing his brows in concentration, Cosmic focused upon the transcendent mental bond he shared with his fellow Knights, even as a multifaceted crystal on his right gauntlet glowed with ever increasing power…

Even now, I am certain they are fighting Nefario’s control from within, and so I shall use the Prism of Ari’Esia, which was bestowed upon me by the enigmatic Ari’Esians, the wisest, oldest, and most powerful race in the universe, to go en rapport with their innermost beings and grant them the power to resist Nefario’s commands with their whole selves!

One by one, each of the Knights began to break free of Nefario’s mental control, and the evil emperor’s eyes began to widen in ever-growing disbelief.

“No! I-It cannot be! Nefario cried in horror as the mental shackles he had placed upon his captives were throughly shattered.

“It can,” Stella replied in a calm, yet icy tone.

“It is,” Quinthonis croaked, his eyes narrowing as he gathered his prodigious mental powers.

“And by the Pillars of Pycrath,” Pallara swore, while activating her energy blade.

“We’re gonna make you pay! Vyk declared, his avian body igniting in pyrokinetic fury, like the legendary phoenix.

“Nefarioids!” Nefario cried, at which point a dozen imposing war machines emerged from the chamber’s shadowy alcoves. “Eliminate them!”

“Knights!” Cosmic called, raising a clenched fist high. “To the challenge!”

With that, an epic battle began. Although the Superion-class Nefarioids were mighty indeed, even they were no match for The Knights of the Cosmos in all their heroic glory. While Vyk and Pallara battered their robotic foes to bits with pyro blasts and sword slashes, Quinthonis and Stella subdued their opponents with technopathic neural cortex rearrangement and empathic persuasions to pacifism. And, as always, Captain Cosmic was at the very forefront of their efforts, leading the fight and rallying them to new heights of heroism. Mere minutes later, and it was all over…

“It’s over, Nefario!” Cosmic announced once the last of the Nefarioids had crashed to the floor in a smoldering, sparking heap.

“Indeed, Cosmic,” Nefario agreed with a wicked sneer. “Over for YOU!!! Now that my Nega-Nuclonic Superluminal Sublimator is fully charged, I will ensure that your cherished Cosmic League is utterly wiped from existence! HAAAHAHAHAHA!!!”

“How will that happen if I inverted the hyper quantum null harmonic polarities of the nega spacial inverter?” Quinthonis inquired as the massive weapon began to shudder violently, phantasmal after images of it rippling out like waves to the left and right.

“Or if I rend this neutrino compressor asunder?” Pallara added, even as she brought her crackling power blade down upon the component in question, slicing through it like a hot knife through butter.

“Or if I entreat the Luminarian pupae imprisoned within this device’s power accumulators to fully metamorphose into astral butterflies, and thus transcend this plane of existence and the cages you sought to confine them in?” Stella noted, as the various crimson spheres protruding from the towering technological terror began to darken, one after another.

“Or if I fry your control console!” Vyk concluded, reducing the console in question to a mangled cinder with a star-hot pyro lance.

“No! You fools!” Nefario cried in alarm. “What have you done?! Your meddling has completely destabilized the Negaversal Syphon! In mere moments, it will rupture, and then…!”

The next instant, the sinister sovereign’s hysterical shrieking was suddenly drowned out by a deafening detonation, the war machine not so much exploding as twisting into itself, until all that remained was a crackling, pitch-black vortex, from which emerged a truly nightmarish figure…

“By Follarion’s Ferro Fibrous Fangs!” Pallara exclaimed. “What in space is that?!

“An Abominable Ascender…” Quinthonis murmured in a mixture of terror and awe. “A being composed of purest evil. The destruction of Nefario’s transdimensional weapon must have torn open a hole in the very fabric of reality, allowing this twisted creature to rise from the darkest depths of the Negaverse and pass though it into this plenum!”

“Yet, I sense that its malice is directed towards a singular point,” Stella revealed, her eyes closed in deepest concentration. “One linked to it on a trans-etheric level, such that if one of them ceases to be, so, too, shall the other.”

“What point are ya talkin’ about?!” Vyk asked urgently.

“The individual responsible for the means of its arrival here,” Stella responded. “Emperor Nefario!”

“Then, by Terronnoh’s Tarbonic Talons, let him perish at the hands of his own evil creation!” Pallara declared.

“No, Pallara,” Cosmic admonished. “No one dies today, not even Nefario. He shall stand trial and receive a just sentence for his heinous crimes, but to take the life of a sentient being, no matter how contemptible they may be, would make us no better than them. Yet this being,” he added, gesturing to the menacing form of the Ascender as it loomed over them. “Is entirely bereft of conscious thought. It seeks only to act on its evil impulses. Thus, all we can do is ensure its removal from our universe. Junior Space Navigator Timmy!” the courageous captain called over his comlink. “Ready the Paladin’s Trans-Etheric Tachyon Shears!”

“Oh-Kay, Cap’n!” a chipper voice replied. “Shears ready an’ rarin’ to go!”

“Well done!” Cosmic commended. “Locking in omni-spacial coordinates now! And… Sever!”

With that, a pair of enormous, glowing energy scissors materialized between the Ascender and Nefario, before promptly snipping the invisible thread linking the pair’s life forces together.

“And as for you…” Cosmic added, turning his attention to the Ascender. “I think a time out is a good start!”

Holding out his clenched fist, the courageous captain sent a glittering silver beam lancing towards the extradimensional monstrosity, one which, upon striking the creature, encased it in a shimmering field of force.

“Okay, Timmy, I’ve got the Ascender in a Zone of Confinement, but it won’t hold for long!” Cosmic called out as he tapped several digits into his gauntlet’s keypad. “Lock on to these coordinates and hit it with a Neutralizer Ray on maximum blast!”

“Roger that!” Timmy acknowledged, his youthful voice filled with eagerness.

“And make sure it’s dialed in nice and tight,” the courageous captain added. “I don’t want to get my whiskers singed!”

No sooner had he finished speaking, then an almighty beam of incandescent annihilation fell upon the Ascender like the celestial hammer blow of a vengeful deity. When the glow of its terrifying radiance faded, the nightmarish abomination was no more.

“Nice work, old chum!” Cosmic congratulated the junior space navigator (in training).

“Aww, it was nothin’, Cap’n…” Timmy replied modestly.

“And now Nefario,” Cosmic added. “It’s time we took you to Cosmic Command HQ. I hear a stasis cell there is calling your name!”

“Curse you, Knights of the Cosmos!” Nefario spat, shaking his fist, before Pallara restrained him in a pair of stun cuffs. “You may have thwarted me, but when the Council of Khen’Bronne learns of my defeat, they shall utterly destroy you all!

“Let ‘em come!” Vyk shot back. “We’ll kick their tails, too!”

“Indeed,” Captain Cosmic concurred with a sage nod. “As you know, when our worlds joined together with bonds of friendship and formed the Cosmic League, they did so with the promise that peace and justice would reign throughout the cosmos, and as Knights of the Cosmos, it is our great honor and privilege to ensure that promise is kept, for eternity and beyond!”

“For eternity and beyond!” his fellow knights echoed.

“No matter what challenge the forces of evil may send against us, know that The Knights of the Cosmos will triumph against it! For the power of goodness shall always prevail!”

With that, the episode, and the season, came to an end.

“The power of goodness shall always prevail…” Ashley whispered, before switching off the tv.

If only it could be so simple… she reflected with a wistful sigh. But the real world doesn’t work the same way as a Saturday morning cartoon show. Sometimes, not everyone can be saved… Sometimes… the villain wins

Of course, she didn’t expect her brother to understand such things, and she refused to be the one to shatter his idealism. After all, it was that very idealism that she was fighting so hard to protect, so that he could grow up in a world where things really did work out that way. As such, she had resolved to recast her initial few weeks in Pax Septimus in an equally idealized light when she visited him for Thanksgiving and regaled him with her tales of being “a real life superhero”. Her various harrowing experiences would become thrilling adventures, which would inspire Adam to never give up, and remain true to his convictions, even in the darkest of times. Yes, Ashley reflected as she prepared to head out, she would guard his dreams of the future even as she worked to make that future a reality.

It’s not going to be easy, but I will make it happen. I just have to take it one step at a ti—

“Ah!” Ashley yelped as a body crumpled against her the moment she opened her door.

“An’ don’t speak ta me again, if ya know what’s good fer ya, ya little freak!” a burly man was saying as he stormed off down the hallway.

Ashley dimly recognized him as one of the other residents of her floor, but of more immediate concern was the young woman slumped against her. “Are you all right?” she asked the girl as she helped her regain her footing.

“Oh, yes!” the girl replied in an enthusiastic, if rather nasally, voice as her excited visage beamed up at Ashley. “I’m perfectly fine! Thanks for asking though!”

As the young agent looked her over, she saw that the girl appeared to be a few years younger than herself. Like her, she wore a pair of glasses, but instead of casual clothes, her attire was instead a uniform such as would be worn by the students of a prestigious private school.

But… It’s a Saturday…

“Um, what happened between you and that man?” Ashley inquired.

“Oh, I was just heading to my room when I saw him leaving his, and I thought I’d ask him about what it was like to live here,” the girl explained. “He said it was pretty terrible, what with the recent hurricane, and I told him that back in Geopolis, where I grew up, we would have these monster blizzards that would bury the whole city, but he said that was a stupid name and… Oh, gosh!” she exclaimed, her eyes widening as something occurred to her. “Maybe you don’t have a Geopolis here! I didn’t think of that before… Oh, but anyways, then he started talking about the insects and frogs that showed up with the hurricane, and I said that sounded fascinating, and then I started to tell him about how amazing the incubation process of fly eggs was, not to mention the interesting properties of certain types of frog mucus, but before I could finish, he started yelling, and then he pushed me… I know I can get carried away sometimes,” she added with a frown as she adjusted her glasses. “So it’s not really anything out of the ordinary…”

“I see…” Ashley replied with a frown of her own. “Well, you might have gotten carried away, but that still doesn’t give him any right to physically attack you. That said, you might want to avoid him in the future,” she advised with a small smile.

“Oh, I’ll definitely be sure to,” the girl assured her with a giggle that sounded more like a snort. “I’m Olivia, by the way,” she added, holding out her hand. “Olivia Bell.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Olivia,” Ashley replied as she took the offered hand and gave it a shake. “I’m Ashley Avenir. So,” she added. “I take it you’re new here?”

“Yes, that’s right!” Olivia confirmed with a nod. “I’m here on a single-student field trip that my school’s counselor set up!” she added. “She arranged this apartment for me and everything!” the excitable girl continued with a big smile. “It’s been fascinating so far, and I haven’t even had a chance to explore the city yet!”

Single-student field trip…? Ashley wondered.

“W-Well, um, there are a lot of interesting places, especially in the historic district,” Ashley informed her. “Although things still haven’t fully gotten back to normal after the… hurricane,” she added with a slight frown. “Oh, and when you’re sight-seeing, please try to be careful and stay close to your chaperone,” she advised. “I don’t mean to alarm you, but certain parts of the city can be a bit dangerous.”

“Oh, that shouldn’t be a problem,” Olivia replied with another giggle/snort. “I don’t actually have a chaperone, but darling Xolys always keeps me safe!”

Darling… Xolys…?

“Well, anyways, I’m gonna go check on my room, now,” Olivia told her as she headed off down the hall. “It was very nice meeting you, Ashley! See you later!”

“S-See you later…” a still-dazed Ashley replied with a wave.

Who sends someone on a single-student field trip to Pax Septimus, of all places? Not to mention one who still believes in imaginary friends…

Still, Ashley reflected as she made her way to the city’s GEMINI HQ, just as with Adam, it was people like Olivia, people who still maintained their sense of wonder and hope, that she was fighting for. Seeing their joy made all the sacrifices and pain she’d endured since becoming an esper pale in comparison. For them, she would endure it all over again. For them, she would endure anything.


Ashley almost couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The word sounded just as shocking now as when Dr. Moller had spoken it at their pre-mission briefing. Even then, Ashley had questioned if she had heard the doctor correctly, if, perhaps there had been some sort of mix up. But no, she, Ashley Avenir, Agent Orion, The Knight of Tomorrow, had been chosen to lead the upcoming operation. It had all the markings of a sick joke, and Ashley’s head had spun as she tried to ascertain some logical reason for receiving such an appointment, but try as she might, she could think of no sane reason for giving such a young and relatively inexperienced agent command of an entire field team. When she had privately questioned Dr. Moller about it after the briefing had concluded, the renowned researcher had told her that it was simply because she trusted her the most. As much as she had initially wanted to object, Ashley found that, for the first time, she actually understood where the doctor was coming from.

With the reassignment of veteran agents Jacqueline and Samuel, the capture of Binky, the loss of Su, as well as Silmeria and Lilliah being MIA ever since the Diver incident, Ashley was now the sole remaining agent of Dr. Moller’s original Pax Septimus team. Looking at it that way, it was only natural for the branch’s head of operations to put her faith in someone she had firsthand knowledge of. After all, reports could only convey so much. There was truly no substitute for personal interaction and observation, something Ashley herself was keenly aware of as Mika drove them to their objective. The Knight of Tomorrow had gotten to know Su’s daughter fairly well over the last few weeks, but they weren’t exactly close, and they had yet to go on a mission in the field together. As such, Ashley could only wonder at how the new agent would perform on a real mission, let alone how much the trauma of her mother’s tragic death might still be affecting the feline esper. Ellie and Estelle, on the other hand, were virtual strangers to her. She had familiarized herself with their dossiers, of course, but she hadn’t had time to exchange more than the briefest of introductions before setting off on her first mission with them. Her first mission as team leader. It was unnerving, and then some…

While Jacqueline had always been a steadfast presence, Samuel’s absence was by far the most acutely felt. Indeed, the infiltration abilities of the renowned Silhouette would have been an invaluable asset for an operation such as this, to say nothing of his vast wisdom and experience. Even now, Ashley couldn’t help but recall how he had served as her invaluable guide on her first mission after arriving in Pax Septimus, when the two of them had eliminated a pack of goblins infesting the city’s sewers. Yet, now was not the time for looking backwards. The future was what mattered most, not the past, and in order to create the bright one she had envisioned, Ashley knew she needed to focus on the present, and on the people who were now looking to her for guidance.

Upon hearing Ellie’s light-hearted quip, Ashley forced herself not to frown. A serious situation such as this was no time for that sort of levity, although, after reflecting on it further, she realized that this might just be the blonde’s way of relieving stress, something the feeling rather overwhelmed herself Ashley couldn’t really fault her for.

“Well, to start with, I think it would be best if we split into two teams,” Ashley began as she adjusted her glasses. “According to what we know of the casino’s layout, the elevator leading to the lower levels is located behind this teller booth, here,” she explained, pointing to the location on the map displayed on her phone. “Getting there while attracting the minimal amount of notice or opposition should be our first priority. Therefore, Estelle, you and Mika will make your way around the side of the building, avoiding security cameras where needed, until you reach this exterior vent. This leads to a corresponding vent right next to the hidden elevator. Assuming you are not being observed, you will then transform, remove the vent cover, and make your way through the air duct passage. Meanwhile, Ellie and I will approach the main entrance. Depending on whether or not they allow us in, we can either serve as a distraction, or make our way over to the teller booth via the main floor, which will also allow us to ascertain the locations of any potential adversaries. I had the techs make us these fake IDs to assist with that,” she added, handing Ellie one of the IDs in question.

Ashley’s reasons for choosing the composition of these teams was twofold. For one thing, it would hopefully allow the two melee-oriented agents to get into position without attracting attention, and the possible hostile fire that went along with it, to say nothing of the fact that Mika was far too young to legally enter the casino in an overt manner. Secondly, since Ellie was the eldest member assigned to the operation, Ashley figured it would make a fairly convincing cover story for her to play the part of the boisterous veteran party girl who was helping her reserved and studious friend learn how to have some fun for a change. Only time would tell if those choices had been the right ones.

“I imagine, at some point, Mika and Estelle will trip an alarm,” Ashley continued. “Which is when we’ll transform as well, hopefully taking any hostiles by surprise. After that, we’ll all head to the lower levels, and since we have no idea what might be waiting for us there, we’ll just have to rely on our training to see us through. Oh, and while transformed, please make sure to use the code names Dr. Moller assigned you,” she concluded, casting her gaze over her three teammates. “I don’t need to tell you how bad it would be if these guys learned our real identities. Are there any questions?” she asked. “If not, then let’s move out.”

They would save Binky. They had to…
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