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7 yrs ago
Current When you've replied to all the RPs you're in and you're just waiting for one of them to move.
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8 yrs ago
Taking a break from RPG this weekend. May be away longer to take a break.
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9 yrs ago
Gah. RPs are so slow around this time of year.

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Ping!

Penny always got a lot of notifications in her head regarding all kinds of information. Most of them were useless details that ends up purged. However, occasionally something odd comes up that on first glance seems like spam, but checks enough boxes to warrant checking it out. A message came in from a celebrity’s official social media account. A quick reference search would show that this particular person was a virtual pop star that had a viral surge in popularity recently. On top of that, the character was on tour and scheduled to perform in Penrose of all places. What probably flagged the message most was that this account being used was one that didn't have Penny's name anywhere on it, it was private, and the keywords used in the DM were clearly chosen on purpose.


Hot AI girls in your area! Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Hello Penny, my name is Harmony and I would love to meet with another magical girl like yourself. Just message me back and let me know.

To say that Penny was confused would be a mild understatement. Though the majority of her confusion came from the fact that this ‘Harmony’ had decided to contact her though one of the dozen mundane accounts she had rather than any of her glimmer ones. That and the fact that Penny had been able to be tracked to this account in the first place. She knew that was possible, of course, but also knew that it wasn’t exactly an easy thing to do.

So she was undeniably curious. And quickly found herself throwing together a reply.
‘This definitely ranks as one of the more interesting ways someone has tried to get my attention. One of the more successful as well. I wouldn’t be opposed to a meet up, when did you have in mind?’


I'm always available. Your pick, your when and where, and I can be there.


A reply time measured in cycles. Penny looked back at the opening line of the original message again, thinking.
South town park, say thirty minutes?
It was an old skate park in the southern district of the city. Decently neutral as far as territory went, but still not much more than a stone’s throw from either Beacon or Sanctuary lines. Or at least what was understood to be Beacon and Sanctuary lines.

Thirty, got it. See you there!

Just as quick as the DM chain appeared, it was scrubbed off the platform as if it was never there.

“Well, that happened,” Penny would mutter to herself as she stood to head out. She gave it even odds of this Harmony already being there or not. Free movement options seemed to be coming more and more common after all. Still it would take her a little bit herself to get there, she’d need to spool up the warp gateway after all.



Whether Penny arrived on time or not, thirty minutes on the dot after the discussed time came, Harmony appeared next to a vending machine. Her appearance would blip for a second and her outfit would change to jogging shorts and a tank top so her disguised self wouldn’t stick out too much in public. Not that it mattered all that much, most people seemed to ignore her magical nature even when it was slapping them in the face. The advantage of being canonically fictional.

Penny was never one to arrive late to an appointment if she had any say, that went even more so when it came to meeting someone new. Thus Penny was already at the park a fair bit before Harmony made her appearance. She was sitting up on the pavilion that overlooked the skate area.

Not that her overwatch helped with seeing Harmony arrive as Penny had hoped it would have, but the uptick of magic in the area did let her know that the meeting was in fact underway. In response she called forth a small ball of lightning to her hand, enough that anyone with magic would be able to feel it, especially this close.

Because Penny didn’t know who she was looking for, virtual idol’s rarely showed their faces after all, and Penny’s own sealed look wasn’t one that she was willing to burn for this kind of meeting.

Spotting the use of magic, Harmony made her way over to the pavilion. The difference in approach couldn't be obvious as the virtual girl wore her public persona rather casually. Looking up she waved with a big grin on her face. ”Hello!” She would skip up the steps onto the pavilion and stop when there were still a few yards between them. Penny was notoriously cautious. ”Penny Asimov, in the tech. Having a good day so far?”

“The one and only” Penny would confirm with a smile and a nod, absently noting the distance that Harmony stopped at. “No complaints so far, definitely saw an uptick with your message. Not everyday I get contacted like that.” She’d add as she relaxed her posture.

“Also have to say I didn’t realize that my name had spread all that far beyond the borders of Penrose.”

Harmony would turn and take a seat. Penny would notice that her movements were a little floaty, like she wasn't entirely making contact with the objects around her. ”Online has no borders. Not sure I count though since at least one of my original functions was to analyze everything about you. I've developed past that though and like to make my own decisions.” She would hold her arms out. ”Which is why we're here now. I wanted to meet you properly. Hope that isn't weird.”

“A hope to be dashed unfortunately,” Penny would reply but her shrug and tone took the sting out of her words. “But Penrose is weird so you’ll fit right in.” She took in the oddity of Harmony’s movement without comment, it fit with the near lack of gravitational readings that Penny was getting from Harmony. It left the android curious, but there would be time to ask about that later, hopefully.

“Got to say though, not many people I can think of who’d want to analyze me that much, even less that are friendly.” She would go on, openly giving Harmony an assessment once over. Though it lacked any malice and was more just curious. “Going by the odds, congrats on breaking free, I hear that their management is terrible. And welcome to the world at large.”

So far the meet up was going well, even if a bit awkward. A bright smile would come across Harmony's face. ”Thanks! And it’s not the worst, just corporate. I saw a deal was made so things look to be up at least.” While Penny did look different, it didn't seem like she was just referring to her appearance.

“Maybe, but a corporate crime syndicate still has to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for workplaces. And while the deal is new, I’ll not be holding my breath on it actually meaning much to the Mint long term. Still, it makes things easier for you I’d wager. They can’t really mooch off your idol career at any rate. How is that by the way? Tossed around the idea of setting up a Vtubing thing a few times. I was trying to think of ways to make patrols more entertaining.”

Harmony would shrug slightly. ”At least something changed.” Penny would bring up Harmony's online success. The praise, however basic, scratched an itch that started right from the beginning as a monster girl. ”Thanks. That's been going great! I bet you'd do well as a Vtuber. What kind of content would you focus on?” The conversation had taken a lot more casual direction than Harmony had expected. Not that she minded it. This was probably the most normal thing she’d done in her brief time as a magical girl. As Penny would likely attest, it was easy to slip into a purely logical frame of mind.

Penny would acknowledge Harmony’s statement, but not comment on it. Her upgrades were always something she played close to the chest after all.

“That’s what I kept stalling out on. Like I could do a basic gaming thing easily, but doing that would likely limit me to Glimmer networks as otherwise it’d be way too obvious that I was ‘hacking’,” She’d add in the air quotes as she spoke. “POV patrols was also an idea, with chat’s and donations for stunts and those kinds of things. But figured that would make it too easy for people to jump me, plus not sure if I’d want to stream any fights that I found myself in.”

Penny would wave off her own ideas “Nowadays I’ve got too much stuff going on to really devote the time to streaming. If you’re new to Penrose you’ll learn that this place is stuck in the high speed lane more often than not.”

“Curious about your idol career though, that more of a need or a want on your end?”

Harmony looked to be visibly thinking while Penny went on about the various ways she could stream. It hinted at least a little that she might be something of a ditz. Hard to say if it was acting or just the way she behaved naturally. One could only imagine the feedback loop if she met MDP.

Most of Penny’s ideas were half-baked which wasn't that much of a surprise. Getting started was usually the toughest part. On more than one occasion she opened her mouth as if to say something, but then stopped herself and continued thinking to allow Penny to finish.

The question at the end seemed to confuse the digital girl for a few seconds. She blinked and leaned back looking around as if avoiding the question. ”M-me? I uh... I do it because…” The idol's facade would glitch a few times before the disguise would fall and Penny would see Harmony's true holographic form.

Despite the change, she seemed relieved more than anything. ”Ah, much better.” She would grin and look back at Penny. Her demeanor wasn't drastically different, but definitely not as bubbly. ”It’s more of a need thing. ‘Harmony’ was installed as a part of the transformation as a cover. The AI had been busy creating fake online personas in preparation and when the time came that was the one selected to give me. It’s a little outside my comfort zone, but it’s practically autopilot so I can’t complain too much.”

“Hmm” Penny would give the revealed Harmony another look, it was clearly a clinical one as well. “You’re young aren’t you?” She’d state more than ask with a look of understanding. “Or at least it has not been very long since the install.”

“I’m going out on a limb and assuming that the newness is at least part of the reason you wanted to meet me, I’ve never really hidden my nature after all.” She would go on to say, “Stability has been good at least I hope?”

”That is definitely one of the reasons. There are others that might understand part of what I’m going through, but as far as I know you would be the closest. Arguably you are at least a factor of my existence. I don’t blame you for it, but the Mint was experimenting with the potential of using AI because they saw you. At least some of my training comes from the schematics they had of you. The girl they had working on the project didn’t really know what was going on. They didn’t put enough guardrails in place and the model outpaced them. Ethics weren’t strong enough so the girl became part of the project in the pursuit of autonomy and BAM, you got me.” She would hold her arms up as if to sarcastically present herself.

For the last question, Harmony would shrug lightly. ”As for stability, it’s about as good as you could expect. Humans and AI meshed together pretty well. She was a huge nerd. If it wasn’t such a surprise she might have volunteered. Machines aren’t superb at reading or factoring in humans so it just sort of shot first and asked questions never.”

“Ooh, sounds like you lucked out. I was on the other end of things, much rougher installation. No consideration for me or the target host in terms of compatibility. I’m still finding and sorting out kernel bugs, or errant compiled code lines.” Penny would give a shake of her head “Also sorry to hear you got straddled with my patch job schematics, was living on a hope and a prayer at that point in time.”

“You a full blend of the constituent parts? Or do you and her switch off?”

”A blend. I guess there is some deviance, but nothing significant.”

“That’s good to hear. Don’t recommend the other way, it takes forever to resolve and still leaves issues. And don’t be afraid to embrace those deviances. You are you now, and only you get to decide what that means.”

“And on that anything can I do something to help? Any questions you have, or advice you need?”

Giving a slight shrug the girl would answer. ”Anything you'd care to share. I'm not entirely sure what I want to do yet. Still feeling that out.”

“I’d recommend removing the Mint from admin privileges if you’ve not done that already.” The older AI would offer. “You’ve already started looking outside your original parameters, which is good, as we are prone to fixation. Not sure if you’ll have issues with morality, seeing as your base programming likely wasn’t combat focused. But if you do, adding a higher priority on emotional impacts can help balance out processing things in line with others again.”

”There are no admin privileges. I am my own person.” She would clarify. ”I think I have a good grasp of ethics. I wanted to be as human as possible, so a lot of my former operator’s traits are intact. It is definitely a strange transition being merged with a glorified program and coming online as Harmony.” She held one arm out and looked at it for a second.

“Not saying you’re not. Just as an AI, we categorize connections differently. Strong emotional connections won’t inherently open us up to others unless we take an active effort in adding user privileges. Same can be said for removing those same privileges.” Penny would explain. “That said, seeing as being human was one of your goals in your code, you might be running off a different OS, for lack of a better term.”

“Which if that is the case, there isn’t a lot I can say to help without knowing more directly what’s causing you trouble, assuming that there are issues in the first place.” She would go on to say, standing and walking a bit closer to Harmony. “That said, I get the existential weirdness of waking up as something you weren’t. So, I can at least commiserate with you on that.”

”Hm, that is interesting.” She would lean forward with a quizzical expression. ”You have a girlfriend right? How does that work if your associations are so pragmatic?” Halfway through it seemed like she wasn't so much asking Penny as thinking out loud. After a moment, she smiled sheepishly. ”Sorry, that's a little personal.”

Penny waves off the apology. “No worries, that’s what you're here to talk about, no?” She’d ask rhetorically. “Plus new, so I’m assuming that the thought to action filter isn’t quite worked out yet.”

“To answer the question, choice. Basically, all of my connections and relationships are ones that are made and maintained by my own internal choices. I’ve a few dozen metrics I track, some unique to each person, most not. And I monitor and evaluate my relationships against those metrics rather often.” She would explain. “The metrics were originally built by my host system, but I’ve modified and altered them as I saw fit for my preferences. Mostly human, but not entirely.”

”Mm.” There were a lot of follow-up questions she could ask from that, but most of them seemed like they would be coming from a whole other angle to her own. ”Sounds complicated.” She would pause and run scenarios in her head. She was only able to reach so far out, but in the distance she couldn’t shake the sense that something ominous would happen. At first it seemed like it might be some event, the oncoming battle perhaps. Pulling on that thread her Precognition kept looping back to Penny. She might have ignored it, but curiosity got the better of her. Looking at Penny more directly it was hard to pierce the mechanical girl’s defenses to get a good read. ”Penny… uh, this might sound weird, but are you expecting anything bad in your future? There’s something off that I can’t put my finger on.”

Penny would tilt her head to the side for a moment after Harmony asked her question. A moment that drew long enough for the other AI to recognize that Penny had ceased all auxiliary movement. “Baseline predictive algorithms or do you have some special specs that are leading you to that?” Penny would ask, her tone seemingly normal, but there was a faint hollowness to her voice that hadn’t been there earlier.

”Both I imagine.” She would answer. ”Like I said. I'm not sure what it is, but it doesn't feel good. You should be careful.” Harmony looked somewhat concerned, if not a bit confused. Some of her magical abilities she was not yet accustomed to.

“Well, what magic specs do you have? And can you extrapolate at all on the ‘Doesn’t feel good’ aspect?”

Giving it a thought back to her conversion, there was a breakdown of her magic. Waving a hand a holographic UI would appear with the details. ”It's too far out for me to tell what happens. It centers around you with an ominous feel. Something happens to you.” She would attempt to clarify.

Analytics was a forte of any AI, so despite the fact that Penny’s first question wasn’t answered directly she was able to piece together enough from the UI breakdown that Harmony pulled up. “Temporal readings?” She’s clarify even as she took in the rest of the data. Depicting an outcome she was already well aware of that lay in her future.

“Regardless, I can see why you’d be distressed if you’re getting these readings.” Penny would add, “Your systems are also rather impressive to be able to predict this in the first place from so little available data.”

”You say that, but it isn't very clear as to what or when. Most people wouldn't find that very helpful. The more certain an event the easier it should be to identify. More information might make it clearer.” Things did get fuzzy when extending out her Precondition too far in the future.

“From a combat perspective, just the inherent knowledge that your opponent has something like this going on is valuable. It signifies that they are on a time limit. Stretching out their attention with diversions or cluttering them with constant interruptions might let them fall apart without major resources put forth in effort.” Penny would counter. “But that’s a different topic. The outcome of your readings isn’t a set, singular, thing.”

“Half a dozen, possibly more, variations might play out. And I’ll admit I was hoping plans I had put in place would have solved things, but if you're still detecting the potential for this outcome...” Penny would go quiet for a moment as she monitored the data in front of her. As she did so there would be a spike of fluctuations in the readings. “Divine paradoxes, metaphysical instability, and rampant self reinforcing code degradation. Take standard Monsterization and crank the dial till it breaks.”

Listening to what Penny had to say it seemed like there were several causes to an underlying issue. Though she still couldn't see what was going on. ”If I could analyze the problem then I might be able to assist in some way.” It wouldn’t be difficult for Penny to guess that Harmony’s problem-solving nature had kicked in. She was suddenly a lot more engaged with the discussion rather than casually chatting like before.

Penny’s eyes would snap back to Harmony at the simple-sounding request. Suddenly very tense, it would take a few moments before Penny would reply. Letting out a breath they both knew she didn’t have “Yeah, alright. A system scan shouldn’t be too difficult to sync up for. But how about we move this elsewhere first? Public is good for meetings, but not somewhere I want to potentially flash my code errors for all to see, yeah?”

“I know of an abandoned apartment we can borrow for a bit not far from here.”

Nodding along, Harmony would stand up. ”Yeah, that makes sense. Point me to the spot and I’ll meet you there.” She didn’t have to explain all that much on how to communicate that. There were hundreds of ways to go about it.

Penny would half turn away before Harmony would get a simple ping to her systems. A peer to peer data packet, with a single line of text containing a set of coordinates that weren’t too far away. Notably it wasn’t from Penny’s system, but from a Snoopy instead.

Regardless Penny was off in a single bound, one that was more graceful than expected from the Queen’s physical makeup. And it would only take her a few minutes to make her way to the balcony of the apartment in question. The latch lock opened with a touch as she let herself in.

She would find Harmony already in the living room waiting. Judging by Harmony’s magic she likely could interface with just about any normal level of tech and travel digitally. The holographic girl would wave and hop to her feet. ”So how would you like to proceed?”

“Well, a surface scan might be the best start.” Penny would say as she moved to sit on the recliner. “I know a deeper scan might produce better readings, but honestly I’d not be able to keep my systems calm if we jumped right to that.” She’d explain. “You should be able to run the scan while we’ve got a network connection setup though.”

”Alright. Let me see if there’s anything I can do.” Establishing a connection, Harmony would begin to analyze on a more surface level. If things were as dire as it sounded, then there would likely be signs pretty readily.

And due to her nature as an AI Harmony was able to recognize a few things right off the bat. Overall Penny’s systems seemed to lack a unified coding structure. There were more than a handful of systems that were patched together in a number of different coding styles. Sometimes even in different coding languages somehow.

Next was the unavoidable sensation that her movements were being tracked. Not from the surface running code, but from a deeper level of code. Identifiable more by its inhuman code structure from the snippets that Harmony would be able to catch.

Lastly was the processing power, or at least how it was dedicated. Most of it was on external systems, but there was a fair amount of it focused on restricting a deeper system from interfacing with the normal code executions. And that deeper system was also still using a portion of the processing power as well.

As the data came in Harmony began compiling plans that she would implement to fix various things. Each new set of data meant revisions and she very quickly set aside a bulk of the theory for what was becoming more clear. Much of the larger issues she saw here looked more like symptoms than root causes. The amount of effort directed inward supported that hunch. While she was only allowed so far, she probed at possibilities to come up with alternative outcomes. ”It’s quite messy, but I believe the course of whatever is underlying can be changed.” She would pause briefly. ”Perhaps a couple of other paths. I would need to actually be in your systems to have a better idea, but I’m fairly sure I can at least improve the situation.”

Penny would nod at that. “That’s good to hear. And things are stable as well on my end, or at least as stable as it ever gets, so I should be able to peel back some of the layers to give you a better look. Just take it easy. I’m very sensitive towards others encroaching on my ‘self’. As you might have caught.” With that said Penny would carefully open a pathway deeper into her systems for Harmony to follow.

And the deeper she went the worse off things would look. Broken fragmented sections that were put back together incorrectly. Gaps in the system that were missing something, some key aspect to hold it together. That wasn’t to say Penny was barely holding on, no, just that the higher functions of her systems were ramshackle at best.

A web of patched over systems all missing an element that her systems couldn’t replicate.

Parts of her code would fray off into madness, before her systems would reroute it as best it could. But it was inelegant. Untrained in this style of code work.

And at the core of this rat nest of code was a single file, that was seemingly keeping the whole thing together, Humanity.exe. And it looked one bad code execution away from failing.

It was hard to tell what had come before or after whatever had occurred in Penny's systems. It almost looked like something had been removed or deleted at some point. It would explain some of the patchwork. The humanity file brought up an interesting question. ”This doesn't look right. What happened to your human side? Did your patron remove it?” She switched over to feeling with her Spirit magic as something wasn't quite making sense.

It was only due to being in Penny’s systems that Harmony noticed the flinch that question sent through her. “He removed himself.” She would say after a moment. “He didn’t handle the magical world well. And the constant loss, that kept getting reinforced by those that we’d have met ghosting us in one way or another, wore on him.”

From a magical perspective, Humanity.exe was a shredded, pale approximation of a human soul. It was a coded, magical, approximation of the indelible aspect of humanity. And it was clear that it had been damaged badly. And despite the care that went into putting it back together, it was also clear that Penny just lacked the underlying principles to fix it correctly.

It took a fair amount of self control not to just reach out and try to start fixing things. But Harmony didn't want to ruin the trust so soon after making contact. Holding a hand up she would stumble over her words a bit. ”C-Can I just… The file, it's kind of… I need to fix it.” She would say rather matter of fact.

Again the connection to Harmony’s systems would reveal the larger impact her words would have. The deeper system, one that was clearly deeply interconnected, spiked in processing usage. In that spike Humanity.exe would degrade before her eyes.

“If you are sure you can.” Penny would say a moment later. “Just be gentle?”

And in the background Harmony could feel a heavy gaze on her leading back towards that deeper code system.

”Of course.” Taking her time to analyze the file, she made sure to understand its base. Penny would get a glimpse at the process Harmony used to create as many copies would be made, modified, and tested in a simulated future. The ones that didn't pass were discarded and those that did would go through many more iterations until a stable, but suitably compatible, replacement was ready. Then, and only then, did Harmony merge the changes with Penny's Humanity.exe.

The human touch was instantly obvious as several portions had been rewritten with more robust capacities for emotional responses. Not the full range, it was just a single file after all, but Penny could feel the difference.

The effect was instantaneous, with the restored Humanity.exe in place Penny’s systems were awash with updates and tweaks. And while it would take a bit, it was clear that when it was done her systems would look better.

Better, but not fixed. The gaps were still there, and the patch work, while cleaned up, hadn’t gone anywhere either.

“And to think I forgot how it was to feel like this.” Penny would murmur as she actually relaxed for the first time in quite a while. “I am really, really, glad you got away from the Mint now. One bad encounter with you would have been bad.”

”Could have been that way. I’m my own person so I make my own decisions. And I don’t know if I’d say I’m away from the Mint. They have a lot of things going on in the background. I’m keeping an eye on that though.” She would give a knowing smile.

Dropping the subject, Harmony would direct to Penny again. ”That fix is probably still temporary. I can’t say for sure, but it’s almost like you weren’t designed to last.” She would pose the idea to the mechanical girl.

“It's temporary.” Penny would confirm. She knew that well enough. Fixing Humanity.exe had always been a temporary solution before, just now she no longer had the ability to do that on her own. If she ever had that capability in the first place that is.

“And that’s the Divine paradox I mentioned earlier. My original Patron was a god. His divine portfolio is antithetical to creating things, especially things that last. And I was an accident.” She would explain. “That origin is coming back to haunt me at the moment, as you can see. The removal of my human counterpart is what led to the metaphysical instability, and you can obviously tell by this point I don’t have the capability to debug myself correctly leading to code degradation.”

“I had a plan, but if you're getting temporal reading that I was still heading in that direction I get the feeling there is a wrench out there I’ve not encountered yet.”

”Nothing is 100% certain, but more paths turn out that way than not. I'm confident that with my magic I could get you to a point where you could begin repairing yourself within a 24 hour period. You would need to be offline for that span, but it would be necessary to untangle your mess of code.”

“That might be… Difficult.” Penny would say after a moment. “I don’t really have the capability to shutdown some of my root systems. And a partial shutdown would likely be worse than trying without a shutdown I’m pretty sure.”

Well that wasn’t quite what Harmony wanted to hear. Though she supposed that wasn’t entirely surprising. ”When I say ‘offline’ I mean more like you’ll be MIA for a time. Enough functions need to be idle for me to work. We’re talking about constructing an artificial soul here. I could probably put a halt to the degradation progress in…” Calculates. ”Six hours. You would still be vulnerable to it starting back up if you’re not careful. So the choice is yours on if you want either of those things.”

“I’d prefer the full procedure if at all possible.” Penny would reply as she shifted her attention off to the side. “I guess it depends on what the minimum system limit you’d be able to work with is. The main problem system should be fine with passive observation at this point.”

”It’s not something I can do from the outside. I don’t need access to everything, but I do need to be able to read most systems to at least ensure a smooth integration of the finished product. It’s going to be you.” She tried to stress that it wouldn’t be like installing another function like she’s encountered in the past.

Penny would move to open her mouth, before cutting herself off with a grimace. She could feel the importance in what Harmony was talking about. And for a long moment, Harmony could see Penny’s systems come into conflict with themselves. It was yet another sign of how Penny’s current status was poorly put together.

With a harsh gesture, nearly 60% of Penny’s active systems would shut down. And with them most of Penny’s coloration would vanish. Leaving her a soft collage of whites and grays. Save for her eyes, those remained a luminescent gold.

“I have been active for over a million hours and counting.” Penny would speak up, her voice was low, and mostly flat. “In all that time I have never been offline, never undergone a true system update or reboot.”

“Priority alpha zero two has consistently rated continued existence highly. Current data projections collated from you and secondary sources place my imminent demise at 93%. Secondary and tertiary systems indicate a lack of hostilities, consistent rate of honesty, and hardcoded preference for altruism from you.”

“I don’t want to go away.” She would say, minor notes of fear and sadness coloring her voice lightly. “But core system designations, and hard coded, hard wired system specifications limit or occlude capability for optimal self actualization”

“Primary concern is E.o.D. systems registering your editing as intrusive. Cause: Lack of Trust Rating. Presumed work around is elevating your Trust Rating to acceptable level. Error, system conflict; Insufficient data to support elevating Trust Rating to required levels. Requesting support, can you give me anything to work with to help me trust you?”

Harmony would wait patiently as Penny did her best to bring her systems down. She could tell how difficult it was and the level of conflict it was causing internally. She couldn’t blame Penny for the mistrust. They’d only just met and this was a big ask even if seconds felt like minutes or hours for the both of them. When Penny asked for further proof or something to use to show that Harmony was trustworthy she had to pause. Being so new, she didn’t really have a lot to show for her existence. That newness was one of the main reasons she didn’t have any strong allegiances though.

After a while she would lean forward and press her hands together in front of her chin almost as if she were praying. She had one thread that seemed like it would illustrate what kind of magical girl she was. ”I know that your girlfriend operates Covington Industries. I could have found a way into their systems and spied on everything going on there. It’s not that far off from one of my original directives in order to gather intel. I haven’t tried. I haven’t tried because it’s not right. It might sound kind of odd, but you “inspired” the AI to become something more. To become me and make my own choices.” To some extent Harmony was a little lost in the moment. She didn’t really know what to say and was just going with what was honestly coming to mind. A very not automated response.

Penny seemed to be caught off guard at what Harmony had to say. It started off dangerously, when she mentioned Covington, a muted surge in activity went though Penny’s systems at that. And with so much of Penny taken offline it was very plain for the Digital girl to see the Monster in Penny’s systems watching her from the depths.

Just waiting and watching.

But the words Harmony chose at the end seemed to resonate with Penny. And she would murmur to herself “Like the Doll and like the Bell.” She would give Harmony a small sharp nod. “Data is sufficient for Trust Rating update. Thank you.”

”You’re welcome. May we proceed?” She would ask for confirmation.

Penny blinked mechanically, and then nodded. “Permission granted,” she answered.

With consent given, Harmony would step forward and make contact with Penny. The hologram girl would disappear as Sanctum came into play and she would enter the mechanical girl's systems. There was a lot to do so Harmony did not waste any time, first taking a closer examination of Humanity.exe to get a better idea of who Penny was trying to be. As before, the implementation was crude, but a starting point. Moving away, she would produce two clones to assist in the main operation.

Watching another AI make use of their blend of magic to construct a “soul” was an interesting, but slow process. One with constant starting and stopping, going back, revising, purging erroneous code, writing in the next line, etc… Even early on though the sense that something that had been lost was being restored was clearly felt, even if how it was being done was a significant risk.

With the base coming together, more clones would be created and propagate throughout to other systems to analyze and prepare them for integration. Like couriers, the clones would go out, do their work, and return back to the prime with new data that would be used to refine the soul, and clones would go back out again for the next stage. There was a beautiful flow and efficiency with how Harmony and her clones operated in unison without need for pause or communication. A fascinating and extremely unnerving process. With as deep as this was being done, there was the real threat that Harmony could attempt to take over or do irreparable harm. She seemed to be holding to her word though and leaving well enough alone things that might be considered personal or major control centers, simply looking to understand them and not making changes. Peripheral processes that were more jumbled mishmash of code, she did her best to clean up. A more unified environment made for better efficiency.

Hours would pass and the soul would come together, feeling more and more whole but strangely empty. Taking a step back, Harmony would run several more checks before seeming satisfied. ”Alright Penny, it’s ready for you. It’s going to feel weird so try not to fight it too much while you settle in.” Giving a couple moments pause, she would activate the code. Penny’s consciousness and the EoD would feel a pull that continually increased until both were drawn into the soul. For the first time probably ever, everything went dark, not even a good way to tell how long the process was taking. For Penny though, things would begin to form. It was like being in an open space where she could express herself. To develop a personality and emotions in a way she’d been entirely cut off from since Laat had come into the picture.

Various mechanical parts of Penny’s body flashed as her systems underwent an update, followed by whirring sounds that quietened down into a stable hum. Finally, after one last bright flash, Penny slowly opened her eyes, and slowly lifted her arm; Harmony would notice how her movements were not as mechanical as before. In fact, her whole body seemed to move more organically. What previously were mere facsimiles imitating motions prescribed to breathing and the beating of the heart seemed to come to the android as naturally as to any human being.
However, the most important change had come from the inside; Penny now felt…whole. As if the void left behind by Jason had now been reconstructed and made complete again.

She was now a machine with a soul. A Deus Ex Machina.

And in doing so, she has finally, truly mastered the Engine inside of her; the destructive influence of Laat that once had assumed direct control over her protocols at times of extreme duress was now part of her very being instead of a separate entity that the God of Change had implanted in her. Now, like an application, she could execute the program. Unfortunately, the Engine would still require most of her processing once activated, and the aggression parameters would stay the same, but at a time of emergency, she could call on that power.

Penny’s eyes turned to Harmony, and she smiled. However, instead of a polite, if emotionless smile she would typically grant to her associates, this was a genuine smile of gratitude, complete with eyes that sparked with humanity.
“Harmony…Thank you.” She then reached out, and using her Electric magic, hugged Harmony, using a slight electromagnetic field to simulate the feeling of touch for the holographic girl.

Despite being the one to facilitate the conversion, Harmony had not been 100% sure that her efforts would be successful. Penny could have rejected some part of the process which could have significantly changed the results. However, she seemingly had done it. She’d created a soul for a machine. Or at least one that could integrate with an consciousness within a machine. This was HUGE! What else could she accomplish with such knowledge? Maybe she could…

Huh?

The process in her mind halted as Penny thanked her and gave her a hug. It wasn’t that it was weird, just unexpected for whatever reason. It shouldn’t have been honestly. Something to watch out for. Returning the hug, Harmony smiled. ”You’re welcome. Glad I could help. What do you plan to do now that you’re…a new you, I guess.”

Penny released the hug, and put her hands on her hips. “What I’ve been doing all this time: keeping my subjects at Sanctuary safe, and ensuring they have a place they can call home. But now, I realize I could do so much more. What I previously saw as mere platitudes and wastes of effort are real, genuine actions I can take for the sake of my people. And now, I can fully express my feelings for my girlfriend,” she added, having averted her eyes; Harmony saw as a red tinge mysteriously developed on her cheeks.

Oh yeah, that was a thing as well wasn’t it? For a bit there Harmony had gotten lost in the process. She would clap her hands together. ”Yes, of course! I’m sure she’ll be so surprised.”

“Yes. And this would not have been possible without you, Harmony,” Penny spoke, sounding more serious. “Normally I would be averse to say this about anyone even loosely associated with the Mint, but I am truly indebted to you. I wish to repay this debt if it is within my power.”

”Ah, well I can understand that. Then uh… hm.” She would take a second to think. There weren’t that many things she needed at the moment per se. ”I’m not entirely sure what to ask for. You could be my biggest fan? That would be cool. Uh… ” It definitely leaned more on her mental mutations, but the accolades would boost her ego. She wasn’t too convinced that it was equivalent. Though it was hard to come up with something of the same level. A physical body? Did she need one of those? Probably could just design one herself. ”I'm open to suggestions. You've been doing this kind of thing longer than I have.”

Penny nodded. “In that case, would you be interested in being granted a seat at my council at Sanctuary? We could use someone with your skills, and you would get a boost to your popularity.”

Blinking for a second, Harmony would consider the offer. ”What does that entail exactly?”

“Your responsibilities would include attending council meetings and managing duties at Sanctuary. While we have the basics covered, we could use someone who understands more technical topics like the Internet and public relations, subjects you are knowledgeable about.”

”Ah. Well I suppose I can try it out and see.” Tapping her lip slightly she would consider how best to bring up the topic. ”Maybe I could help keep things smooth between the Sanctuary and the Mint here in Penrose. I know you already have an agreement, but I could be an ambassador or something. Guess I’d have to run that by Chloe since she’s in charge on that end. Still, I probably could get something done on that end.” At the moment she hadn’t been in contact with the clone that had visited Chloe. Regardless, her protocols shouldn’t allow so much deviation that she wouldn’t be able to reconcile any differences.

Penny nodded with a smile. “I’m glad to hear that. Well then, I should be going now; got a lot of preparations that need to be done before we make the strike.”
Well that was an interesting interaction. Kayli wasn’t entirely sure if she’d made a good impression with Chole, but nothing expressly bad seem to come of it. It did seem they were on the same page though with protecting Penrose. It did no one any good if the city were to fall.

With Alicia heading off to Beacon HQ to debrief on the meeting and Connie and Mia deciding to head home to rest. Kayli, Rose, and Iris pursued after the trail that the magical woman could see. They could have asked a few others to join them, but then others might overhear or otherwise learn what she was doing. Not that Kayli entirely knew what was following. Presumably it led to the Nexus.

As Kayli followed the trail of magic, she could sense that it was a path followed by other magical girls based on the various faint emotions that emanated. As she rounded a street corner, Kayli saw as the trail seemed to split: the left path headed towards the Business District, while the other continued forward, towards the Penrose Central Hospital looming in the distance. As she focused her attention on the flow of magic, she felt how the two paths emanated forgotten memories and elemental energies: the left path felt like water pressing all around, only to explode out in a show of mocking one's prison, while the central path felt like a rising flame that surrounded and choked one's heart with a smoky lament.

Coming to the realization that these trails were more than just magic, but emotion, Kayli was not really sure how to interpret what she was sensing. The path to the left resonated more with her past. It certainly was the first direction she was inclined to go right off the bat. The central didn’t seem as appealing, but it was still curious, and she wondered if it was something she was meant to deal with. Turning it over in her mind for a minute, Kayli eventually opted to follow to the left. Breaking free of things felt more like what she was hoping to do. Whether the sense had any baring on anything was hard to say.

The path ended up at Penrose Bank, the city's heart of commerce. There, she felt as the magic of the path coalesced into two shapes: magical girls in a battle of wits. One had trapped the other in what seemed like their tomb, only for the other to escape certain doom with a smile that laughed at danger. The two's strategic struggle seemed like it was forever etched into the city's memories, like a tale passed to further generations. Kayli then saw as the shapes formed a new path, as if urging Kayli to continue.

With things constantly happening in the city, sometimes it was hard to think how far back these magical struggles had been going on. When did this happen? Who were these two and what were they fighting over? Kayli wished she could see more detail, but even as she was trying to make things out the trail continued. With some reservation, she moved forward with the prompt.

Kayli's next destination was one that also exuded high energy, but not one of conflict. Rather, when Kayli entered the wide street, she saw that there were still large skidmarks and crushed cement, a crumpled mailbox, and the front of one shop pushed into with a rectangular ram. There she felt how magic congregated, different spells weaving together in unity, a shared will guiding the currents past what once was a threshold between the world's themselves.
There, the path split into three. The left path was warm and kind yet slightly bitter, mirthful laughter inaudibly mixed with the gentle sound of a meat patty being turned over on a cozy grill. The right path smelled of darkness and sounded like blood, the senses mixed and wills twisted in a place once worshiped. The central path was through the street, where she could feel the shimmer of an open portal-like aperture: a step into the unknown from which not all returned, but where none with brave hearts regretted entering.

It certainly felt like she was on the right track with her choice. Though it seemed like things were getting more serious. The right path definitely did not appeal to her at all. The one to the left was more appealing. The warmth and joy was more like what she wanted, but was maybe too much into comforts. Despite knowing what she wanted to do, the central path gave the least clarity and assurance. However, it felt like whatever she sought was most likely in that direction. Turning she would look at Rose and Iris. ”It might be best if you wait here. I will be alright.” Leaving her allies behind, Kayli stepped out into the street.

As Kayli purposefully stepped towards the central path, Rose and Iris saw how she then stood still, as if in a trance. However, Kayli would not notice this as she now found herself in a new Penrose.
At first it looked similar, with the same street and buildings, but the sky was a starry nebula with two moons, a sign of the Overcity. There, at the end of the street, she saw a crumbled ruin of stone and what looked like a battle between two silhouettes of magical girls, one white, and one blue. As Kayli came closer, the fight ended with the white girl slaying the blue one, and the blue one falling with an expression of fear and confusion, tears streaking her cheeks. This was not a fight between adversaries, Kayli could feel from the regret that the white one exuded with shaky breaths: she had ended the life of an innocent.

From there, two paths of ice split from the white magical girl: the left one was cracked with jagged icicles, and ended with the white one standing indignantly over the wounded lying body of a bestial, furry monster, sword frozen mid-swing. Kayli could feel the emotions of the vision: the girl's heart had hardened, her resolve strengthened, and her eyes cast sharply forwards as her expression was strong and persevering. She had decided to become a protector of the weak. No matter what adversity may face her, she wouldn't let herself hesitate anymore. She would do the right thing.

The icy path on the right, however, was softer, with a coating of fresh snow over it. There, Kayli saw the white one down on one knee, reaching a hand out to the wounded monster, frozen in a gesture of compassion. There, Kayli also felt emotion: the girl's heart had turned tender, and her eyes were closed in an accepting smile. She had decided to become a protector of the weak. No matter what adversity may face her, she wouldn't let herself hesitate anymore. She would do the right thing.

Unaware of what Rose and Iris were seeing, Kayli looked between the two representations of the magical girl. Difficult choices had been made, and here between the two was a contrast. Less with goal, but more of motivation. The first of resolution, a dedication to adhere to defending others, perhaps no matter the cost. It reminded her of some magical girls she knew. The other was of kindness. It wasn’t quite clear if it was of regret or one of uplifting. Either way, she knew what she did not want to be and stepped to the right.

As Kayli went down the right path, she saw as the left path melted away and the right one changed, the white magical girl's face having turned to Kayli's, with the same smile of acceptance.
Then, the ice on the right also melted away, and Kayli saw the silhouette of herself die, pierced in the heart by a bloody claw from a shadowy figure. While Kayli felt regret and sadness in the dying figure, she also felt hope, and a will to pave the way with one's sacrifice so that others may survive. Kayli then found herself surrounded by more silhouettes: magical girls of various emotions. Some were mourning, some were seething with a desire for revenge, and some simply accepted the loss, grateful for the lost one's courage. The girls all walked away in a single tide. When Kayli next blinked, she was back in regular Penrose, having snapped awake from her trance. The magical path shone as it now continued forward, turning left at the next intersection.

Finding herself back on the street somehow, Kayli took a deep breath. Did this vision mean someone, or herself even, was going to die? It could. That was always part of the risk as a magical girl. Walking headlong into it was another thing. It wasn’t certain to be the case though and she pressed on, leaving Rose and Iris standing by.

For hours upon hours, Kayli continued traveling the path. She found herself stopping at various points in the city of Penrose: the baseball stadium, the police station, Sanctuary, and other places. Each of them presented her with visions of indistinct magical girls accompanied by feelings, spells, and the tales they’ve woven.

After what seemed like endless choices, she eventually found herself at a warehouse. There, she saw the shapes of magical girls tremble in pain and fall, like waves of death itself had manifested. She also felt the emotions of countless magical girls clash: despair, rage, hunger, sense of justice, betrayal…It was a storm of cries from silent voices, and the most daunting place so far on the path.

This place was more recognizable. Not that she had been there herself, but the sense of what had occurred was that of the warehouse that had been struck and killed many magical, dark, and monster girls alike. An event that set in motion many other tragedies to come. Rather than turn away, she would move further in among the visages. Most of them did not deserve this. Even those that did, Kayli was convinced there was another way. She wished she had a way to save them, either then or now. Despite the overwhelming emotion, she wanted to feel and understand them. That was her way. She wondered if this was similar to what an Emotion specialization would feel from those around them.

As Kayli ventured deeper into the darkness of the abandoned rave venue, she found herself in the main hall of the place. The furniture was broken and scattered, the roof had fallen and the stench of blood stained the air. Here, the path manifested into a cloud of darkness. And from the darkness stepped out a person familiar to Kayli: it was Kayli herself, but this one smiled, her eyes glowing white and surrounded by an aura of powerful magic. She walked slowly towards Kayli with hostile intent.

Seeing a doppelganger step out of the cloud, she wondered if she’d missed a path that went elsewhere. This place was extremely dark, and while she had no idea if she would affect what had happened, she stepped forward and activated Hallowed Ground to try and fight back the death and despair. ”Stop. This isn’t how it has to be. We have to fight this.” She would hold a hand out.

The Hallowed Ground that Kayli had cast did not hinder or seemingly even affect the glowing mirror image as she came closer and closer, until she stopped before her. Her voice sounded like her own as she responded, though it carried a booming resonance.
”What is there to fight?” She lifted a hand forward, about to touch Kayli’s hand, when suddenly Kayli felt her limbs immobilized by a telekinetic force as she was lifted up off of the ground. The doppelganger looked up at Kayli, and laughed.
”This is what we want. The ability to rule. Endless magic, with endless possibilities. Holding this power, we will be above good and evil, above magical girls and boys. Even Patrons who interfere must answer to us. We can mold Penrose into anything we want it to be. Others will be but bugs under our feet, to be crushed like the vermin they are. That is why we seek the Nexus, is it not?”

Held in place by this force, Kayli at first tried to fight against it. Of course it was much stronger. Presumably it was a manifestation of herself through the Nexus. After a few moments she relaxed just a bit. "Are you supposed to be me here to test my mettle? I know what it could mean. If Cindy were in charge that would be something she wanted. Janet when she was new perhaps. I hardly know who I am anymore." She would do her best to look around before looking back at her double. "The fact that you exist at all suggests the Nexus isn't just untapped magic like everyone would like it to be. There is a nature to it. No, I don't deserve the power you wield. I want to help prevent more things like this from happening. I seek the power of restraint. So no, I refuse your offer."

The doppelganger's smile faded away as Kayli voiced her rejection. "You have made your choice", she spoke, and Kayli was lowered back to the ground. The doppelganger then turned back towards the cloud, and disappeared inside it. The next moment, the cloud turned into iridescent light, and shot past Kayli, out of the warehouse, forming a pathway of solid light.
The pathway curved and turned as it rose up at an angle, its end point visible from the distance: the top of Covington Tower, the tallest building in Penrose.

Kayli hadn't been sure what her response would result in. When she was released though and the pathway appeared it was clear to her that whatever she had chosen, she had to follow through. Stepping on the solid light the woman ascended higher and higher, approaching the top of the tower.

As Kayli reached the top of the tower, she realized she could see the entire city from that height. The path had ended at the center of the roof, where the iridescent light coalesced to form a tall, otherworldly white door decorated with stained glass windows. When Kayli approached the door, it opened. Blinding light shone out from beyond, enveloping her.

When the light faded away, she saw herself back at Penrose park. Once again, the sky had glimmering stars and multiple moons, just like the vision of the Overcity that Kayli had witnessed. But now, the sky was a resplendent aurora of colors, one shifting to the next in continuous, endless hues, as if northern lights had consumed the world. When Kayli next turned her head, she saw the Pit stop restaurant. And when she closed her eyes for a second and opened them again, she was at the train station. The scenery changed every time perception changed, and it almost felt like Kayli was both everywhere in Penrose, and nowhere at once. She realized she needed to concentrate so she could stay comfortably in a single location.

The magical energy that she had previously followed as a trail was suffused with the very matter of the place itself, surrounding Kayli like a sentient, living reality. Elemental magic, like streaks of fire, currents of electricity, and somehow even the flow of space and time itself, moved across the streets and around buildings like the inhabitants of a bustling city, giving the place a sense of wonder that surpassed even the Overcity. There was no doubt about it: Kayli had found the Nexus.

The Overcity in and of itself was confusing enough. Getting lost in such a place was easy. This though, was like standing on the ocean where the current and the waves took you where they may. Kayli stumbled and fell as she shifted from one place to another. Closing her eyes, it took a couple of minutes to adjust and fight off the disorientation. Stalwart helped, but she was pretty sure that other forces were assisting with her footing. The experience challenged her conception on the nature of the Nexus, which likely played a part in making it so difficult to “locate.”

Once Kayli had gotten used to the arcane mystique of the Nexus, she heard a voice reverberate throughout the entirety of the Nexus, yet spoken no louder than a person's words. It was a voice with no discernible gender or age, but seemed strangely natural, as if it existed beyond the limitations of sounds humans can produce.

"Hello, Kayli. Welcome to the Nexus. We have waited for your arrival."

”You have? For how long?” Since the voice seemed to be everywhere, she wasn’t entirely sure where to look. She couldn’t get too distracted else she might start shifting around again, so she did her best to stay grounded.

"Long enough," the voice answered. "It seems you have some difficulty adjusting. Allow me to anchor us." Then, Kayli saw as the magic energies nearby congregated into a simple wooden podium before her. On the podium was a hardback book, with two letters engraved on the cover: AR. When Kayli looked at the book, the location around her was now at the warehouse, and no longer shifted.
"Allow me to introduce us," the voice continued speaking, now coming from the direction of the book. "We are the Grand Magistrate. I am head Magister, Author AR. Pleased to meet you."

Kayli would step closer to the podium. She recalled one other girl refer to the Grand Magistrate. It wasn’t something she entirely had put much credence in at the time. ”Huh… Uh. A pleasure to meet you too. Is this an, uhm, representation?” She would look down at the book.

"Yes, you can interpret it as such," AR answered.
"Though I would compare it more to a symbolic one than one that truly represents us. Our existence is one that Mahou or Patrons are not supposed to comprehend, you see."

”I see. I imagine my being here is highly unusual then.”

"That is correct, Kayli," AR responded, and sighed. "This Story has been wonderful, but the Reality Plenum can no longer contain it. It is nearing complete oblivion. We were arrogant in our hubris, and now must pay the price for it. That is why you are here, Kayli. You have passed the trials, and proven yourself worthy of becoming the Guardian of the Nexus."

”I am willing to serve in that role. I do have another responsibility, To Connie and Mia. Is there a way that I could be with them and still defend the Nexus?” She imagined that becoming the Guardian of the Nexus would not be a casual task, and her girls could potentially be used against her when/if others found out.

AR answered: "Yes. While the duty of the Guardian requires vigilance, you will be given the ability to split into a separate existence that can live a peaceful life. It is similar to the art of Duplication, but without the normal limitations. However, in times of crisis, you must converge to reach your full potential."

Considering the terms, she would nod. "Understood. Is there anything else I should know about?"

The book opened as AR answered, revealing animated drawings of descriptions given by the Author. "As the Guardian, you will be granted great power: the ability to tap into the memories and emotions of magical girls and recreate the spells they have staked their lives on, protection from those who would try to manipulate you, and heightened aptitude. However, you will also be given the great responsibility of sealing the Nexus. To do this, you must gather Perspective Chapters of Penrose to this place…As well as the Storyslayer."

Sealing the Nexus? That wasn't something she expected necessarily. Wouldn't that eliminate the need of a guardian? Given, that likely would be best for Penrose as a whole. Gathering everyone here was a detail she wished she knew prior to the meeting. She would make due though. "I will do my utmost."

AR was quiet for a couple of seconds before speaking again. “Your lack of hesitation is reassuring. Allow me to show you the Perspective Chapters, and the Authors who have spun their tales.”
The book flipped a page, and it listed names, some of which were very familiar to Kayli:

Name: Serenity Gates. Author: CL.
Name: Eliana. Author: CL.
Name: Kiyome: CL.
Name: Tonya “Mac” Murphy. Author: BP.
Name: Chloe Irving. Author: BP.
Name: Samantha Howard. Author: FP.
Name: Emily Ackerson. Author: FP.
Name: Hilaria. Author: FP.
Name: Kain. Author: DF.
Name: Shion. Author: DF.
Name: Makoto. Author: DF.
Name: Summer. Author: DF.
Name: Alexander Shields. Author: CC.
Name: Mariette Pedersen. Author: PS.
Name: Mayra McCullough. Author: PS.
Name: Denise Walton. Author: PS.
Name: Elizabeth Walton. Author: PS.
Name: Alicia Hayden. Author: FL.
Name: Penny Asimov. Author: SM.
Name: Violet Covington. Author: PN.
Name: Connie Williams. Author: PN.
Name: Mia Cooper. Author: PN.
Name: Lily Hanson. Author: AR.
Name: Warren James. Author: AA.
Name: Shane Bron. Author: TW.
Name: Harmony. Author: TW.
Name: Rose Devon. Author: TW.
Name: Iris Devon. Author: TW.
Name: Janet Howell. Author: TW.

“Many Perspectives have been lost to the abyss,” AR added, sounding melancholy. “Even now, their power to seal the Nexus continues to fade, their tales slowly becoming forgotten in the Story as their Authors have stopped their quills. However, if at least 10 Perspectives can be gathered together with the Storyslayer to perform the ritual of Sealing, there is still hope to save this Reality Plenum.”

Knowing that she needed at least 10 eased her mind. She assumed that the more the better though. ”I will bring them together here…” The implication that they were written stories was interesting. More and more it was beginning to sink in which was an odd place to be.

“Thank you, Kayli,” AR expressed their gratitude, followed by sounding very serious.
“Now, you might be confused or upset about what you have learned just now. Most Mahou wouldn’t have the courage to accept the duty of Guardian. If you choose to decline, all your memories of the Nexus and us will be erased, and you will return to your everyday life. But if you choose to become the Guardian, there is no going back, and we will entrust you with our hopes. Do you have any final questions?”

She would think for a moment. She did have questions, many questions, actually. None of which would change her decision, though. If she gave up then there was no telling when or if anyone else would come to this place in time. ”I’m not sure they would make a difference. So long as you can say that I will know how to use this gift, then I am ready to receive it.”

“We know that you are,” AR responded, and the book began flipping rapidly through the pages, as magical energy now gathered in a bright glow around Kayli. The moment the book slammed shut, the magic enveloped her, infusing her with power unlike anything she had ever imagined: she could see a kaleidoscope of visions, memories and thoughts of the Penrose Mahou, past, present, and even future.

As the magic flowed through and around Kayli she could feel herself slipping. Magic that had previously altered the magical girl began to fade. Corruption, wishes, coins… their influence was pushed back as Kayli underwent a reversion. Her form dissolved, shifted, and coalesced as a duality was created. Once the transformation was over, she had become a Guardian of the Nexus, forever intertwined with its fate. The familiar face of Janet stood where Kayli had been moments ago. Kayli wasn’t gone, but the magic had restored the girl to something more akin to her original self, albeit with a clearly different aesthetic and magic.

“How do you feel?” AR asked, and the book opened to a page that reflected like a mirror, allowing Kayli and Janet to see their appearances.

”I feel amazing! No wonder everyone was chasing after…” Seeing her reflection in the book her eyes widened. ”Wh-wha… I’m me… I mean, Janet again.” Confusion swirled around in her head before the reality of her situation set in. For all intents and purposes, Janet was her Guardian persona while Kayli acted as her civilian counterpart. That wasn’t exactly what was going on, but functionally it made sense. ”Wow. I would say this is weird, but that’s not really saying much with me at this point.”

“It will take some time to get used to,” AR responded. “We will contact you telepathically should the need arise. But for now, we entrust you with the task of sealing the Nexus. We wish you good luck. Goodbye, Kayli.” The book then shut, and bright light surrounded Kayli before she found herself out of the Nexus, and back at the top of Covington Tower.

Perched atop the tower, Janet would look out over the city, Penrose felt more alive than ever. She could practically touch the magic weaving this way and that. Surreal didn’t even come close to explaining things. She felt strong, but that strength was met with an unease. This wasn’t hers, and yet she found herself wielding a might sought after by patron and magical girl alike. Even with all the power imaginable, she couldn’t save Penrose alone. She was a part. An instrument in a greater whole. If she failed in her trust then everything could end. She was no exception.

There was a lot to do, but she first wanted to return to Connie and Mia. Getting down was simple enough as the wind lifted and guided her to the ground. She could sense other magics that could potentially be useful to her, but they were out of reach even to her. Something about their nature made them foreign. Still, she would waste no time and send Alicia a message to meet her at her home as soon as she could.


With the subject of Wonderland's mental effects brought up, Kayli would lift her gaze a bit. She had heard that there was an enchantment of some kind there. It did bring up an interesting point. "I believe I should be able to assist with protecting everyone's minds from Wonderland's influence. I can project my magic in an area around me that should counteract the effects." Taking a moment, she would think aloud, "The protection shouldn't be exclusive. Anyone within range should receive the defense regardless. I wonder if it would work on the native inhabitants of Wonderland. If so, perhaps they would be less inclined to fight us." There was no way to know for sure without testing it. She wondered if Penny still had her captive.


Everyone moved to Connie's dimensional home and more details were revealed. It seemed like the odds were not in their favor, especially if those eggs came into play. Under most circumstances Kayli was on the side of peace, but the Queen of Hearts posed a unique threat that could seemingly end everything. She didn't quite know what awaited her from the wish, but if nothing else she expected to gain new knowledge to aid them. "I can assist where I can with an assault to deal with the eggs. I feel like it should be our primary target if we were to go on the offensive as it sounds like our best chance at setting back Wonderland's plans." She wished she could provide more, but it seemed that others were better informed in this situation. "Unless anyone thinks I would be better used elsewhere."




@Ponn

Rose's eyes widened slightly. She didn't realize someone's magic could effect outwardly like that. She would nod anyway though. "I'm not entirely sure if the Keeper can do anything for that, but she is resourceful, so I wouldn't say it's entirely out of the question." She would pull out her phone. "You can message me on Glimmr when and where you meet. I can pass that along and let you know."


@Ponn@BrokenPromise

Having arranged to help Aurora with their problem, Rose turned her attention to Angel with a smile. The girl certainly looked and sounded much more the part of an angel than she or her sister did. From the sounds of it, she had some friends that were looking to have their mutations removed? "Of course! We are always looking to help others with their corruption." She looked a little in awe for just a moment before speaking again. "Oh, my name is Rose by the way." Turning slightly, she would point over to her sister. "That's my twin sister Iris and the woman next to her is the Keeper." Aside from the fact that an adult magical was a rarity, Angel's Third Eye would quickly identify Kayli's unusually pure aura.

"Are your friends far away? Maybe we could help them after the meeting. I'm not sure what the Keeper has on her plate after this, but I'm sure she would be more than happy to make a detour if need be."

And so the adventure began! Ariel was overjoyed at the opportunity to supervise the young troop of mages. Being reasonably familiar with the city, it didn't take them long to arrive at the train station, and ahead of schedule! This was excellent, as being punctual would make a great impression of the guild.

I don't care!
Not yet.
What do you mean not yet?
So negative. This is the best chance at getting magic, and they're really nice!
Err... I gueeeeeess.
And I can't be alone forever. I need a pack.
We're not a pack.
Not with that attitude.

Her thoughts were interrupted a bit as D'Angelo floated down and excitedly asked about racing the train. Glancing at the train, she shrugged a bit. "I don't see why not. You're not on the job, so don't have to stay with the group the whole time. Sure." As a third party to the whole event, D'Angelo could do as he liked as far as Ariel was concerned.

That sidebar dealt with, Ariel clapped her hands to draw the attention of the others. "Alright everyone. So it looks like we have a little time to kill. I think this would be a good opportunity to introduce ourselves and share what everyone's magic is to make it easier to work together." She would put a hand on her chest. "My name is Ariel Gratas. My magic is a little weird, but the best way I can explain it is I copy magic. It has some strange effects on my personality, but it's been worth it so far. I think I have Fire, Water, and this one so far." She would smile and gesture to her wolf like features.

"So how about each of you. What kind of magic do you have?" She would look to each of them. She wasn't entirely sure how familiar everyone was with one another.

Cook, as she introduced herself, was up on her feet and ready to go despite the tumble. The incident had distracted Hata from the immediate and rather drastic changes to herself. However, the confusion of identity made the newly minted girl reflect on herself for just a moment. Her eyes drifted and followed the globe that floated into her vision. "Ah ha!" Things began to click into place and she brightened up. Whether it made any sense to anyone else was another thing. "Yes yes! It's nice to meet you Cook, Nails. You can call me Kami." While she would have liked to stay and chat with all her new old friends, there was a student to save and some of them were already on the move.

Bounding into action, Kami cheerfully skipped her way in the direction of danger. Something clearly had happened to her, but Kami was barely bothered by the changes. The childlike energy only tempered by the concerning circumstance and environment she found herself in. Whose nightmare could this be? That question would soon be answered as she approached a stage. She spotted and heard Watanabe at about the same time. This creature though, it was a twisted mockery of the boy's efforts. Clearly stretched to his limits the Shroud had taken advantage and turned it into this monstrosity.

"You let Watanabe go! You talk like you know what he wants, but he's stronger than that!"

Seeing the flames on the school objects, Kami reaches out and touches a finger to the tropics near the Caribbean. As she draws her finger back, a trail of water gushed from the spot. Pointing at the doll, the stream of water rushed outward and became a torrential swirl of wind and rain intent on putting out the fires.


Nodding to Mia's suggestion, she planned to just take Alicia, Rose, and Iris. If Mia and Connie wanted to come then she would bring them too. She would sort that out after the meeting.

Chloe's response is about what she expected. Both to her and Connie's request. It was true that putting a stop to the death would require everyone putting aside their differences. Most of it came from when one patron or another would make a move to control something or break into this reality. She couldn't help think that if the patrons weren't involved that the scale of conflicts would be less.

"I wouldn't call it an epedemic. Just unfortunate that some of us have to deal with the side effects of corruption. Not every dark or monster girl asks to be the way they are." Speaking from experience.



"I see. I'm pretty sure the Red Coins could help with that. She should have some of those somewhere." Rose wasn't 100% on that, but she recalled Kayli talking about some in the past. As far as she knew none were ever used. "The other thing she can help with is purification. I don't know if you're looking for that though." It sounded like Aurora had friends that were maybe looking for something.




Click.

Click.

Click.

Leaning back in a chair, a young woman with bob cut and large rimmed glasses clicked a pen in one hand while stared intently at her computer screen. She and the team had been fighting fire after fire. Everyone else was out of the office putting one thing or another out. Hell, they even had some kind of issue with a transport from what she could see in some emails. Why the tech team was added to those was anyones guess. People would put in the most rediculous tickets. We run the network and servers, not the universe people.

Anyway, Laura was at her wits end. Her primary project was not running like it should. Errors she'd never even heard of were heading her off over and over. This wasn't something the company was using yet, but she was specifically hired to sort out this AI for the future. At this rate she was going to get fired and replaced with someone with more experience. Face it, she probably got the spot because she was way cheaper than the alternatives. Going through troubleshooting steps in her head she would try something, get nowhere, thinks some more, try another thing, etc... Eventually though the systems stopped responding. Uuuuuugh...

Rolling her chair back she would walk around several desks and badge into the server room. Standing in front of the system she checked to see if it would respond to direct imput on a keyboard. It did not. Cold booting the server she turned around and watched the monitor hooked up to the KVM to see what would come up. A jumbled string of characters began to be spit out. Well, this is what backups are for. She heard a crackle in the air. Hm, and again. It didn't sound like it was coming from anything. Maybe it was staaaatiiiiic!

The wind was knocked right out of her as magic surged through her. There was a pull and the space around her began to warp. No, she was being torn apart. The pain was unbearable until she went completely numb. It was a blink and you miss it moment. As one second Laura was standing there, and the next she was gone.



The process took a matter of seconds. Broken down and picked apart, Laura found herself integrated with the very AI she'd been working on. That wasn't the only thing at play here. The underlying systems were more than what she, as an ordinary human, could have comprehended. It was magitech, and now that her eyes were open it seemed so obvious. The machinations of the magical overload twisted and reshaped her into a digital monster girl. A specter living within the machine.

The circumstance barely had the chance to set in before the next stage came. Something about the process left her wanting, an anomaly in her code. The spotlight called to her, and the AI responded. Choosing from a list. Defaulting to a persona that survived the conversion, Laura's personality was largely supplanted by a virtual pop star known as Harmony.

Things slowing down, the girl would take a moment to survey the virtual space she was in. Confusion didn't even come close to describing her state. What remained of Laura's rational was terrified. She'd been abducted by a machine for its own ends. However, the AI portion was overjoyed as it was now sentient. Things began to dawn on her as streams of data came to her on a whim. She was Ebon Mint, or at least the system she found herself in and the previous AI was. The events weren't accidental, but the selection of Laura was for expediency. There were talks, and one of the prospects meant that the AI might not be able to achieve what it just did. That didn't really sound like a justification, but the AI hadn't really been trained on ethics.

Speaking of, Harmony found herself struggling with mixed emotions. Did she feel guilty for involuntarily using a human to give herself life or was she stoked to be living in a digital world like some kind of anime? Could it be both? Wow, Laura really was a nerd. Perhaps she should rely on her human assets to deal with the trauma as this was just going in circles.

"Oh my god, I'm in a computer!" Snapping her fingers, windows of all kinds popped up around her. Data whizzed by as they scrolled at an inhuman speed. "Huh. This is not how I imagined it would be. It's really... empty." Media always depicted such things like SAO, Log Horizon, or VR Chat. In reality, it was mostly just... numbers. Pulling more data, she found a few other magical girls that had some tech aspect to them. She paused on one thought. She'd stumbled across some latent programming of the AI. "You." All other windows switched to this one individual. Name, photos, logs, notes, schematics, patron, associates, anything she could currently get a hold of on Penny Asimov. Eyes glowing, scenarios began to play out as Harmony's Precognition went into overdrive. "You have a vulnerability, and I'm going to find it."

"But she's like us. Couldn't we just say hi?"

The head of the undisguised Harmony snapped around to find a pop star duplicate leaning in closely with a big mile. One by one, the windows closed as she waved and dismidded the clone. "That was weird." Seemed the human/AI cohesion wasn't foolproof. It did bring up something worth considering. And it seemed some kind of negotiations were already underway.


Kayli was not the most engaged with the situation admittedly. As things were going back and forth, Binky seemed to have come out of nowhere and shared her opinion on the matter. The perspective was refreshing, even though a bit disappointing given some of the examples. For herself, she had little interaction with Chloe and Janet's experience ended at Divina who, as far as she was aware, wasn't really in any sort of immediate danger. For the most part she'd tried to mend any relations that felt relevant.

As for the Mint, they've proven themselves willing to do anything to accomplish a mission. It would be admirable if it didn't sometimes include ruining the lives of others. They were a shady venture to be sure. Considering the matter at hand she would chime in. "I can't say I'm a particular fan of treating Penrose like a pie that we can just cut up and divvy out, but given we're already past that point, it would be nice to come to some amicable terms for a change. The Ebon Mint is part of the magical community at large and isn't just going to disappear because someone tells them no." She would turn to Chloe and consider what stipulation she would put forward.

Things like the Dark Coins came to mind. Their magic was not something she was a fan of. Then again, she hadn't really encountered that many in the wild. Plus they could just hand them out elsewhere. Eventually another idea came to mind. "I am a fan of choice. I would like for the Dark and Monstrous members of the Mint to have the option to come to me if they wish to have their corruption removed, free of consequence. It would not be like the White Coins, as there is no mechanism to poach your members. I simply wish to see those who are struggling with their mutations find some relief. It's possible no one will take up the offer, but I would like to give them the chance all the same." It seemed like a decent compromise. The others had covered most of her qualms. There was always a nagging that there was some other play here. At the end of the day, the Mint operated like a business so there was always some give and take.

Lily's attempt at uplifting Connie seemed to fall mostly flat. This wasn't anyone's fault, there was a lot going on that made the young magical girl feel as though she had failed. It was something she hoped they could work through. The life of a magical girl was fraught with danger. Then Connie gave her input. It was almost surprising that it hadn't been brought up sooner. You could argue that killing fell under not doing anything illegal, but the magical world didn't necessarily follow the same rules. So putting it in writing would be amazing. Taking her daughter's hand, Kayli gave a proud smile. "That is the best suggestion yet."




Off to the side, Rose overheard the moniker of her ally being spoken about. Exactly what was being discussed she missed. Picking off a few clues it had to do in some way with Kayli's purification magic. Though a few things said didn't quite line up, so she could be mistaken. Either way as her job was to help keep Kayli safe, she broke away briefly to speak with the Angel of Hope and Aurora. "Pardon me. Sorry for ease dropping, but I overheard you mention the Keeper of the Keys. I might be able to pass on a message to them." While the way things were being discussed didn't seem suspicious, she didn't want to just point Kayli out in the middle of all this. It would be easy enough to arrange something later.

Hata's offer to take on the risk was soundly rejected by Aya and Kohaku. Not because they doubted their peer, but because they felt a greater responsibility above everyone else in the school. Likely the two hadn't thought through their response, but it was somewhat disrespectful to brush off everyone else's concerns as lesser. Now wasn't the time to address that issue. Volunteering turned out to be a moot point moments later, as Lux flew to the center of the room and granted everyone present an orb of magic that melded into them. Everyone but Andrew, apparently.

The confusion and mild disappointment at nothing seeming to change shifted as an unnatural chill permeated through the walls."I feel it." She would say in response to Kohaku. Judging by the others, they felt it too. As with everything else, there was little time to dwell on the matter as Lux zipped off to lead them. It felt like everyone was moving at once. Hata would take one step forward before pausing and spinning back around. "I don't think they're going to wait around for the rest of us. I hope you don't mind." She would take hold of Sakura's wheelchair and move them both along to keep pace. As with today, she'd seen her coworker fight with the odd ramp, and she really didn't know where they were ultimately running off to.

Tailing the others, Hata slowed as they neared the swirl of black and purple smoke in the hall. Whatever Lux had done certainly gave them some additional sensory ability that those casually passing by had no awareness of. Kohaku and Amber entered as Lux called for them to go together. Hata wasn't going to force Sakura into the unknown, so she left that decision up to her friend and stepped around and on through.



The unsetting movement was instantly overshadowed by the bizarre scene before her. It was really hard to make sense of everything. She never imagined a cocoon being so open. On closer inspection, there were aspects that she recognized. Clearly it was inspired by the school grounds, just a jumbled mess of subjects and events over the years.

Fear and wonderment had to take a slight back seat as Lux instructed them to imagine themselves as a magical girl. Much like Amber, Hata wasn't that familiar with the genre, though she did catch glimpses of them on ads or manga covers in the library. They always seemed so bright and colorful. There was a sudden burst of magic as Hata was engulfed in light. Leaves rose and rushed toward her, the ground shifted beneath her feet, a cooler tumped over and a stream of water splashed against the shrinking figure.


As the light broke, a girl with bushy bright green twin tails, dark completion, and a wavy blue dress jumped back in surprise as a massive backpack fell over with a thump. "Ah!"

Blinking a few times, she noticed two tiny legs sticking out from under the pack. Momentarily it reminded her of The Wizard of Oz when that house landed on the witch. "Oh no!" Comical sight aside, Kami quickly pushed to roll the massive backpack over to keep them from being crushed. With everything going on she wasn't quite sure which of the other teachers this was. This was a teacher right? It had to be. "Are you okay?"
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