Two identical looking girls sat in the furthest booth from the door in The Pitstop, patiently waiting for someone. The two slowly snacked on a large order of fries as they did. Shion watched the clock on her phone; it was nearly time. Honestly she was nervous, though the clone to her side seemed disinterested in the whole ordeal, making things a little easier on both of them.
At the entrance, a girl no older than fifteen stepped into the establishment. From the wind outside, she brushed aside a loose strand of near hazel brown hair, tucking the piece behind her ear. Although hard to see beneath her maroon jacket, partially zipped across her torso, the girl reached to her chest, and straightened up an oddly formal, black tie, and fixed the vest either side of it. In her right hand she held a bag, no larger than a small medical bag, which emenated a metallic click as she fixed the small bow atop her head.
The girl then cast a glance about The Pitstop - a perceptible gaze backed it, though all it saw were people, unnecessary to her attention, until they fixated upon the person specified in the email. ’Shion, I've got a Puchuu pointing me in the right direction. Tomorrow at 2 P.M. at "The Pitstop" would work best for us; you'll know it's me because there will be two.’ Indeed there were - two girls, sat side by side at a booth, some hundred fifty feet in front and to the right of her. Whoever they were, most likely they shared the girls own penchant for duplication.
She made a beeline, dodging past one too many waitresses in her passage. A short moment later, the girl slid into the booth, opposite her two Informants. ”You must be Shion. I’m Christine, pleasure.” she recounted simply. Before neither girl had a chance to respond, Christine had already opened the bag. In the next few seconds, a multitude of items came out - two voice recorders, a notepad and pen, a flip phone, and touch screen tablet. Both record buttons were pressed in an instant, and Christine began to speak.
”Reporter Christine West, of The Penrose Independent. Interview held at one minute past two in the afternoon, at The Pitstop, Penrose City. Interviewee is Shion Yuki,” Christine spoke aloud, took a quick note, and glanced up towards the two girls. ”Sorry for the formality, standard procedure for unspecified information discussions. Mind if I start by asking why you reached out to us?”
”Hello, Christine.” the Shion on the left said. ”How was your trip here?” She took a bite from another fry, not bothering to wait for a reply. ”I’ll cut to the chase. ‘We’, by which I mean myself, are really after two things, both of which we think we could find from a mutually beneficial arrangement with your… company? Group? Your… organisation. That’s the word.” She went silent as she continued eating, wordlessly offering access to the food to Christine.
The other Shion continued for her. ”All we want from you all is simple. Money, specifically magical coins, which we assume you pay your reporters with… And access to your large number of people at sites of interest.” She pulled out a small metal object, a purple gem with a snake made of silver wrapped around it, setting it on the table next to the fries.
”The Penrose Independent is a news organisation. We offer Magical Girls and Boys jobs and protection in exchange for their help in writing news articles.” Christine commented. She made a note of Shion’s demeanour, and the way her clone spoke interchangeably, then looked back up to the girls, with cold eyes that danced with curiosity. ”Magical and mundane currency is, of course, the main source of payment for the members in its employ. If you want a job, then alright, we can go from there - I’ll send my Boss your application, and she’ll sign you on wherever your skills can be best applied.”
Christine glanced between the two. Behind her eyes, her gaze betrayed inquisition, and their crystalline blue shade gave way to cinders and the smoke of knowledge, with flames that lapped at the falsehoods of information. ”But I’d like to ask what you’d intend to do with access to the entirety of the organisation. It’s no lie that we’ve got a fair few members, so whatever you plan to do with that gem of yours, mind telling me if it’s worth the expense we’ll be put at for using it?”
The leftmost Shion grinned as the other began speaking. ”This gem is a relatively high-grade mana condenser. It collects nearby magical energy and stores it for later use. It’s like a reusable coin, in a sense, but nowhere near as powerful. Our plan is to use your large number of bodies to collect quite a bit.”
The other Shion continued for her, “Look, for some reason, people want this city. Beacon even has a headquarters here. There are plenty of magi willing to fight here. Do you know what the most efficient, renewable way to collect magical energy is? Take a guess.”
”If I have to guess? Then,” Christine began, eyeing the thing with a mix of caution and intrigue, ”I’d say by putting these things in areas of high residual energy. Since our members are usually found in places where magical combat has recently occurred, they can do their jobs and gather Mana for you simultaneously. Am I getting that right?”
”That’s right. In our experience, limited though it may be, the best way to get mana is to be near battles. Not only do you get plenty of residual, excess mana from the combatants, but you get multiple kinds of it. Sometimes very rare kinds that could only be gotten from very specific sources otherwise. If your agents wore these on the job, imagine how much energy you could collect. We’re willing to give you fifteen percent of the total mana collected, more if you really manage to get a ton.” The two Shions paused. ”The only issue is that we’re still waiting for our supplier. We should have them by the time your boss decides if they want to hire us, and this offer is obviously there regardless of whether or not we end up working with you for your own goals.”
"Let's get this straight," Christine said. A hint of impatience lit in her voice, as she leant in, and gestured to the fries. "May I?"
Both Shions pushed the fries closer to her. ”Have at them.” The one on the right said.
”Thanks,” she replied, took a handful, and began to eat as she talked. ”See, thing is, you’re not only asking us to use the things for your benefit, but also to pay you for their use, and a tiny percentage of the net energy. Do you call that a fair deal? I don’t. Besides, I’m not exactly convinced on this. Few questions to start off with: how many do you expect to get hold of, can they be reused - if so how do you expect to store the energy so the gems can be reused - and what exactly can you do with the magical energy gathered besides replenishing your own mana? It’d be nice to know all the details of what we’re buying here.”
”Of course. We’re expecting to get about fifty to start, more if you can manage more people than that. They are reusable, but we don’t have access to where the energy gets stored on our behalf, only our supplier knows where it gets stored, but that’s our personal arrangement. It can theoretically be stored in bigger gems, which we might be able to get one for you, capable of storing quite a lot of gems’ worth. And…”
The other Shion continued in a hushed voice. ”The reason we use these gems is because it stores the type of mana. Fire magic? Store some energy from a fire user and you can shoot a fireball with it. Need something metal moulded? Store some metal alignment mana and do it yourself. You need about five times the mana you would need if you were just specialised in that type of magic, but only half of the mana you use to do it needs to be the type you’re shooting for. So if you have a gem’s worth of fire mana and a random assortment in another gem, you could light fires fairly easily. The best part though has to be how much mana these things store. You could fit about one and a half ‘normal’ magical girls’ worth of energy in each of these.”
”And remember, we’re not saying you’ll get fifteen gems out of one-hundred, we’re saying you’ll get fifteen percent of the collected mana itself, so the more types you collect the better off you’ll be, and that way, neither party can manipulate things to only give the other certain types.” The first Shion concluded.
While the two Shion’s spoke, Christine wiped her hands on a napkin. She leant across the table, as non-obstructively as possible, and took a hold of the gem. A beautiful piece of craftsmanship, Christine though, as she traced her thumb down the rough, scaled snake embellishment, and along the smooth, crystalline sphere. The information ran through her mind as it was given - one of the many reasons Christine was perhaps The Boss’s closest Reporter. And as a Reporter, she did not merely act as a vocal piece for The Independent, but for The Boss herself.
”While I think about this, mind if I ask you a few more questions?” Christine began. She glanced across to the two girls, measuring their responses and language closely. ”I’ve heard that you had a meeting with Cindy Ford and her entourage yesterday. Am I to assume you offered this same deal to her, and she turned you down?”
No, not quite. We tried to offer an alliance with her in exchange for a rather absurd payment of magical coins. She likely didn’t have access to as much as we wanted, but even if she did she refused, resulting in a simple non-aggression pact. We’ll stay out of her way as long as she stays out of ours.
”You’re asking for Magical Coins from us too, though. Any reason why you think this deal works any way in our favour if we agree to the terms as you’ve set ‘em?” Christine placed the gem back down onto the table, directly in front of her. ”You’d get payment if you work for The Independent, as an actual member. Otherwise, that’s gonna be a no.”
”We’re only asking for coins if we do work for you. The coins would be payment for our services as a journalist or whatever else you need; the collectors in exchange for part of what they collect is separate altogether.” The Shion on the left waved off Christine’s comment. Suddenly, both Shions’ phones dinged, signifying a message was received. The one on the left pulled out her phone and checked it, her eyes widening.
”So…” She began, clearly upset. ”As it turns out, we’re going to have to do a ‘test run’ whether we want to or not. I suppose it’s smarter anyway, to not just trust you with so many of these… But we just got a text from our supplier and unfortunately for us all, we’re only getting five more condensers, at least to start. We can send her more money as we get some, so if we work for you you’d basically be paying the bill.”
With a cautious eye, Christine stared across at the duplicates. Little hid behind the gaze - a pure and calculated expression, analysing them both, individually, as one, and in turn. The smoke had vanished behind her pupils, and crystallised into ice. ”Are we meant to trust this, pretty dubious, operation? I mean you can’t even keep up the promises you’ve made, and I’ve known you for about ten minutes,” Christine began. Her fingers rapped across the diner table, betraying a paradoxical, neutral impatience. ”My Boss doesn’t mind as much, but I like assurances. Absolutes. Truths. As a note, this operation wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with these ‘Red Coin’ rumours that have been floating around, would they?”
”That’s hardly fair. We’ve been nothing but truthful with you. If we wanted to be ‘dubious’ we wouldn’t have just told you what we learned.” The leftmost girl huffed.
”Red Coins? The only time we saw any of those, it was when we talked to Cindy Ford. Someone made an offering of them to her. Apparently, they’re used to change things about a girl, rather than just adding power to them. We didn’t hear a whole lot of details.”
”Let me make you a deal,” Christine said. For some ten seconds, silence filled the conversation as she took a long series of notes. ”You want to collect magical energy, cool. Tail end of this Soth clusterfuck, we’re gonna have to be spending a long while going through the graveyard, looking for bodies and whatnot, so how about we say - thirty percent of the total collected energy over fifteen, and a weeks trial period where we keep all the energy, as down payment and a test of safety for these things? I’m also kinda curious why you’re interested in getting so much energy in the first place. I’m guessing you want to work for us too, right?”
The Shion on the right bit her lip as the other responded. ”Flat thirty and a week’s trial period sounds fair. And yes, we’d like to work for you, though for the record, all the coins we make doing so is going to go towards getting more of these collectors, so if you’d rather us work for free for a period of time and you simply invest in getting more it’d save us all some time.”
”I think we can agree to that. Does that sound okay, Boss?” Christine asked aloud. There was a moment of pause, an uncomfortable silence that accompanied the wait, but off to the side of the table, from the tablet, came a voice. It lacked expression, nearly androgynous, though still recognisable as female. She was serious, not quite monotone, but the emotion within the words were barely recognisable as something truly emotive.
”It does, thank you Christine.”
Both Shions let out a sigh of relief. ”Thank you.” One said. ”We’ll do our best.” The other said as she took out her phone and sent a text to her original self. -Success-