Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam (series)

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"Do... Do I really deserve all this?"

Fanfic Info
Title Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam
Genres Action, Comedy, Drama, Over the Top, Slice of Life, Tragedy
Author Attarou
Timeline Begins early August, the year before the start of MGNQ
Canonicity Status Non-canon
Completion Status Ongoing



Eleanor is a young Vanus, transferred from her home out to the Sixth Officio in Australia. She works a desk job for long hours and low pay, and has no control over her powers that she is forced into using for said job. Wishing for death, her day is interrupted by a magical girl in a pirate costume crashing through her window and making histrionic declarations. Eleanor's life is flipped turned upside down, but is it for better or for worse?

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam[edit]

Part I: Old Grind[edit]

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam[edit]

The announcement was delivered as a notice taped on the inside of my door. It said that I have to take my things out of the broom closet by next Thursday, and move them to my new office. I have been here three months, enduring nightmares thick with the smell of turpentine, but better late than never. Behind a wooden door with the nameplate "Eleanor A. Slam", no title, is where I get to work for the rest of my life. When I walk into the room, the door shuts itself behind me. No distractions allowed, after all.

I guess it's not a bad little office - it's mostly bare, needs some personal touches - and few in the Sixth can boast that they have their own. That's normally reserved for the people at the very top. So it means that they care about my wellbeing; but they don't care enough to end this torment. After all, the Sixth doesn't want its precious eversors wasting time writing that could be spent training. No, that is almost entirely my job, because I'm their special Vanus.

I examine the windows and see they decided to add bars to them. They're not taking any chances this time, after hearing what I tried back at the Eighth. I bet they reinforced the glass, too. Well, at least it should keep the drop bears out. Not that I can see much through the frosted glass.

I stomp back to my shiny little black swivel chair and spin around slowly. Remembering what the Incubator said about how to relax myself, I try those breathing exercises and reassure myself that things aren't so bad. I could be homeless. I could be chained up. I could be dea-

Well, that might be an improvement.

Sigh. I never wished for this.

There's a knock on the door and I compose myself before speaking. "Come in."

Some girl whose name I can't be bothered to learn opens the door and wheels in the first gurney of the day, covered in boxes of varying sizes. She tells me the usual spiel : take a box, fill out the forms inside, then put them back in the box they came in. Lunch break isn't until all these papers are filled out. Start on the second set afterwards before you go home.


She does a little curtsey before leaving me alone with my hated nemesis. I take a long hard look at a box containing financial records and order forms that need to be checked for errors. Maybe it won't be so bad this time. I lift up the box and upend its contents on my desk. And as soon as I lock eyes with them, it starts.

I'm almost used to having little to no autonomous control of my body during my little "work trances". I clutch at the gem around my neck as my casual attire is replaced by my Official Magical Girl Costume, appearing with little fanfare or special effects. Well, maybe there's a subtle noise I can't hear, everything's kind of muffled during these states. It might as well be some kind of crunching noise, since I look like a breakfast cereal mascot. Getting sick of being called Crunchberry.

I reach into my pockets and pull out an assortment of pens with one hand, the other grabbing a sheaf of papers without me even looking at it. And as I look it over, I can feel it. Unfamiliar thoughts pouring into my head like a raging typhoon, granting me the knowledge of what I need to do, without comprehension of any of the alien symbols written down. A mental cheat sheet that doesn't show its work. I whip my pen back and forth in neat little strokes, writing down words that mean nothing to me and crossing out parts that look identical to the others. Flip page, write write, flip page, write write. Put the pages aside and grab the next one. The Incubator was smart enough to leave holes in the boxes so that my trance state can see there is unfinished business. Put papers in the box, toss it to the side, grab another box and start all over, discard empty pens, acquire fresh pens. All in the span of a few minutes, but each stack of remaining boxes is about as tall as I am.

Within the first hour my eyes are already watering from being unable to blink. I can see little halos of light around the black ink on the page, not that I can tell them where to look. I develop tunnel vision, there's only the task in front of me. My wrist begins to ache dully in protest of this treatment. And as time drags on, I begin to lose my sense of self.

Each new page means another memory pushed aside, filled in with incomprehensible knowledge. With only the scratching of the pen, the buzzing in my head, and the boiling corruption as ambience, I struggle to remember why I'm here, what I'm doing, who I am, as the maelstrom of eldritch knowledge tears through my head. Rending such useless thoughts until only a pristine, perfect worker is left behind. There's some kind of repeated sound in the background, but I can't even identify it.

At some point, I lose all awareness of anything but the words, words I only know I must write down. At least I can't comprehend pain.

As soon as the last box is packed up, I start to regain cognizance of my surroundings. I can hear a crackling noise in my head as my memory gradually returns. It's a bit disconcerting to remember who you are in bits and pieces that aren't even in order. And I become aware of how much I ache from keeping my posture.

I bite back the urge to scream; it never helped before and it won't help now. Just... Breathe. I take a good look at my soul gem and retrieve the last grief seed I was allotted. A little tap, and the darkness flows out of the jewel as it returns to its immaculate blue color. How long was it this time? The caged wall clock has its hands at quarter to twelve, which is faster than what it used to be; I bet the Incubator will try to compensate for it later. Good news is the pain hurts a little less now, so I think I can manage to haul everything back. It'd be nice if somebody else was here to do the heavy lifting, though. I'd like to be able to eat now rather than later.

As I shake my head, my peripheral vision picks up something in the window. I try to look at it, but it's hard to make out. Some kind of reddish thing is hurtling towards the window. Looks like a person. Must be one of those assholes from the other day trying to get to me again. Heh. Like to see them try to break through magical girl-proofed windows. I recline back in my chair to take in the spectacle, glad to have a distraction.

"RRRROARING WINDOW BREAKERRRRRRRR!!" it roars out as its cry of battle, a shrill voice definitely belonging to a magical girl. And I watch as that somebody kicks through magical girl-proofed windows and scatters glass and twisted metal everywhere. I'm barely aware of something silvery swinging in the breeze outside, as they crash right into the boxes and bury themselves beneath them. The work of an entire morning of suffering, ruined by some asshole. Well it serves her right.

Said boxes are thrown back with great force as this intruder stands to her feet. I realize I'm sitting here with my jaw open as I try to take in this figure. She's wearing some kind of maroon long coat over a frilly pink dress. She also has a hat, with a little lacy flower decoration... thing. Is that a pirate hat? It's a goddamn pirate hat. She's dusting herself off like nothing happened and she's dressed like a pirate, what the hell. Have I gone completely mad?

Judging by her hairstyle, I'd guess she's a foreigner as well. That would explain some things.

Still, what the hell?

"Oh, yeeeeeeeeaah!! It's Crunch time!" she calls out triumphantly, punching at the air, before turning to look at me.

Oh man. I really, really, really don't like the way she's looking at me right now...

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch[edit]

"Oh, yeeeeeeeeaah!! It's Crunch time!"

Now strike a pose! Clench your fist! Flash those pearly whites!

Hold it.. Hold it.. Yeah, just like that! Nailed it! She's totally speechless.

Ha! As if a bunch of heavy boxes would slow me down. Clever girl... BUT NOT CLEVER ENOUGH! And so I meet her dull amber gaze before I make my BOLD DECLARATION!

"Vanus Eleanor A. Slam! I am Heather Crunch, Eversor rank leader! And I have come here to test your mettle in battle!"


So she's going to be like that, eh? Fine, I'll play her game.

"I have come to see if the pen truly is mightier than the sword!"

Oh yeah. That sounded really cool.

"I am but a simple office worker, and I have never-"

"Hah! Nice try, but my -unparalleled observational abilities are informing- me that YYYYYOU..." Dramatic pause! Finger point! "are -hiding- something from me!"

And I -clasp- my hand over my chest, undoubtedly drawing her attention to the brilliant FIERY red of my soul gem.

"For beneath your humble appearance I can hear the heartbeat of a warrior THUNDERING in your chest, crying out for the thrill of combat!" As helpfully illustrated by my hand clenching and unclenching, with added "Thump thump, thump thump, thump thump..."

"Miss Crunch, you are mistaken, I am only a-"


"-office worker who has never fought anyone."

She's definitely lying. Time to shake things up.

I extend my hand back, pointed out toward the opening I created kicking through the window. My weapon, my extension of the -burning resolve of my SOUL-, manifests piece by piece. A huuuuuuuuge sword that easily clips the ceiling, made up of glowy blue lines. Like in that one movie - GRON? - but just the lines. It has her totally in awe.

I should give it a name someday so I can call it out when summoning it. Named weapons are cool.

"Come on, then! I've shown you mine, now you show me yours!"


Still playing ignorant, huh?

"You know... Your weapon!"

"I do not have a weapon."

"Getting REEEEEAL tired of your lies. Where is your weapon?"

"I am not lying, I do not have a weapon. That is why I am an office worker."

"DESK CLEAVE! SMASH!" Wood shatters and splinters fly as my faithful sword is brought down upon it in a swift two-handed swing. Supposedly it weighs a great deal, but I don't even notice. It feels like a natural extension of my arm, like it -belongs- there.

And now there is no more desk. There is only a hole and floating motes of dust where the desk used to be.

And no more magical girl. Where did she-

SLAM goes the door as footsteps hurry off into the distance. I can't help but grin. It's been quite some time since I've actually had to chase someone down like this.

And SO, I THROW the door open. And I purSUE HER, letting my colossal blade drag behind, accompanied by the sound of the floor - stone and some rebar, I think? - being ploughed right through. It slows me down a little, but I don't mind. It makes for an interesting handicap.

At the end of a long hallway, I see her lavender hair through a crack in the elevator doors, just before they shut. I guess I -could- just run over, kick the door down, cut the cable, and ride the cab crashing into the ground. That'd be great, but it'd get me in trouble and I'd be lectured again, possibly have sanctions imposed... I -did- promise to stop doing that, after all.

Instead, I move up toward the entrance to the stairwell door. From here I can just make out the LED display above the elevator door, surrounded by the stuffed heads of a few toothy, parrot-like familiars mounted on wall plaques. The readout says "G" in red lights. So she stopped at the ground floor, most likely. Didn't look like she was planning any sort of bait-and-switch trick.

I throw the door open and leap over the railing, plummeting from the top floor to the bottom. My descent barely slows as my blade cleaves through the stairs. I feel lightheaded as the adrenaline kicks in, just before I land. Big chunks of rubble RAIN from above upon my head, like little water droplets. Shake it off, Heather, shake it off. Can't run around covered in debris. Not after becoming rank leader. After becoming tidy, the plain white door ahead opens easily enough - gotta walk a ways out to make room for my weapon - and I switch to a one-handed grip. Have to flip the stairs sign around, which informs everyone that the stairs are wrecked again. I mean, -I- can clear a jump to the top floor easy enough, but it's for the benefit of the masses I suppose.

So! Here I stand in the lobby, the lobby of the Sixth Officio! It's pretty big as far as lobbies go, about two or three stories high and mostly glass. The sun shines brightly overhead, BUT IT WILL NEVER BURN AS INTENSELY AS MY ZEAL! Typical lobby stuff here, some chairs, desks, receptionist's desk, magazines - Magical Girl Monthly, maybe, I don't bother with such garbage. But BEHOLD, the MASSIVE SKULLS of the witches that our own Leman Russ took down ON HER OWN and repurposed as hallway entrances after she became warmaster! The one on the right still has the bite marks from when she tore its head off with just her teeth! The TOWERING structures -finally- got those windows installed in the eye sockets and nasal cavities, I see!

And I see my target almost to the front door! Not so fast, Slam! I EXTEND my free arm, letting my sleeve hang free, and through FORCE of WILL, manifest my masterful magic! Strips of something silver and sticky shoot swiftly from my sleeves, seeking my sought-after target, like snakes about to strike! I CUT OFF her escape with my trap, but she is able to ESCAPE back through the hall of the bitten skull before I can CATCH her!

She's quick, and I can't catch up to her easily from this distance. I retract my ribbons and try to keep up - but there's only one room that's open at this time today, and that's the gymnasium. Taking care to -not- drag my weapon around the lobby - look nice to the visitors, smile and wave for the clients, just doing rank leader things - I give chase, making damn sure to not leave a single scratch on the trophy ON PAIN OF DEATH and keep going through the mouth until the walls and floor are no longer bone white! I turn the corner just in time to see her go to the right, which means she's headed to the gymnasium. Fortunately for ME, I know a SHORTCUT!

I take a swipe at the ceiling, a loud crashing sound made as the reinforced structure is RENT ASUNDER! Then I LEAP through the gap, entering the mostly barren training hall. Barren but for the scars it has, and the people using it. Seems I interrupted the two rookies who booked this one, since they're staring at me. No time for sitting around, though, gotta keep moving.

It's about... This many paces away. It's easy to cut open the floor the same way, though it puts most of the mess in the hallway, which visitors might see. Which is bad, I think? Rank leading is hard, things were more fun when I didn't have these -responsibilities-. But I digress.

After yelling at the girls for their form, I PLUNGE INTO THE HOLE and land on the ground with all the grace of a ballerina with a giant sword. Now I can return to my normal, two-handed grip - it feels so much more natural - and KICK OPEN the gym doors! The doors FLY off the handles after detaching from the wall, and CRASH into the far side of the gym, and would have hit my prey if she hadn't stopped. She is AWE-STRUCK by my abilities, no doubt!

And she probably just realized that the only other way out is locked, which means she has to go through ME!

"Come on! Let me see your fighting spirit!"

And I shake my fist. You may cast your eyes away but I know you've got something in you, Eleanor! This empty gymnasium shall be our arena! There may be no lines of bleachers, but in my mind I can hear the ROAR of the crowd as they cheer us on! They want to see BLOOD!

"I would if I could, but I cannot."

Okay, I gotta give her props for staying cool under pressure. I guess some people like that kind of thing? But this is dragging on too long.

"Enough screwing around! As rank leader, I order you to fight me! Make your first strike!"

NOW we're getting somewhere. I can see her reaching into her pocket, no doubt to pull out a concealed weapon. I -knew- she had something on her! And I'm right, for she clutches several thin, black objects in her hands, one between each knuckle, disguised innocuously as pens! Unorthodox, but interesting! And now she HURLS all of them with pinpoint accuracy as I stand strong to take the brunt of the attack! Let's see what you've got, newbie!





"These are pens."

They're not even the sharp, pointy kind of pens. They're the kind with a plastic cap that dry out too quickly. I barely felt that at all.

"I am sorry. That is all I can make."

"Just pens."

"Just pens. No weapons." Damn. She looks every bit as uncomfortable as I am with this whole kerfuffle.

"You're sure?"

"Positive. Can I concede to you in this duel? I have work to finish and papers to haul away."

I APPLY my palm to my face, and rub my temples in irritation. "Sure," says I. She -does- look pretty upset behind her blank-faced facade. Best let her get back to her job.

My intuition wasn't wrong, though. I'm -positive- that she has potential, but apparently she doesn't even realize that herself...


"Hey... Eleanor?" I call after her, "Are you doing anything after work?"

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch[edit]

There's quite a commotion in the little alleyway. Here a vender of illegal wares argues with his customer over the price of smuggled goods. On the other side of the street, a lady has to wash her clothes in a small pink plastic tub, water from the nearby hose causing the suds to overflow and spill out. And beneath their feet, the dirt is cracked. Some poor schmuck rides in on a bike and draws leers from everyone there, but only for a moment. For I'm the main spectacle.

Well, myself and the chick trying to beat me unconscious.

She's agile, I'll give her that. She tries to approach with a flip through the air, ending in kick aimed straight for my head. But she's wide open to an uppercut that knocks her to the ground. I follow up with a spinning roundhouse kick that she hastily ducks out of the way of. Again she tries for a flying kick, so I grab her leg and throw her back down. By now she's unsteady on her feet and wide open to a good old fashioned leg sweep. Again she's making out with the dirt.

Still she staggers back up, determined not to go down easy, but I wasn't going to let her get in a single attack. A jab to the face makes her stagger back, and I shift towards her with a gut punch. She clumsily makes a kick at me, her movements sluggish and easy to read. More than enough for me to sidestep it and counter with a kick to the head.

Everyone can see it now : she's dazed and about ready to fall unconscious. Her sheer stubbornness is forcing her to stand upright. Which is cute and all, but it doesn't help her at all. Especially when I grab her and suplex her stupid face into the barren soil.

I can't even tell if she's still breathing at this point. But the small crowd that's gathered around us don't seem to care about her well-being. They cheer me, the victor.

My flawless victory is announced, and I look to my opponent, my expression carefully blank.

"You're bad at Street Fighter, ma'am."

The person who followed me home snapped the controller I gave her in two upon her hundredth loss, little grey bits of plastic flying around my mostly bare room. In our casual clothing - well, I am, anyway. She's wearing a stupidly frilly dress - we're sitting on the bed, across from the desk that holds my pathetically tiny television, playing the only thing I could afford from the pawn shop. She springs up and growls at me. "Fighting games are boring," is how she - Heather Crunch - justifies her loss. She sure stuck around a long time for somebody who dislikes them so much. "It doesn't feel anything like real fighting!"

"Yes, ma'am." Go fuck yourself. You're the one who invited yourself in and insisted on joining me in playing video games. I was already convinced you were trying to rape me from your creepy double entendres. I had to put everything back the way it was after your flamboyant ass wrecked it so I'd be allowed to get lunch, and then I had to hunt down something to eat after the cafeteria closed. After that I had to get back to the tortuous task of filling out forms written in Incubator-text for eight more hours because our Supreme Overlord Bunnycat the Sixth is an asshole. And I wish he'd figure out that those breathing exercises don't work when you don't have any fucking motor control so you can't fucking relax, you just get more and more antsy as the pain sets in and if that fucking bunnycat piece of shit bothered to ask in the first place he'd know that kind of thing but no of course not the boss knows everything about nothing and I just want to wring his smug little neck and feed him his own cold, black heart until he chokes on it. I hope he dies. Him and his brother from the Eighth. I hate them. I want those fucking things to die. Die Die die die diediediedie-

"So... this is all you do?" Oh. That pest is talking again, and I realize I've been staring blankly at the wall. I turn to her, and see that she's giving me an annoying look.

"I stay in my residence and use this old machine to entertain myself after work until I fall asleep," I find myself answering to her disappointed face, pointing to the game console. It'd be really fun to lie right about now. Just a little bit. Something that'd shut her up. But I can't bring myself to do it, so I continue spilling my guts. "On weekends I stay in here and do much of the same."

She's folding her arms over her chest. "Nothing else?"

"I also go out and replenish my supply of sweets for the week. Local store has stuff at half-price before 10 AM on Sunday." After she barged in, I'd forgotten that I had some hard candies stashed in the drawer beneath the television. No wonder I'm feeling so pissy. I remedy that by opening said drawer to access the clear plastic sack containing my latest haul. Not paying the over-exuberant bitch any mind, I take a random one out, quickly unwrap it, and pop it into my mouth.

Mmm, watermelon.

Bitchcakes looks like she's thinking up something really wicked. Turning her head this way and that, making her ponytails rock back and forth like a metronome. She's making obnoxious affirmation noises, too. I didn't think anybody actually did that sort of thing, and yet here she is.

"Aha! I've got it!" she exclaims, leaping up onto the desk and - oh come on! Not the TV! Get off my fucking TV! "It is my belief that you would BENEFIT from spending your weekend basking in my GLORIOUS presence!"

"ERGO!" she yells as she jumps down, bringing three fucking months' salary crashing to the ground in broken glass. "As rrrrrrrank leader, I am going to spend MY valuable time aiding YOU!" Stop pointing at me. "To find your inner weapon! And we are starting... Tomorrow!"

That thing. That loud thing that pretends to be human just forced me into working on a weekend. I have to do unpaid overtime. I have to work without pay. More work. No pay. No pay for the work. If she would bother to look , she'd see me scowling.

And yet, amidst it all, a ray of hope shines through : the horrible girl is at my door and is making to leave. Before she does, she delivers an ultimatum : "I wanna see you at the gym at 8-o'clock tomorrow morning! Don't you dare be late!" before the thing that would not leave... leaves. Stomping down the hallway, further and further away from me. Giving me a brief period of solace to think about tomorrow. She's probably going to make me exercise.

She's the first person I've met here that looks like a normal human being, and yet she's breaking my things and making me fulfill her strange whims. And I'm pretty sure she's some kind of deviant.

I'm staring down at the smashed remnants of my dearest friend. The plastic's bent and broken. There's shards of glass all over the place that'll need vacuuming. And I have a sour taste in my mouth that the candy cannot mask.

I've decided.

I hate her. Yeah, I... I think I really hate her.

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Torturer Suzi Berry[edit]

This has been one of the worst weekends I can remember. I don't know where I'm at or where I'm going anymore, and my legs are about to give out. Crunch has me by the arm, and this ridiculous costume is heavy with sweat.

I got pulled out of bed in my underwear at seven in the morning. It's like everybody has a key to my room now. And I thought she said eight, which would have meant a precious thirty minutes more of fitful unconsciousness. Captain Fuckface - yeah, that's your new name, Crunch; Fuckface for short - was yelling in my ear the entire time about how out of shape I was and something about fighting spirit. I think I pulled off my transformation before anybody else saw me. Knew I should have splurged for some pajamas last month.

She corralled me into that gymnasium from yesterday for her "training regimen" or whatever it was. There were some other people there, and I think one of them might have been that person who kept taking my lunch the first week I transferred in. Maybe not, whatever, not important. Fuckface put some weighted bands on my arms and legs that I still haven't had the chance to take off yet. The things chafe.

She said we'd start with some cardio, which would "ignite your passion into a roaring blaze that would burn away the fat." Which has to be the dumbest speech I've ever heard. I spent hours punching and kicking at the air and prancing around like an idiot, among other things I'd actually -want- to forget. For instance, she told me to hit her, making this the first time since grade school I punched someone, and then laughed about being right about some inane thing when I struck her in the face. And again. And again. My knuckles were bleeding by the time she said we were done, and she had to bandage them up. I didn't see so much as a bruise on her for my efforts. Fuckface must have a head full of rocks.

Finally, live weapons training. Who in their right mind gives an office worker a sword twice their height? Fuckface isn't in her right mind, and I nearly lost my arms trying to hold that thing when she handed it to me. It dropped about three feet and made a crater where it landed. That's not natural. I grabbed a spear off the rack just to get things over with and made a bunch of half-hearted stabs at her, which were easily blocked - it feels weird, trying to hit somebody with a weapon you know might injure them. This pissed her off and she slapped me with her deadweight weapon. It hurts to turn my head now. I doubt she even noticed.

And apparently this wasn't enough for good ol' Captain Fuckface. Because now she says I gotta do some kind of "courage test", which sounds like haunted house nonsense. Right now we're going down some staircase lined with a bunch of heads mounted on the wall. Skulls, grief seed casts, other tacky things that I just can't bring myself to care about. Couldn't I at least get some more water first? I keep coughing up phlegm, and the sweat stings at my eyes. My sleeve's soaked in the stuff to the point that it hurts even worse to rub my eyes. I can't understand much of what Fuckface's saying at the moment, from my heart thumping so loud in my ears. Something about pride and a psych profile. Probably hers.

Diagnosis : Completely batshit. Treatment : Leaving me alone or just killing me already. Please stop stringing me along. Please.

I'm a bit dizzy by the time we reach the bottom, which opens up into a small chamber. Fuckface stops me in front of an intimidating looking door. This thing is big, metal, and covered in locks and bolts. Is this what's supposed to scare me? Are they going to bring somebody out in a bedsheet to fuck with me? Right now I can't tell if I'm more tired or angry about all this. Whatever they're trying to do, I wish they'd get it over with.

"Welcome," booms Fuckface, letting me go to spread her arms in presentation, "to our special Silent Room : the SPIDER ROOM!"

.......Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nopity nope nope nope. No. No way, no how, nuh uh. Fuck this. Fuck everything. I am gone. I am so fucking gone. Forget what I said, I am not doing this and she can't make me. I stagger past her as quickly as my legs can hobble, and I can see Fuckface just smiling at me like the raging psycho she is. Everything aches dully under the rush of adrenaline that is keeping me upright. Even my head's throbbing, for once not from the buzz of corruption in my soul gem, but otherwise my senses are crystal clear. Fuck all this, I'll try living on the street or maybe complain to the warmaster that her rank leader is such a fuckface that she-

I bump into something that knocks me back down onto the ground. It didn't feel like a wall, so it means that it's a person. An agonizing turn of my head confirms that, yep, it's another girl, blonde one, wearing a brown dress outfitted with a few yellow ribbons. Staring at me with half-lidded brown eyes and a smile. A crooked smile. A really lewd smile.

...Oh god, have I been surrounded by raging lesbians? I knew it! I fucking knew it!

"Ihihihi, ya' brought me another tasty morsel, Cap'n?" says New Girl, crouching down over me and wringing her hands. "That's the second in three weeks. Ya' suuuuure do like to spoil me, dontcha?" She's not that close, but over the stench of my own sweat, I can smell something. Perfume, maybe. Don't care, doesn't matter. Still laying down, I try wiggling my legs to propel myself away from her. And run right back into Fuckface, with that loud laugh that screams hot-blooded trouble.


"... seen ya' 'round here before. Let me guess, ya' stole insider secrets... expense of my dear Officio, didn't yoooou? Such a naughty..."


"...hidden potential that may yet be brought out by confronting her fears. Her profile mentioned spiders... isolation down in the Spider Room should help. Can I count on ya' for that?"


".. Ihihihi, I'll have her right as rain..."


"... count on ya'! I'll be back for her after meeting..."


"... fuuuun, Caaaap'nnnn. Iiiii knoooow Iiiiii wiiiiiill~."


I feel myself being lifted into something. Don't care, doesn't matter. My throat's too raw to scream anymore. Everything is heavy and there's nobody here anymore, yet I can't even move. I try to grab at my soul gem and smash the cursed thing, but my hands are numb and refuse to close around it. The adrenaline rush is gone and everything hurts.

Fine. Fine. It's fine. Everything is fine. I probably deserve all this anyway.

But I'm not going to cry. If there's one thing I learned from my old, starting-to-look-much-better officio, it's not to show emotions to people who're making your life hell. It never helps. It just makes things worse. Don't give them the satisfaction of a reaction.

The bearer of the most understated magical girl costume, besides Checkers back at the old place, comes back from... Somewhere. I try to raise my head and look at her, but it's really painful. Goddammit, she saw, didn't she. This sadistic thing saw me cringe and it made her smile again. She's actually humming.

Don't care about it. Don't care about anything. Just stop feeling anyth-

Her hands are clamped around my head. Is this it? Is she gonna snap my neck? Do I finaFUCKTHATHURTS. I hiss in pain without even realizing it at first as she twists my head around to face her. And then releases her hold.

...The kink in my neck is gone. Don't have much time to ponder this epiphany before she shoves something into my trembling hands. It's a clear plastic water bottle, with the sports cap open. I'm thinking... trap of some kind. Lull me into a false sense of security. Or something like that. Besides, I can't get a good grip on the thing with my hands as they are.

"Oops, lemme get that for ya', sweetie," says creepy girl who has her hands on mine and is pushing the bottle into my mouth. And tipping it back until I'm forced to swallow. At least it tastes like water. Cold, refreshing, life-giving water. Maybe it's poisoned. Wouldn't be the first time. My head's getting light, so maybe... No it's because I'm holding my breath. She lets it fall to the ground and I'm sitting back gasping for air.

Come to think of it, those spiders from before are gone. Not on the floor, not on the ceiling, not under the chair. Just... Gone.

"...gonna be tortured..." I murmur, then scowl at blurting out what I was thinking. And she's laughing again. Real funny, you psycho.

"Now why in worrrrld would I wanna do somethin' like that to somebody so -adorable-~?" comes yet another response with unfortunate implications from blondie. I shudder involuntarily as she puts her hands on my shoulders and rubs. I can't help squirming a little; Goddammit, get off of me, Tarzan, I don't swing that way. And stop humming.

"Anyhoooo, from what Cap'n Crunch tells me, it doesn't sound like ya' done any crime, other than being cute enough to eat right up," she giggles, "and while she means well, she doesn't seem to have the best grasp of how to help people." I just nod along, waiting for all of this to be over and feeling to return to my legs. Once I can walk on my own I'm going to head back to my room and take a long, hard look at my life.

"Ihihihi, speaking of grasp, I've got my hands all over ya' and haven't even introduced myself. Where are my manners?" Finally drab girl lets go, my shoulders sagging and no longer twitchy. She moves around in front of me and curtsies, grinning.

"Suzi Berry, anti-vindicare and keeper of the Spider Room. Ya'll can call me Suzi, though." She's probably gonna ask for my name next.

"...Eleanor," I rasp, coughing phlegmatically afterwards. Sooner I can leave, the better. Fortunately, Suzi seems to pick up on my eagerness to not be here anymore.

"The rooftop's a safe place to hide until Cap'n gets bored of lookin' for ya'," she explains. For the second time today I'm pulled along by somebody to a location I've never visited before. I have an easier time walking than I did before, but it still hurts like a bitch. "And some fresh air in the flower gardens will do ya' a world of good."

I nod along to placate her. Whatever you say. Just leave me wherever and leave me alone.

Away from paperwork.

"...Where're the spiders?"

Away from incubators.

"Ihihihi, I can't tell ya' that until ya've gotten me dinner and a movie first, Ellyyyy~."

Away from crazy people.

Away from basically everybody in this Officio.

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Aristocrat "Milly" Schulz[edit]

"Why climb the building?"

On a wall facing the ocean, I have a great view of the ground. Judging by past experience, I could just barely break my legs from this height if I fell. Maybe if I hit those rocks over there just right...

"Less likely to bump into people who can relay where we went to Cap'n. You comfy back there, hon?"

It's not comfortable back here. I'm balled up in a net made of spiderwebs whose origin I am trying very hard not to think about. My left arm's starting to fall asleep.

"Yeah," I lie.

Whatever this Suzi person has planned, I doubt her intentions are pure.

"Ihihihi, good, good~."

The spray of the ocean is at my back, and I can't stop looking down. My clothes are still wet and this proximity to the sea isn't helping things at all.

"Couldn't I hide in your room?"

This thing that's holding me keeps rocking back and forth in the wind and it's making my stomach churn.

"My my my, you're being awfully forward, Elly~. I don't think you'd like it in there, though."

Fuck you and your innuendos. You're making me sick, you freak.

"Getting dizzy..."

Actually, I really am getting pretty nause-


As soon as I'm hauled onto solid ground, I fall to my hands and knees while my stomach tries to expel its contents through my mouth. Nothing comes out, though. Then I fall on my face because my knees won't support me anymore and I'm dry heaving like a fish trying to breathe. Suzi is clicking her tongue at me like it's my fault.

"Mmm, hang on, lemme get that for ya'," is all she says before she's got her hands on me again. I wanna tell her to get the fuck off but the queasiness from earlier hasn't worn off, and my stomach hurts like hell. There's some clicking noises as my body feels lighter and lighter. I think... Yeah, I can pull myself up. Suzi gives me water again, but it hurts to drink on an empty stomach. I bet she was counting on that. Sadist cunt.

I didn't notice it before, but over the smell of salt, there's a flower fragrance in the air. It's different from what Suzi's wearing, whatever it is. I look around me and see blobs of red and green in rectangular patterns, arranged around a single table in the center. Roses, judging by the scent, which would make this somebody's garden.

I wouldn't have thought there'd be something like this up here. Not here, not back at the Eighth... Come to think of it, are all magical girls insane?

Suzi's marching towards it, dragging me along and saying things like, "Now you just sit at that table over there and-- Oh dear."

"Nnnh?" I still don't feel right after losing my lunch. Not that I want to answer her or anything, anyway.

"That's Milly," she whispers while pointing at something; her breath tickling my ear freaks me the fuck out. "Though you should call her Miss Schulz or she'll throw a fit~. I'd figured she'd have gone inside by now."

If I squint a little, I can see a figure sitting at the table. Mostly wearing white, and brown hair. She's looking right at us. And after getting up closer, I can tell that she's frowning.

"She's a sheltered girl, so just... Be quiet and she won't be a bother."

Oh. Well that's easy. And that assumes this isn't some sort of setup to crush my spirits. I'm wise to your games, you bitch.

Suzi pretty much drops me on the chair in front of this... scary looking girl. She's glaring at me so intensely I can't bring myself to look at her. I don't want anything to do with any of this.

"Miss Berry. Why have you deposited this ragamuffin at my table during my afternoon tea?" She demands, indicating the spread of fancy cookware - I think it's ivory? Is that even legal? - and a plate of what look like cookies.

Suzi's rocking on her feet like a little kid and grinning again. "Apologies, my cute little Miss Millyyy, bu-"

'Milly' cuts her off tersely, "Please don't call me that."

Suzi's grinning bigger now. "-but this here girl needs a place to hide from the whimsy of Cap'n Crunch."

Fancy girl has thoughtful look on her face all of a sudden. She hasn't stopped drinking her tea, but she's staring at me with an... uncomfortable look of pity.

Fancy girl sets down the cup. "I'll allow her to stay," she replies, her voice no longer as stern. It still has a bit of edge to it when she adds, "but if she acts like some callous ruffian I will formally introduce her to the ground at terminal velocity."

Ah, there's the familiar threat of consequences for not doing something arbitrary. Sounds awful tempting, though.

"Thank ya' kindly, Miss Schulz. Now if you'll excuse me, I was gonna visit my old foster home." Suzi's leaning up in my face now and leering at me and I don't like iiiiiiiit. "Be good now, Elly."

I just nod. Sure, sure, just go awaaaaay.

Creepy spider woman finally pulls away and waves goodbye with a cheeky grin as she leaves. By jumping off the goddamn roof with a loud "Yahoo!"

I'm not even surprised anymore. All I know is I haven't had food in a couple days and I want some of whatever this person is having because it looks like something sweet.

"My apologies, would you like some?" she perks up. "You look famished."

I didn't even realize I was staring. Dimly, I nod.

"Speak up, now."

I thought I was told to be quiet. Is this some kind of test?

"Yes," I rasp.

"'Yes, please'."

I don't care what it takes, right now I want that sugar.

"Yes, please."

"'Yes, please, -Miss Schulz-.'"

Oh, fuck you. Fuck you, you prissy little bitch.

"Yes, please, Miss Schulz."

"Very good." She seems appeased for the mome-

"Sit up straight, now," she snaps at me as I try to put one of the confections in my mouth, "and don't just eat it, you must dip it first. Really, being on the brink of starvation is no reason to act like some savage." But that's exactly the time for manners to start breaking down! Can you just get to the physical torture already so I don't have to deal with this psychological crap?

Mechanically, I follow her instructions. Adjust my posture, dip the cookie-thing in the tea, then quickly eat it before she can change her mind. It's kinda buttery, and it practically melts in my mouth. I don't know squat about tea, but after taking a sip (pinkie out, just to be safe), I find it to be sweet-tasting as well. This is actually pretty tasty, much better than cup ramen and the cheap junk I usually buy.

"There, isn't that much better?" Miss Schulz asks sweetly. "You're looking more like a real lady already." Nnnng, stop it, you lying liar. You're making my face burn red.

I have to agree about things being better, though. Compared to my normal routine, this is... Nice. The air isn't stale, my outfit's dried out in the breeze, and I don't have to do anything other than sit up here for a while. Not like I could go anywhere; my body still throbs dully, reminding me that it's utterly exhausted. Well, no matter. I could watch the birds, maybe. It might get boring, but for now I guess this is nice.

Yeah, this is-


I nearly drop my cup when she shrieks. "Are you okay, Miss Schulz?" I ask. She's staring at a spot on her dress that looks like... Like a bird pooped on it. The ones that passed over a short while ago. I don't see any napkins, so I undo my cravat - usually I don't even remember that's what it's called - and offer it up to her. "Here, you can use this to-"

"No," Miss Schulz murmurs, her voice shaking. "No need, I'll be fine in a moment, please excuse me."

Miss Schulz stands up and faces away from me after pushing in her chair. As I try to rearrange my cravat - how did this thing work again? - she pulls reaches into her neckline and pulls out her soul gem. It's a very pearly white, but I can't make out the finer details before strands of silk erupt from the ground and wrap around her. From her toes up past her head, she is cocooned in the stuff, all in the span of a couple seconds.

So this is her magical girl transformation? The costume change -would- get rid of the stain, but isn't this excessive?

Something spiny punches through the shell from the inside out, some kind of a gold-colored spine. Then another on the opposite side. And then the whole thing is shredded in half as Miss Schulz tears it apart with a yell. A large pair of blue butterfly wings spread out from her back, and the spines turn out to belong to a set of maces with gold gilding around them. She kind of does look like a butterfly. It's rather pret-

"You shit-flinging turd wings!"

...Huh? Did Miss Schulz really just-

"I'm gonna fucking kill every last one of you assholes!"

Is that really her voice? It sounds much more... Accented. And gruff. And... angry.

Miss Schulz, or the person that was Miss Schulz, dashes to the edge of the rooftop and screams, "Better run you sniveling little twats!" before jumping into the air. The wings on her back flap just those of a butterfly, and the whole thing would look very graceful, but-

Butterflies don't cuss like that.

"Get back here you sniggering fuckwads!"

Butterflies don't chase down birds with a killing intent.

"Burn in Hell, you smegma-sucking wankers!"

Butterflies don't vaporize birds with jagged bolts of lightning.

"Eat this!"

Butterflies don't club birds with spiked maces in a spectacular explosion of gore.

One of them manages to actually flap its way down to a spot a few feet to my right. I can't really bring myself to look at it, but I think it was missing part of one of its wings. And streaking out of the sky is the berserker, aiming a kick at the defenseless creature. I shut my eyes tightly before it happens.

There's a loud crunching sound, and something splatters against my sleeve. I don't want to look, though. I don't want to see any of it.

"What, does it hurt?"

No, no, focus on something nice. Focus on, uh... Focus on the teapot. Open your eyes and look at it and help yourself to some more tea before you're mashed into paste. I will myself not to indulge my curiosity in what the sadistic woman is doing to the remains of the unfortunate bird. Instead, I try to calm the fuck down and have some fucking tea and salvage my fucking day because I was actually enjoying myself for once.

There's a skull face on the teapot.

There's a skull face on the teapot.

There's a skull face on the teapot.

There's a fucking skull face on the teapot. And on the cups. And the plates kinda look bony, too. THE TABLE AND CHAIR LEGS ARE MADE FROM ACTUAL LEGS. HOW DID I NOT NOTICE THIS?

"That'll teach you, you vultures!" spits the madwoman before she walks back into my field of vision. The maces are gone, but she's covered in... I want to say I lost my appetite, but I can't stop eating.

"Terribly sorry you had to see that. I feel like I've lost my appetite, what about you?"

Ha... They're all batshit crazy. Every last one. I shouldn't have let my guard down. I shouldn't have eaten these addicting things. If this wasn't all so goddamn awful I'd be laughing.

"...Are you quite alright?"

"Fine!" I scream at psycho twat, spitting up crumbs as I talk, "Absolutely fine! No problems at-GODFUCKINGDAMMIT!"


"Rude! That's no way to behave!" SHUT UP!

"Consider this a small mercy, next time I may just kill you." JUST DO IT ALREADY YOU BITCH! GOD!

But she doesn't. Instead, fancy pants butcher girl takes all her stuff, but I grab every last goddamn cookie thing from her plate and clutch onto them like an addict, literally stuffing them into my mouth. She scoffs before putting her macabre collection into her inventory. "Bloody disgusting foreigners..." she calls callously before finally, FINALLY GOING AWAY.

Fucking hurts. Eating this fucking stuff off a fucking corpse garnished with fucking murder sauce and everything fucking hurts. And I have to stay up here or Fuckface is going to make things worse. I drop the rest of the cookies and let them break into crumbs on the ground. None of this is enjoyable anymore, and I'm getting cold and it's making my fucking shin hurt worse and I can't stop myself from screaming "GODDAMMIT WHY THE FUCK IS EVERYBODY SO FUCKING INSANE I CAN'T FUCKING TAKE THIS!"

In spite of literally fucking everything hurting, I can stand. Which means I can flip this fucking table. "FUCK YOUR TABLE!" And grab the chair I was using and bash the table with it, both of which prove really fucking unfairly hard to break. "FUCK YOUR CHAIRS!"

Well fuck, the fucking roses aren't immune to getting hit with a chair, so "FUCK YOUR FLOWERS!" I scream as I crush roses with the macabre stool.

And then I lose my fucking grip on the stupid fucking chair and it flies out of my reach and I'm just so fucking tired that I can't fucking stand anymore. I fall onto the ground and weakly punctuate my words by pounding the rooftop with my fist. "FUCK THE SIXTH! FUCK THE EIGHTH! FUCK THE INCUBATORS! FUCK MAGICAL GIRLS!"

I'm taking heavy gulps of air just so I can scream my throat raw, but fuck it, I want the world to know : "FUCK ALL OF THIS!"


What did Suzi say?

That she was a 'sheltered girl'?

Sheltered girl... Was it a bomb shelter?

Haha... ha... I want to cry and I can't even do that. Fuck me.

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus The New Blood[edit]

As I am STRIDING down the halls of the Sixth, it must be known that today... Today is a GLORIOUS day in the land down under! I, Heather Crunch, have been tasked with illuminating the newest recruits that have been vetted by the warmaster! It may be the week's end, but for these fledgling magical girls, it is a NEW BEGINNING! And also a PIZZA PARTY, for I am feeling -particularly- MAGNANIMOUS today!

Arms swinging, back straight, head held high, blood -burning-, I am on my way to shape these new kids to be the BEST they can BE!

Ha! I LOVE my job!

"You smile any wider and your head will fall right off, Crazy Crunch."

A smug voice speaks out of thin air! Have I gone mad? Nay, it's just -that- person up to her usual shtick. Not enough to break my stride!

"And a good afternoon to you too, Madge," comes my sternly worded reply. These words are stern. Stern words to express my sternness at how difficult this apparition can be. CRUEL, MOCKING LAUGHTER gives way to the appearance of a wicked grin and red eyes (lacking the same spark as mine, of course) floating in midair, before the rest of the magical girl follows suit. In her sharply tailored vest and skirt, Madge looks every bit the watch-wearing dildo, save for the tattoos on her exposed arms. And the snake bracelet. And the cape, the cape's pretty sweet.

She's okay. A stick in the mud, but one with a good sense of humor at least.

"On the way to bother someone else with your hyperactive nosiness?" she sneers, walking ahead and matching my pace step for step. "Or maybe to cause thousands in property damage to your own Officio?" It's like a little game of snarking off, where the first one out loses. Well I'm not out yet!

"What I was -going- to do was grab some pizza and beer for the newest squad before putting them through their paces, seeing what they can do. Congratulatory gestures before breaking them in." I emphasize such congratulatory gestures with congratulatory gesticulation.

"Or breaking them apart," Madge responds dryly. "So you're putting bad ideas into the heads of the impressionable new recruits while they're drunk. Wonderful. At least getting them tattoos isn't the worst thing you can do." Which is true, considering everybody and their mother seems to have them down here to keep score. I have to make do with collecting weapons from the fallen, which you can't really show off.

But hold on, something is amiss! "Aren't you supposed to be overseas on our opportunistic orations involving the Eighth?" I inquire inquisitively.

Madge spins around and smirks, SMIRKS at me for my misstep in our conversational tango, before she issues a correction : "It's the Seventh, and that was yesterday. You need to get your schedule in order."

Grrr. "That's your schedule, Madge, not mine."

"You should know my schedule anyway. Try reading the things that are handed to you instead of passing them off to whoever's nearest at the moment."

She's putting on airs again, but I don't really have a response for that other than a resigned, "Yes, Your Majesty." Maybe the papers have her real name listed on them.

"Damn straight. ANYWAY," she goes on, "the goodwill talks went fine, despite -somebody- telling them our customary greeting is sniffing arses, and getting my title wrong." That's the quickest I've seen her go from smug to irritated in all the time I've seen her. "Damn near every Callidus from every other Officio I've met calls me an Eversor. ...I can tell you, I've never been an Eversor once in my career. I'm not dumb as shit-"

"Haha!" I exclaim, stopping in my tracks as a revelation strikes me like the fist of an angry god! "Rejoice, Madge, for your monologue has given me divine inspiration to enact a MONUMENTAL CHANGE in my person!"

"You're going to stop pretending you're a stage performer?" Nice try Madge but THERE IS NO STOPPING THE CRUNCH TRAIN WHEN IT'S CRUNCH TIME! CHOO CHOO!

Now strike a pose. Strike a different pose!

"My weapon," I bellow out loud enough for them to hear all the way back in Japan, "My glorious, passionate weapon, and now I have a name for it." Strike another different pose! And shout "The Eversword!"

Madge is flabbergasted, as expected. "Ever... Sword?"

Gotcha! "All the time! Do you ever sword?" I say with the biggest grin I can manage.

"Oh for..." The Callidus rank leader buries her face in both hands, no doubt unable to look upon the laughing face of TRIUMPH! Which is my face, MY VISAGE OF VICTORY!

Time sure flies, I thought the kitchen was a bit further off, but the smell of food and heat wafts through the double doors on my left. Either that or I'm still getting used to this place. I've only been here once before. "Well that was fun, but I have to stick to -my- schedule doing -my- scheduled things at a time -I- scheduled." I head in backwards, waving goodbye to the flustered Madge. "Ciao for now!" And turn back to complete darkness.

Why is it pitch black in here? And why does it smell like paint? I squint in the darkness, which even my burning spirit fails to dispel, and grope the wall behind me for a light switch. It goes on with a "click" and I'm confronted by paint cans and cleaning solvents in a small, cramped space. Huh?

"Why, Crunch," comes Madge's voice from outside, who I imagine has a very ugly look on her face right now, "How come you ran into that broom closet? You're already in your ridiculous costume."

You've gone too far, Madge! I burst out of the closet in a fighting pose and roar, "It's a fanTAStic costume you... You... Okay, you got me. That one was pretty good." I don't normally like Callidus tricks, but in retrospect it does make me laugh. "Gosh, I don't know WHAT came over me. I must have gotten LOST or something."

"Yeah, you want to go down the right hall for the kitchen," she says, jerking her thumb in that direction.

"Very well, then." Before I go, I remove my hat and do my best curtsey before my most worthy opponent. "Farewell, Your Majesty."

"Catch ya later, Crazy Crunch," she salutes, heading in the opposite direction.

As Madge indicated, the kitchen waits down the aforementioned hall. As I set my amazing hat back where it belongs, I know my destination by the scent of melted cheese wafting through the double doors. Then, kicking open the entrance dramatically, I scan the stainless steel stovetops and find NOTHING approaching what I asked for. Instead, cleverly hidden in plain sight near the entrance is ONE pizza-sized container, ONE ten gallon-ish keg of the good stuff, and ONE sealed container of what I am sure is death adder venom for extra kick. I'm... Not sure where the cooks went BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER because I have to make it to the other side of the building in five minutes or less!

Which means hefting the keg in one hand, holding the box in the other, and carrying the poison in my mouth. Then breaking into a FULL RUN down the corridors. Streaking past the utility closet. Past the gym. Past the sauna. Past the weapon rooms. Past the Spider Room - no time to check in on Slam. Weaving around the people who are just TOO DAMN SLOW, and vaulting over obstructions! There would have been some close calls had I not had the foresight to bind the box with sticky tape. I will NOT drop my payload, and I will NOT be late!

There it is up ahead! The lounge designated as the meeting place is a just a few steps away, but the clock is ticking down. Time may not be on my side, BUT HEATHER CRUNCH CAN TAKE ANY ENEMY! At the last second, I dramatically dive through the doorway, tape weaving around everything to keep it from falling, and... MADE IT! I have conquered time itself to teach the new blood all about magical girling!

Putting the precious payload down on the ground, and spitting out the canister, I swiftly survey the serene surroundings to spot my students. The lounge is mostly empty, save for enough cushions to stack to the moon - I should start on that when I have more free time. And sitting in the middle of the room, eyes concealed beneath a hood, is a figure cloaked in black from head to toe that fails to fully hide its... Horns? Small bat-like wings flap on her back, so she might be part bat. Her arms are covered in bandages, sloppily so. And she's gripping a wicked looking scythe as though letting go would cause her to plummet to her death. She hasn't said a thing all this time, staring intensely at the ground.

"Salutations!" I greet exuberantly before I launch my queries, "I was told that there would be at least four of you. Is everyone else late?"

The robe turns to look at me, face too dark to make out. It's not even that dark in here. "No," it replies, gruff, grim, and resolute. "There's only me. Ever since that day, it's always been just me. My only companions are pain, and the hatred that sustains me on the dark path I walk : to avenge my parents."


"Enough with your charade!" I demand, "I can hear your co-conspirators sniggering back there!" They probably thought they concealed themselves well, but my finely honed senses picked up them doing their best to muffle their laughter. NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO FOOL HEATHER CRUNCH!

The robed girl sighs and pulls back her hood, revealing the horns to be a set of ears. "I told you this was a bloody stupid idea," she growls, her tone of voice completely different from before. Robe girl relaxes her posture as she throws off the cowl to reveal a far more typical uniform, including a jacket. Which means those aren't real ears. It's just an ear-shaped hood. Ha, I was right again!

"It woulda worked if you coulda kept your mouth shut!" scolds another voice from about twenty feet to my left, behind a big pile of pillows. The outwitted novices assemble before me in a line before standing at attention. I count three cats, and one bat trying to look like a cat. Which is... Close enough. SOMEBODY owes me a hundred dollars for that bet! Which means I am one hundred dollars closer to financing my dream!

But now's not the time for that. Now is the time to be -professional-.

I clear my throat loudly before I begin pacing in front of the newly assembled group. "As magical girls," I explain, voice booming, hands clasped tightly behind my back, "it is our task, our sworn duty, to hunt down those who have fallen to corruption! But to do so, you must be ready, ready for anything, at any time, from anywhere! You must be keen, strong, and cunning! Keen enough to find villainy wherever it lurks! Strong enough to smite such evils! And cunning enough to outwit otherwise overwhelming odds and emerge on top!"

I go on like this for a few more minutes, saying whatever comes to mind. About our mission. About how hard we must train every day. About our loyalties. About working together. By the end, they're looking at me in complete awe. It is a good feeling.

Time to finish this. I spin around to face them again, getting up in their faces as I bellow out, "Is that clear?"

Four arms go up in a salute. "Aye aye, Cap'n!" they reply in unison.

...Russ, what have you told them? I feel myself breaking into a grin. No! Keep a straight face! Don't lose out to the urge to laugh! Do not break! Suppress it! SUPPRESS IT NOW!

...HELL YES! Even my own emotions are no match for Heather Crunch!

"Enough formalities! Now we get to the fun stuff!" I return to the cargo I hauled in earlier, sliding the box across the floor. Bat opens up the box to reveal a most fitting treat : a deep dish, stuffed crust pizza, topped with bits of bacon and crushed glass. And some Carlton Dry plus death adder venom to wash it down. Perfect for making them tough on the –inside- as well as on the –outside-, as I explain to them. They are apprehensive at first, moreso after seeing me spear the food with my trusty golden chopsticks to eat it, but after seeing my greatness indulge itself without dropping dead, they too found it to their liking.

There's some jolly carousing done between all of us - I let them get some shots in on me and rated their hits as "acceptable" – and every last scrap, every last drop, all of it is soon CONSUMED by our ravenous hunger! It is then I get to the -true- reason that they are here.

"Now, does everybody have their kits?"

Four heads nod along in response. The kits in question, likely kept in their inventories, hold many tools necessary to a magical girl’s continued survival. A spare grief seed, a first aid kit, and a portable barbecue pit. Because hunger is always watching, waiting, ready to STRIKE while your guard is down! NEVER let the hunger win! Beat it with food until it relents!

"Your task then is to go out and hunt down something for the kitchens to use,” I explain, pacing in front of them. “Something that you must subdue with your own hands! And then make it back before midnight.”

“Then why’d you go and get us all pissed?” queries Cat #2, DARING to question my generosity.

“Remember, you WON’T always be in peak physical and mental condition in battle. But you MUST persevere, is that clear?"

Four hands stand back and salute. “Aye aye, Cap’n!”

“EXCELLENT! Of course, this is -completely optional-, so if you’re SCAREDY CATS, you don’t have to follow me outside!”

I turn away from the group and march back down the halls, toward one of the rear entrances. I kick that open and expose myself to the sun and the elements, trekking for an entire mile before I stop and turn around. All four of the new recruits followed me here. I can SEE the fire in their eyes as they seek to prove themselves!

Bless their hearts.

I circle around them, bellowing out preparations for what is to follow. "What comes next requires that you suck in your guts and grit your teeth.”

My instructions being followed to the letter, I will my weapon, my Eversword, into my hands. Winding my arms back, I howl my next command:


Before any questions could be asked, before anybody could turn their heads, but after adequate bracing could be made, the broad part of my Eversword CRASHES into their unprotected backs. I hear my name repeated several times by their bones as all four hopefuls are sent screaming skyward!

“DIIIIIIISSSSMISSED!” I call after them as they become a twinkle on the horizon. I’ve got a fair amount of time before they get back – I’m sure they’ll get back, I believe in them – that I need to kill. Slinging my Eversword over my back and wiping the blood from my coat, I decide to jog the rest of the way back – I’ve been neglecting the fitness of my legs. And that is a –weakness- that could be exploited by an enemy. I’ll have to double, if not triple, my required running for the day, starting right now.


And so I do my runs. Fifteen miles becomes twenty. Soon the sun has set from the sky, and the stars are coming out. It’s time for my nightly ritual– counting out the stars in the sky, and then telling them to their star-faces that I BURN MORE INTENSELY THAN THEM, HAHA!

I hope those recruits made it back. They've still got a few minutes to go, but time marches on RELENTLESSLY in its efforts to trample their dreams.

Before I do any of that, I have to check on Slam. Surely after overcoming such a trial, her latent abilities will have come to-


THAT would be my phone. I fetch the handy device from my pocket and put it up to my ear. "Hello?"

"...Hey, Cap'n." That's Berry's voice.

"I was JUST heading in to meet with-"

"Yeah, about that?" Grrr, she cut me off. "Gonna need ya to come up to the roof. Right now."

"What happened?"

Berry sighs loudly and ominously replies, "Yer gonna wanna see this for yerself," before the call ends. Whatever it is, it sounds serious and demands I make it there post-haste!

Breaking into a full run, I reach the officio building and kick open the doors once more. The halls are mostly empty at this hour, which means nothing can stop me. Up the flights of stairs, leaping up two at a time. Then three. Four. Faster, faster faster!

At the apex of my ascent, I throw the door to the roof open, and am greeted by a most grisly spectacle. The planter boxes have been upturned. Furniture has been hurled about. And everything is covered in rose petals and dirt.

I cup my hands around my mouth and holler, "Hey Berry! What is the meaning of this?"

No answer. There's no way she didn't hear me! I walk out a few steps and make to try again, before realizing I've stepped in something sticky. Looking down, I find some kind of white film clinging to my boot. No, not film, a web. And now that I look closer, there's webbing EVERYWHERE.

Echoing across the rooftop, a low voice threatens me. "Eversor Rank Leader Heather Crunch," it hisses, "we need to have a little chat."

Omake: Everything is Terrible[edit]



"How's everything?"

"Shit. You?"





"...Where were you last night?"

"Collapsed on the bed."

"Rough day?"

"Pirate fuckface chased me around the building and broke my stuff."


"Today some chick cracked my shin."

"This is why you shouldn't fuck around with Eversors, kid."

"They... fucked... first. So freaking mad."

"Heh! Yeah, that's how to do it. So did you brain 'em or anything for fuckin' with you?"

"I wrecked butterfly chick's skull furniture and dug up her gardens."

"...Passive-aggression's... a way to go."

"I threw pens at pirate fuckface yesterday. It... It didn't do anything."

"Yeah, she's... Yeah. Seen her scrap with a couple of people before, it's never worth it."

"You could have told me before she told me to punch her in the face. Fucking hurts."

"What were you gonna do, NOT punch her in the face? Sometimes you have to try, man."

"That's bullshit. Trying got my hands messed up. Trying sucks."

"...Yeah, okay, you got me. Trying sucks. But she'd probably make you do pushups or someshit if you didn't punch her."

"She made me do that anyway."



"...We'll get you out of there soon, Papers."


"Just keep the spiders out of your vagina until we figure something out."


Magical Torturer Suzi Berry versus Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch[edit]

"Eversor Rank Leader Heather Crunch, we need to have a little chat."

If experience has taught me anythin' about our dear rank leader, it's that she loves theatrics. She's a lot more likely to take what you say to heart if you put some effort into the presentation. And a disembodied voice speakin' across a rather desolate-lookin' location, lit by a backdrop of stars, just drips with drama.

Havin' to act as a part of your job in infiltration, and bein' adept at bedroom role-play, also helps.

"Who DARES to attempt to intimidate the grrrrrrreat and mighty Heather Crunch?" bellows our dear Cap'n. She knows who it is, of course. But she does love to play along with this sort of thing. It'd be adorable under less unfortunate circumstances.

"See the destruction wrought upon this once-pristine place," I call out, safely hidden on the buildin's ledge, behind a mound of dirt and some purposefully placed webs, "and know that it was the doing of that girl, in her frustration."

The Cap'n shakes her fist. "What have you done with Slam, villain?" I can't see her face from where I am, but my friends tell me she's tryin' hard not to grin. This ain't the time for that sorta thing.

"Slam is safe, for now. Safe from the likes of you."

"Nonsense, she's only adjusting to the ordeal she endured. It'll pass in a-"

Time to drop the bombshell.

"There was no ordeal."


Yeah, I don't think she's takin' it all that well.

"The Spider Room is designed to -break- a person, not remake them. Slam was taken here for refuge-"

Which was a grievous mistake on my part, considerin' the nightly ritual of the Cap'n. I do hope she'll forgive me for carryin' her out here for nothin'. It probably won't be any time soon, not with the way she glared at me when I told her to go back to her room. Didn't say anythin', just limped away and didn't answer any queries.

"-and then put back where she belongs, away from your cruel machinations."

The Cap'n's pretty mad. "You went against my ORDERS, Berry."

Hidin's probably not gonna do me much good anymore. I clamber back up onto the rooftop and approach Cap'n, my posture all conciliatory as I plead in my normal voice, "Cap'n, please-"

Cap'n whirls about, face stern and businesslike. She's really takin' this rank leader stuff seriously, huh? "No," she interrupts, pointin' an accusatory finger at me. "I'm taking this straight to the warmaster. You insist on TORTURING her by forcing her to keep the status quo."

I try reasonin' with her, askin', "Did ya even ask her if she wanted yer help, though?"

"Questions would have gotten in the way of improving her standard of living, which being moved into the Eversor program would do." It's like debatin' a wall.

"She doesn't have any of our intrinsic advantages, she'd be-"

"Enough!" she barks, fed up with debatin'. She turns to head back down the steps, proclaimin', "I'm taking this situation to Russ and having you reprimanded for insubordination!" She's gonna leave, and do whatever she wants with Eleanor, and I'm gonna get a black mark on my otherwise spotless record. Ahhh, I was afraid this might happen.

Which is why I had my little friends help me prepare for this contingency. I clear my throat and present my trump card :

"Orrrr we could settle this here~."

Cap'n slows to a stop. Gotcha.

"The great and mighty Heather Crunch against my unbroken victory streak."

I have her interest, now I just need to set the terms.

"Best two outta three. The winner decides what to do with the loser." I put on my best smirk and wave dismissively at her to taunt her, mockin' her in a sing-song voice with, "Unless yer a 'fraidy caaat~"

Cap'n turns around and smiles broadly, any indication of carin' about her job gone from her face. Seems I heard right about her.

"Ha! I accept your challenge! I'll take every trick you have and overcome them all!"

The familiar, comfortin' weight of grippin' an object in my hand confirms the manifestation of one of my most trusted implements. A long dagger with a strong handle, perfect for thrustin'. And with enough poison to turn a magical girl's insides into slurry. I take my position a few meters away in a low crouch. There's a flower box not far from my position, but I don't let my eyes stray toward it, lest I give away what I'm thinkin'. Just keepin' my eyes on the Cap'n as she brings forth her big, thick red thing. I've seen her swing it around a few times before, but never really got to see it, or her, in action.

Ihihi, I'm gettin' excited in spite of myself.

We stay just like that for a little bit, starin' each other down. Both of us grinnin' like fools. I lick my lips as I size her up - she's actually kinda small, really - and decide to stop with the foreplay first.

I signal for my spider friends to spring the trap.

At my urgin', the rank leader is caught from the side by a thick band of spider silk and catapulted into the stairwell she was so eager to descend earlier. The moment her expression changes to one of shock is the moment I throw myself into cover behind the box. I keep movin' towards the buildin's edge, and, after stickin' the handle between my teeth, drop over just as Cap'n throws herself back into the fray. "Cheap shot!" she cries out, but I can tell she liked it~.

I scramble over the exterior as quickly as I can move without makin' any noise. My scouts' chatter tells me that Cap'n has taken only a few paces forward and her back is to the eastern side, so that's where I go. I hoist myself up and skulk my way towards her exposed flank. Careful, silent, and steady. When I'm within strikin' distance, I pull the dagger from my mouth and make a straight jab at her back. No showy, jumpin' nonsense that leaves you vulnerable. Which turns out to be a good thing, as Cap'n spins outta the way and uses the momentum to swing her sword in a wide arc at where my midsection is.

"Counter-swing!" she yells.

Conjurin' another dagger in my free hand, I make to parry the strike so I can slide underneath it.

That was a terrible mistake.

The full battery of a tank battalion has nothin' on the force of the swing that almost dislocates my arm after I try to redirect it. I bring both knives up and try to move that thing, but it's too dang big and strong. I'm losin' ground.

I see her foot move right as I disengage her, and her kick whiffs my leg. I backpedal to put some distance between us, but it's not far away enough. Her colossal sword comes crashin' down, buryin' itself in the reinforced rooftop and missin' me by a hair. That's pretty unreal. But it also gives me an openin'. It hurts somethin' awful, but I hurl the weapon in my left hand at her. She chooses to dodge again, which means she didn't see me leap onto the blunt edge of her weapon, run along it, take my other knife, and jam it in to her crazy head.

At least, that's what shoulda happened. What did happen was that her hard head repelled the blow completely, like stabbin' a wall. I'm off balance and nearly fall on my fine derriere after she pulls out her sword with just one arm. I catch myself, but I'm still on my hands and knees here. Lookin' down on me, she's got a real ugly expression on her face right now.

She's like a wall that walks, talks, and hits things. Even I didn't expect that. "The heck are ya made of?"

"Strength, determination, and the BURNING desire to help those in need!" she exclaims, holdin' her weapon in a perfect position to strike me. "You CAN'T pierce me, Berry!"

Well that certainly limits my options. I saw her flinch on gettin' hit, but I can't tell if it's because she was hurt or just reflex. Time to start improvisin'. Quicker than Heather can say "coup de grace", I roll away from her and dash up the stairwell entrance. I planned to leap over it and try to hide again so I can rethink my strategies, but stumble after Cap'n's sword clips my left shoulder, droppin' both my knives for all the good they'll do me. That much blood is gonna make it awful hard to hide. The giant red sword starts comin' back towards me, so I sprint under it and let it sail on past my head. I hear her on the move again, so I lead her to a different spot.

I scoop up the silky spider webs in my arms - reminds me that I promised those kids new sweaters, should start on that next week - and send another signal to my little friends. A well-timed jump saves me from bein' knocked on my face by a streak of white, but it sounds like Cap'n wasn't so lucky. I've got what I need, which means I can about face and bring the fight to her. Cap'n merely stumbled instead of bein' dropped flat, and that's just fine. I smother the crouched figure in a big sheet of whiteness and kick her to send her rollin' like a snowball. She halts much sooner than I'd anticipated, even with her sword arm stickin' out, but I can make do with that. As soon as Cap'n lets go of her weapon to try and tear off those webs - which lands with a terribly loud THUNK - I land a flyin' kick on the round mass and make it roll again, gatherin' more sticky webs. That should do for now.

I'm not givin' her even a second to overcome the dizzy spell. I follow after her and snatch the thing off the ground. Her muffled protests remind me of that delectable brunette from the other day as I whirl the thing round and around overhead. When I think she's nice and dizzy... BAM! Slam her into the ground, then slam her into the ground again, and again, and again, and again, and again...

My bleedin' shoulder's protests signal that I ought to do somethin' about that, so I throw the sack spinnin' up in the air. With well practiced movements, I pull out my first aid kit and apply some gauze and bandages once the poor girl thuds on the rooftop. It's hardly ideal, but it'll have to do until I'm done here. After packin' my gear away, I stride on over to my fallen Cap'n, who's just finished freein' herself from my little love nest and is pickin' the sticky white stuff out of her hair. Doesn't look like she's dizzy anymore, so I'll give her credit for a quick recovery. For a relatively new girl, she's got quite a bit of stamina.

"Had enough?" I ask, already knowin' her answer.

"You win this round," she concedes, pointin' at me again, "but it won't stop me from beating a dildo like you into the ground."

"Ihihi... Hon, I'm an expert on dildos, and can assure ya that neither of us is one." No response from that one. I was hopin' she'd turn a nice crimson color.

We take a few steps back and rearm ourselves. Cap'n makes the first move by chargin' at me, but she's not faster than me. I easily outpace her, which should make it simple to lure her into another location. I look back to gauge the distance-

What's that stuff comin' out of her sleeve? Tentacles? Whatever it is, this ain't a good time to find out. I take cover behind one of the flower boxes and get ready to move again when my cover is lifted up by those appendages and hurled at me. I dive out of the way, the container shatters on the spot where I was a moment ago, and I gotta keep movin'. Because as it turns out, she's got all those flower boxes held in the air with dozens, maybe hundreds of those... things. Milly's gonna be real mad when she finds out about this.

The safest place would normally be the walls below, but I don't think Cap'n's gonna give me the opportunity to move there. I don't have any traps set where she is, though I motion for my friends that can see me to get ready. It's been quite a while since I've done somethin' reckless like this, but I plunge in for a frontal assault. I duck and weave out of the way of the objects thrown at me, and start cuttin' through those... strips of tape? Is that what they are? Whatever they are, they're tryin' to grab me. Tryin' bein' the key word here, because she's just not fast enough.

Cap'n rears back to attack with another sword throw, but spiders crawlin' up her legs is still enough to make her throw go wild. Leapin' to the side to avoid another flower box, Heather is vulnerable enough that I can go for one part of her that I'm sure ain't invulnerable. Besides, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't mind wearin' an eye patch. It'd complement her image.

A lightnin'-quick thrust at her eye with my trusty dagger is blocked at the last second by Cap'n's free hand. As in she grabs the blade and snaps it. "Fell for it!" she taunts as I back away to try again, only to find my feet refusin' to move properly. When did she have time to bind them up? I can slip out easily enough as long as-

"And here's the comeback attack!"

My spider friends' report of the dreaded sword's return coincides with Cap'n callin' it out. I can't keep myself from inhalin' sharply as an intense force slams into my lower back, followed by a loss of sensation in my legs. With nothin' left to support me, I fall on my back and knock my head against the tiles. Peerin' up to survey the damages, I find the part of me with all my favorite bits cleanly separated from the rest of me and still bleedin'. It's a very weird feelin', suddenly havin' nothin' below your torso. Not the first time I've lost a limb, but it never stops feelin' uncomfortable.

"Alright, alright," I sigh, unable to look at her triumphant smile as her tape dissolves. "That round was yours. You earned it. Last one is for keeps." Under ideal conditions I could keep goin' for several more hours like this, but these aren't ideal conditions. There's an opponent in front of me, for one, she's not near any traps, and I still have to be able to move. My tactical options are even more limited right now, and I probably only have thirty minutes if I have to keep exertin' myself like this.

I'll have to settle on a gamble.

With no weapons in hand, I have to support myself on my hands. It's very strenuous to do so when one arm still feels wonky and aches every time it's moved. The ground's gettin' slick with my blood poolin' around it. Cap'n looks amused as she holds her blade back with the intent of smitin' an easy target.

"This match is mine, Berry," she gloats. "I'm not going to let-"

Whatever Cap'n was expectin' from me, I doubt she thought I'd throw my own butt at her face.

While she's tossin' it away and wipin' the blood out of her eyes, I'm clawin' my way up her back. With my arms around her neck, I ready daggers in both hands. She curses and tries to get me off of her, but blowin' on her ear makes her hesitate long enough for me to jam my weapons into her open mouth and against both cheeks. Her screams of pain confirm my suspicions that it hurts a lot.

From what I've seen, she can easily pry my hands away, or tear them off if necessary. But as long as she's not anchored by that heavy sword... Yep, she dropped it. While it's hard to get any momentum like this, I manage to lead her to the edge of the roof, where she takes the necessary missteps to send us both plummetin' to the ground.

I have only a few seconds to get into position, which isn't helped when Cap'n crushes my right hand. The now-useless appendage drops the knife and I start losin' my grip, unable to stop her from forcin' the other knife out with her tongue. This is far from ideal, and I'm all out of tricks.

"You fought well Berry," Cap'n growls, keepin' me tethered to her by my wrist. "But this is MY victory, and I WILL help that girl no matter how much you protest."

"Like ya helped yer buddy back at the Ninth?" I shoot back. Okay, that was mean. That was unfair and mean of me to say, dredgin' up somethin' awful like that. But judgin' by her shocked reaction, it worked to distract her. With the ground comin' up real fast, I force my last knife into her mouth until it's ticklin' the back of her throat. Cap'n is gaggin' on it and bitin' down hard. It hurts somethin' awful, but it hurts even worse once we hit the ground.

I think I may have just broken every bone in my left arm from tryin' to hold that thing in there. But more importantly, my dagger broke in her throat, and she's frantically tryin' to dislodge the pieces chokin' her.

"Please yield now," I demand, collapsed on her chest and unable to even move my head. Ihihi, there's a teeny bit more cushion than I'd given her credit for havin' there.

When Cap'n starts makin' what I take for affirmative noises, I disengage my weapons. She takes deep gulps of breath after pullin' my hand out of her mouth - ah, she bit right through it down to the bone. I must look like a mess. But it's worth it if it means keepin' my image spotless and helpin' out a poor lost-

"That was fuckin' a!" calls an unfamiliar voice from nearby. Cap'n's head snaps to attention and focuses on the source, before pushin' me off of her. Rude.

"Just a friendly tussle is all," she responds, brushin' herself off. "Now, how'd it go?"

"We found a big croc out there," says voice number two.

"Yeah, Jenny snapped its neck after it had me in its jaws," replies a third voice.

"And we got ourselves all bandaged up before we came back. People were givin' us funny looks," says yet another person.

"Haha, I don't doubt it!" Cap'n claps her hands once and bellows, "ALRIGHT THEN! You have proven your worth to your rank leader! How does that make you feel?"

I hear a lot of gigglin' before one of them has the bright idea to start howlin'. Then the others join in with her. A loud, drawn out, proud howl that even the folks in town must've heard. The traditional battle cry of the Sixth.

So these must've been some new girls, huh? Ihihi, that takes me back.

Cap'n dismisses them and makes to leave as well before I call out, "Yer just gonna run off after spendin' a few heated moments of passion in my arms like that? How cold, Cap'n~" She's takin' her sweet time makin' up her mind, before she laughs it off. I think she was just tryin' to make me sweat it out.

"Ohhh... Very well! A deal is a deal after all." Cap'n hoists me over her shoulder, and my head inadvertently buries itself in her neck. No, really, no conscious control at all here~.

"And don't forget to grab my butt on the way back," I remind her.

"Yes, yes.."

Ah, one other thing I almost forgot. "And Cap'n?"


"What kinda underwear ya got on right now?"

To the victor, the spoils.

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus The Grind Part I[edit]

Who made the packaging on these ramen blocks? For the life of me I can't get this thing open. I wanted a sandwich, but they were all out after I woke up from my first shift. The earlier I lose conscious perception in my trance state, the longer it takes to come back. So either more suffering up front, without being able to move even my eyes as I become acutely aware of how uncomfortable I am, or more suffering later, where I end up missing lunch or dinner.

The latter doesn't seem so bad in comparison.

Still, I was hoping for something nice today after this fuck-awful weekend. I should have learned by now, nice just doesn't happen to me. And yet the lesson never ever ever EVER sticks.

Just getting these was a fantastic demonstration of how shitty everything is. That tea-guzzling bitch found me while I was trying to carry it and a bowl of hot water, which was fucking retarded in the first place. She spooked me so bad I dropped the bowl. Then she actually came charging at me with those freaky maces, screaming that she'd beat me into paste. While I'm sure it'd be nice to have an excuse not to work, I'm afraid of things that hurt. I'm not sure how I managed to outrun her, limping away as I was, but I did.

This fucking plastic piece of shit. Why the fuck does it require so much force to open? My right hand being burned doesn't help, red and tender as it is. It's too painful to try very hard to open the package this way, so I'll have to use my teeth instead.

Fuck, I got little bits of noodle all over the desk and the floor. It must have gotten crushed while I was hauling ass back to the office. The silvery flavor packet falls out and drops onto the floor, where I try to pick it up - dammit, that was retarded, I spilled more crumbs. I toss the useless thing in the trash as I grab the largest wedge I can find and bite into it.

It's very chalky, and tastes like a mouthful of flour and failure.

They haven't brought me my weekly allowance of grief seeds yet. I know it's Monday and the week's just getting started, but it feels like there's a lot of that corruption stuff flowing around my soul gem. Maybe that's what's got me so melancholy today. Swallowing the tasteless dry noodles and trying not to choke, I find myself trying to figure out why everything's so fucked up. Trying to find some reason or logic behind why everything is terrible while taking another bite.

Maybe it's because I was a troublesome kid. I did bite a lot in kindergarten. Kept climbing on the counter and eating all the cookies no matter where Mom hid them. Very prone to crying fits.

But I think everything went to Hell after I punched that boy.

I used to have a more significant weight problem when I was in first grade. I got called the "Breaker" because I sat on a rickety chair one time and it snapped under me. Some boy was the one that kept pushing for the name to stick. He was a real shithead for a lot of reasons.

If movies had taught me anything, it's that if you knock out your bully, everything gets better. So one day I just lost it. Went from sitting at my desk to whaling on his smug, stupid face even after he fell down. I was screaming and crying the entire time, even after the teacher pulled me off of him. After seeing the damage I did, though... I just started crying because I felt like shit.

Before I was transferred out of that school for good, I heard one of those jump rope rhymes, or whatever they're called, caught on after the incident. I start tapping my foot in a rhythm as I quietly cite the lyrics that stuck with me:

"Breaker, Breaker, bellyacher Made a hit and knocked down Laker Raised on a diet of Pixi Stix Just how many hits did Elly get?"

Right, that was his name. Never heard from any of those kids again, since my family had to move to a different district.

Chew, chew, swallow, bite. If I only had something to wash this down with.

I really didn't try hard enough to be a good daughter, did I? There was that time I got caught taking things from my classmates' backpacks because I didn't like any of them and none of them liked me, so I had to change schools in the middle of second grade. Next year I managed to get constipated from all the awful shit I ate, and had to take mineral oil for months. Actually tasted worse than this junk.

But my crowning achievement in being a horrible child was when I set that trash can on fire and melted a perfectly good television in the process with an improvised flamethrower, because I should never have been allowed anywhere near the matches and compressed air. There was definitely a lot of yelling and belt-whipping after that, which I certainly deserved. Hell, I deserved worse at that time. They were good people who deserved a better kid than me. But that treatment facility they sent me to only managed to instill in me some good manners about washing my hands and nothing else. That sort of bullshit is why I didn't get to visit Disney Land that year, or ever again.

It's about that time that I picked up cussing out of habit, since that's the sort of thing that I heard a lot around the house. Everybody was really upset. Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing them ever smile again after that incident.

I did try a little, though. I really wanted to help them somehow. Even if I had to remove myself from the picture, I just wanted to make them happy. Make them laugh like they used to way back when. Hell, I'd settle for them not being ashamed of me. But I was just a kid. Just a stupid fucking kid who couldn't even help herself, much less anybody else. That it hasn't changed even now is a testament to what a goddamn failure of a daughter I am.

FUCK! Cut the roof of my mouth. Now it tastes like flour, failure and blood. Which... actually manages to be an improvement from before, and gives me something to swallow with. Joy.

All those fuck-ups are probably why they told me to just stay out of the house during tax season. I think it was tax season, anyway. Lots of forms to fill out. I didn't like having homework, so most of it was done at school. It gave me time to walk around town. Do some chores outside to take an infinitesimally small amount of their burden upon myself. I wanted to do something, anything, other than continue to be a useless sack of snot and tears.

So of course that's when it showed up. Some kind of black-furred rabbit-cat-weasel thing with scary eyes, decked out in gaudy, gem encrusted jewelry. He asked why I was crying, and I spilled my guts. Because I was awful and didn't take the "don't talk to weird animals" lesson to heart.

He said he understood, and offered me his little contract : Get a wish in exchange for working at a big agency. Fight monsters that used to be like you because they let their souls become tainted. Something about saving the universe if you let yourself become a monster. It was heavy stuff that should have sent me running back home, so that I could maybe ask for permission or at least talk it over. But no, I was just an awful little brat who wanted Mommy and Daddy to stop being angry at me and for our family to live Happily Ever After. But rather than wish for anything helpful, like, say, money, I said something so mind-bogglingly stupid that I want to kick my younger self's teeth out just thinking about it :

"I wish I could help."

I swear that bastard bunnycat weasel was laughing when he tore that shining blue bauble out of me. Scared me so bad I fell on my ass. Said I was one of his bitches now, which should have given me a clue that the fuckwad needed a good punting. Instead I sat there and listened to his spiel about "superhuman clerical abilities" and "minor physical augmentation". And to be fair, that sounds pretty great when you're twelve.

Time to move on to the crumbs and bits.

The first time I transformed, which was right on the spot, it felt... Revitalizing. Empowering. I felt strong, like I could do anything. It took me a while just to stop basking in the sensation and rush on home, because I managed to distract myself by feeling nice for a change. To make up for it, I found myself moving much faster than I had ever done in my life. I accidently ran past my house because I wasn't paying attention, I was so engrossed. Then I hit the city limits and turned around, feeling utterly ashamed of myself.

I forced open the door and sauntered into my house proudly. The looks of shock and confusion on my parents' faces couldn't stop me from grinning. Grinning so hard my face hurt. I did a little twirl to make the cape flutter and followed up with a curtsey. It was somewhat embarrassing, but I was too caught up in the moment to care. I could do something for them, something for the people who raised me. Something that would make them proud of me.

They didn't even recognize me at first. I didn't realize at the time, but my hair had changed. It used to be short and brown, now it was a mass of lavender curls. Then Mom cautiously asked if I was Eleanor, and I assured them that I was their daughter. I launched into a short speech explaining that I could take care of their paper-fueled woes with my newfound power. I didn't even bother to ask permission, I was just so eager to show what I could do that I strode over and grabbed hold of the nearest sheet.

When I was close enough to look at the forms, a chill went up my spine. Something was wrong, but I didn't know what it was until I tried to move and found that I could not. At least, not of my own volition, as my body went to work on the forms with a pen in its hand. Sounds were muffled as though I had my head submerged underwater. And my brain felt like it was being pumped full of cotton as numbers and seemingly random words like "mortgage" filled it to the bursting point.

Everything started to hurt, and my eyes grew dry as they refused to close. I wanted to scream, to cry, to beg for help, but I couldn't move my lips at all. I couldn't even tell if I was breathing. And I felt everything that made me what I am being shoved aside to make way for this unwanted knowledge. Thankfully, this didn't last very long, as I soon lost any and all conscious thought.

And of course, upon finishing everything, I had no idea what was happening or how long I'd been there. I didn't know myself, I didn't know about my house, and I certainly didn't know who those panicky figures were that were standing near me. I just knew that they were there, and that I was in pain, so it must be their fault. I screamed gibberish at them, the people that I was convinced were at fault for this. When one of them, think it was Dad, raised his voice at me, a pen materialized in my right hand. This was the sort with the pointed nib, and as I made a fist, it grew and grew until it was big enough to pass for a spear.

Understandably, my parents panicked and tried to run, but I went after them. Even though they made it outside, I was much faster than they were, and it was so easy to catch up to them. To slash and stab at them, ink mixing into their blood and making them double over in pain as they grew ill. I wanted to make the things that made me hurt pay for what they did. And it felt -good-. It felt cathartic to cause such pain, to maim and mangle and poison.

I... I don't like to dwell on this part. It makes me feel ill.

Thankfully, I remembered what was happening before a fatal blow was struck. And I was rightly horrified of what I did. The pen, the costume, everything disappeared in a flash as I tried to help them up, but they were terrified of me. Yelled at me to leave. So I did the only thing I could do : I ran home and locked myself in my room.

Don't throw up, don't throw up, don't throw up. Big gulps of air now, Eleanor...

I lay on my bed for hours just staring at the window. I couldn't sleep at all. I just kept going over the events in my head, feeling worse and worse with each iteration. I heard sirens in the distance at some point, and that made me cringe.

I plucked the soul gem from its gilding. It had started to get murky with that corruption I'd heard so much about from the weaselly little cat thing. This bauble was the source of my troubles, and he has specifically told me not to break it. So naturally I threw it against the wall as hard as I could.

It bounced off and landed on the floor, rolling along unharmed. I felt like I'd been the one hurled around, tears forming from my eyes as agony became my world for the next hour or so. Or maybe it was just minutes. I couldn't really tell, but it felt like a long time. The next brilliant idea I had was to run away, put everything behind me. And I made it as far as the end of the block before everything went black.

Next time I woke up, I was sitting in a chair in a very sterile office environment. I could feel something pressed into my hand: that soul gem I'd left back at the house. Right, the thing said not to get too far away from it or else you're like a puppet with your strings cut.

Speaking of, sitting behind a desk covered in some of the gaudiest decorations I've ever seen, was that fucking cat. I don't remember the specifics, because that fucker's voice gives me a headache just thinking about it, and I was in a daze at the time, but he welcomed me to the Eighth Officio, informed me that he owned me now, and that my folks were doing fine without me. That last part gave me some relief, since I was afraid I'd flat out killed them, but this wasn't what I'd signed up for, was it? I thought I'd be doing magical girl things.

Asshole said that's for the big girls. Thanks for making me feel self-conscious about my height, you shitlord.

Then he laid out my new job and its benefits : I'd be his paperwork-filling bitch, working each weekday from seven in the morning to nine at night, and get a thirty minute break between workloads to eat lunch if I was quick enough. All the documents would be in some kind of code or something because super secret sensitive information bullshit, I don't know why he wanted to do it. Probably because he's just an asshole.

For all of that, I'd make less than ten grand a year, would not get dental, and had to live in what was little more than a closet with a bed. At least I didn't have to fill out any forms or whatever, but I vehemently complained that it sounded inhumane. Smug fucker told me magical girls aren't humans anymore and I was little more than property. I tried to complain again, but he did something to the soul gem that made my insides boil until I agreed to the conditions.

I was put to work a few hours later. Had to actually climb up onto the chair I was given, it was so high up. There was a mountain of papers on the desk, far taller than myself even if I stood on my tiptoes. I remember pulling at one to get started and the entire thing came crashing down on me. Then darkness, then a bright flash, and... I guess I did my thing. I came out of trance so late that it was actually about time for the next workday. Holy shit, did I ache. Felt like I'd been posing as a statue and staring at the sun, everything fucking hurt.

Apparently the girls of the Eighth, as a whole, didn't like people who cry too loudly. Or too snottily. Or not loud enough for them to enjoy it. Or cry at all. In any case, over the next few days I learned the hard way that tears attracted some terrifying, vicious people that were more than willing to kick all the sad out of me. But since it didn't impede my work in any way, it was allowed. I don't think my complaining would change anything anyway. Not after what happened the first time.

As it turned out, just about every little ray of sunshine in that shithole was actually everything I was ever happy about, or even hopeful about, going up in flames.

For instance, trying to show up people that pick on you only works in movies. And giving yourself a new surname, because your family disowned you and you want to sound cool, is completely fucking retarded. Holy fucking shit, I thought I could actually beat them at basketball or something because I was a magical girl now. I thought I could be -good- at it because I was a magical girl now. Guess it somehow didn't register that they were, too. And that they were better at it than me. And even if I'd somehow won, they'd probably kick my ass anyway. And that no, you can't just go out and try to jam with the rest, that's breaking the whole secrecy thing or whatever, girl that's not even five feet tall dunking on some dude. That's the kind of moronic logic that a twelve year old, one who thinks they can magic things better, would have.

Godfuckingdammit why was I such a stupid fucking kid? I couldn't even handle being independent and had to go a whole month without food because I spent it on some video game or something that got stolen.

I actually accepted some kind of meal from a crazy girl that I'm pretty sure... No, it definitely had drugs in it. No other explanation for why we spent the weekend in her laboratory, "testing stimuli" or whatever to see what makes me go off. Television ads, DVD menus, fliers, newspapers, newspapers in television shows, magazines, books, computers, smart phones, crossword puzzles, word jumbles, comic books, character sheets... All of it set off the trance, like a dog chasing after a ball that you actually have hidden behind your back. Sometimes we revisited things with some minute adjustments that turned out to do nothing. Wearing glasses, for instance, didn't affect it at all. Really, I think she was just toying with me until it stopped being fun.

I was so tired by the end of it all that I just collapsed until I was dragged out and left in the hallway. Got a few precious minutes rest before I had to find my room.

Hell, getting food was a battle all its own even if I could pay for it. Kept getting chased down by scary characters with ridiculous weapons and even more ridiculous costumes. Nearly died when some girl almost sliced off my head with a scythe. Who the fuck uses a scythe?

Had to skimp on a lot of luxuries. Like pajamas and spare clothing. The soap I used kept crumbling and I had a hard time getting a grip on it. Almost certain I heard somebody call me Smelly Elly because of the shitty soap breaking before I was done using it. The cheap toothpaste didn't work, either. I had some pretty painful toothaches that would cost too much to look at, much less fill. Fucking weasel.

But I think my crowning achievement in stupidity while I was there, has to go to trying to kill myself through defenestration. As it turns out, no matter how far you fall, you're only going to break your legs, and not your soul gem. After that, they put a gate on the window that I wasn't able to budge, and I wasn't allowed outside.

The months went by with a tortuous slowness.

At one point things seemed to pick up. I got a chair that wasn't shit. It was actually very comfortable, and I wish I still had it. Then somebody started bringing me food and water during my breaks. And it was real food. Well, real fast food, anyway. It felt like an actual meal instead of just part of one. People were giving me a lot of room in the hallways instead of trying to knock me down, too. I thought that I might actually be able to live with myself.

The weasel rat bastard had other plans.

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus The Grind Part II[edit]

It was late Friday night when the weasel summoned me to his office and informed me that I wasn't needed anymore. Rather than retirement, I was going to be shipped out. From what I've been told, it's so that his brothers wouldn't find out that he fucked me up as bad as he did. I didn't understand it at the time, but I think he was counting on me witching out sometime after I arrived here.

So I had to gather my few worldly possessions for a one-way flight. And I had to be ready in a day.

It didn't take very long to pack, considering how few things I had : The aforementioned crummy soap and toothpaste; a toothbrush with the blue strip nearly worn away; a plastic hairbrush that couldn't straighten my frustratingly curly hair no matter how long I brushed; a couple sets of plain underwear, an old school uniform, and five socks that didn't match (thank you, thrift store); the stuff I wore when I was brought back here; a peppermint candy I was able to sneak out of the bowl in the lobby; one grief seed; all my remaining funds; and a plastic sack to put everything in.

That left me with a lot of free time that I didn't really know how to spend. I tried calling my house with a payphone - there wasn't a phone in my room - and heard my Dad pick up, but he hung up as soon as I started talking. So I just lay on my little mat and tried to sleep through the rest of the day. And when that didn't take, I started pacing around the room. Trying to tell myself that things would pick up out there, really.

At some point, I heard someone knocking at my door and figured it was time to report to the weasel shit. So I threw it open and growled "What?"

First thing I saw was a sack labeled Burger Suplex, same as the food I'd been getting all week. Second thing I saw was a milkshake with a similar label. Then a face partly concealed by a checkerboard scarf. And finally, a set of wide, tired eyes.

We just kind of stood there like that for a minute. I was kind of embarrassed, and a little bit nervous since I felt like I should say something. It took more effort than it should have for me to finally squeak out a "thanks" for the gesture. For really the first vaguely nice thing that'd happened to me in months.

She handed me the goods and murmured "yeah" before walking away. The scarf trailing behind her did look pretty cool.

Thinking about how much better that stuff tasted is making my stomach protest.

There wasn't any fanfare about my leaving the next morning. Just a message from that asshole cat weasel rabbit fucker to get to the black car outside right away. I wasn't planning on sticking around, so I rushed on out to the car in question. Just wanted to get it over with.

There was something wrapped up in soggy plastic paper waiting for me. I did up my seat belt before unwrapping my gift. It was food. An unholy fusion of egg, bacon, and muffin, and absolutely delicious. Especially since I hadn't had anything resembling breakfast in months.

The front and back seats were separated by a partition - I guess to keep the crazies from attacking the driver - so instead of seeing where I was going, I kept myself entertained by looking out the back window and swinging my feet. Watching the city fall behind right up to the airport.

I had the paper crumpled up in one hand and my little bag of things in the other as the car pulled to a stop. I unbuckled myself and got out, waiting for somebody - maybe the driver, maybe a person waiting here - to walk me through this whole "immigrating" thing. I'm pretty sure I'd need a passport or something like that which I didn't already have. And I certainly can't afford my own flight with this pocket change.

The car drove off as soon as I was out, so it's not them. I scan the drop-off area to find some sign of where to go. I thought I may have been stranded there intentionally.


How'd she do that? I could have sworn she wasn't there earlier. But a few feet away, the same lady I met last night beckoned me over. Her other hand was carrying a paper sack.

After tossing my wrapper into the first trash bin I could find, I followed after her like I was on a goddamn leash. Neither of us said much of anything to each other. Again, I didn't really know what to say here, since I already thanked her last night. I must have looked like a star-struck little kid following around her big sister. Really freaking embarrassing.

It wasn't until she reached the point of no return that she spoke, murmuring, "...Hey. ...You got a shitty deal. ...We could have helped, and we just piled more on."

I couldn't deny that, so I just nodded along. But she's the only one who made any effort to make things suck less for me. That counts for something.

She handed me the sack, which had a passport sticking out the top. I took that out and carried the two bags with my other hand.

"Eightball's trying to hush things up," she explained, sounding pretty bitter, "and it's gonna work. ...But we'll see what we can do."

The lady awkwardly waved goodbye to me, and I returned it even more awkwardly, since I had my hands full. After customs confiscated my shampoo for being too big, I had to hurry to join the rest of the passengers before the plane took off.

The lady in the checkered scarf had pulled some strings. That's what I gathered from finding out I was sitting in first class. It was a commercial airliner, so I wasn't alone, but it meant my lunch was paid for. With nobody seated next to me I had plenty of leg room and a window seat, so I was feeling pretty good, all things considered.

I let the plastic bag containing my worldly possessions drop into the empty seat. I wanted to see what was in the gift bag that lady handed me - the one that bore the emblem of the Eighth. Also settled on something less awkward to refer to her as : "Checkers".

I think it was a care package, or something close to one that was thrown together at a moment's notice due to how sudden my departure was. Beneath the hastily added tissue paper were a few small, non-perishable foodstuffs; a lot of chocolate; an extra grief seed; one of those posters with a cat holding on to a branch with the inspiring caption of "hang in there"; and a card with a phone number on it. Curious, but not something I could do anything about right now. The phone in my cabin - I didn't know they even had those - cost more money than I could really afford.

The flight really wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated. Maybe because I slept through most of it. The seat, after the flight attendant gave me a blanket, was comfortable than my bed back at the Officio, so that probably helped.

I wasn't awake at the time the plane touched down, but the stewardess told me it was time to leave. Which is a shame, because having regular meals and a cozy place to sleep was something that I could get used to. I thanked her for waking me, and for the blanket, and the other things that made the trip bearable, and gathered my things.

It was getting dark out when I arrived. I wasn't sure where I was supposed to go at first, since I'd never had to fly on my own before. I had everything on my person, so I didn't need to go to baggage claim. My original intention was to wander aimlessly through the airport for a few hours - maybe if they don't find me, they'll give up and go home - but I was found as soon as I stepped out of the gate. I was enthusiastically greeted by somebody with a toothy smile, who inquired if I was indeed "Eleanor". I guess I could have lied, but I'm almost sure that they could tell I was lying by how I taste or some other bullshit. Hunting you down seems to be one of their specialties.

Fuck, I hope that tea-guzzler doesn't find my office. I don't think I could do anything if she cornered me in here.

After the introductions were over - I didn't bother to remember her name - she drove me out to the Officio and kept trying to make conversation, getting only short mumbles from me. I wasn't used to being awake at... Whatever time it was back home. I just got the spiel about being welcomed to Australia, and the Sixth, and Warmaster Russ and Incubator whatshisface send their regards even if they're too busy to meet with you, and things would mostly be the same. Except that they didn't have an office ready for me yet, so I had to work in a supply closet until then. After that I was given a room key for their on-site residence and had the rest of the day to get set up.

I had something that could be called a room now. It was small, but it was an actual room instead of a glorified storage space. And the landline didn't have a money slot, so I assumed it was complimentary. I fished the card out of Checkers' gift, and then dialed the number. I thought I might have to pay for long distance, but I was patched through just the same.

Turns out I got Checkers' cell phone number. The rest of my night was her asking if everything was okay, and that the presents were from all of them, and apologizing about that weasel, and reassuring me that things would be okay, and giving me all kinds of tips. Like how I had dental now. And how Australia doesn't have some of the candies I really liked back in America. And that if I needed anything I should call or leave a message. And that was all the time she had right now, good night.

Next day I had a map posted to my door that directed me to my new life. I managed to not get lost somehow, but I remember feeling nauseous the first time I stepped into that supply closet. It smelled really fucking awful, and I had a headache around lunchtime.

I got surrounded by curious cats and nosy dogs, trying to ask me personal questions. The name "Crunchberry" was tossed around, and it seems to have stuck. That was my cue to get the fuck away from them, and I was chased all the way back to the "office". Sometimes they still show up and do it again, and I wish they'd just fuck off.

I got better at managing my money while here, and was able to save up enough to buy a video game console and a small television. When that didn't fill the void, I started buying candy every week. Checkers wasn't always available on weekdays, so we decided that specific times on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night would be the designated "only really good thing I have left to look forward to" period. I don't really consider her a friend even now. More like... I don't know, something else. Somebody to confide in and admire and wish you got to do normal things with.

Back then, I had mixed feelings about moving out here. Now, though... Now I'm really homesick.

Somebody's knocking at the door, so I guess that's enough reminiscing for one day. I hope the tea-guzzling bitch didn't find me.

"May I come in?" a polite voice inquires. I give an affirmative noise, and my afternoon workload is pushed in on a little trolley. I look at it with dread as the door shuts.

The trance kicking in doesn't do anything to cover the pain of writing with burns on your hand. Shit shit shit shit shit that hurts.

This feels like it's gonna be a slow loss of self. So I have to suffer through this fuckawful pain for a bit longer.

To summarize, my options now are to wait for Checkers and her friends to get me out of here, get into a different line of work, or turn into a witch. And Fuckface's antics are pushing me firmly into the third one. I can only hope nobody gets injured too badly when that happens.

Oh... Right, I almost forgot. Should get this out of the way.

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear Eleanor... I wish I had cake.

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam and Magical Assassin Wendy Cooldown[edit]

Today is a good day. And not just because it's a lazy Saturday afternoon.

The last couple weeks weren't so great, though. Fuckface kept popping in during my lunch breaks with these weird questions. I only allowed it at first because she brought food, but when I cut my mouth trying to swallow tomato soup with powdered glass in it, I wouldn't touch anything she gave me. Not even cake and ice cream.

It was really annoying, having to answer her retarded inquiries. And she kept shoving her own opinion into them. She'd ask where I came from, then blurt out that she grew up in Japan after moving from the States. Fuckface really loved to talk about herself, and ended up chatting through my break.

So she came back tomorrow with the same question. I said California and she went away.

She barged in again the next day and asked what I liked, then made the same mistake as before. The day after, I told her video games and sweet things, and she yelled something about using money from her giant robot fund. Later that night, I found a big new television in my room that didn't have the right connectors for the game console. The sentiment was nice, but what the fuck am I gonna do with it?

At this point she started keeping her answers brief. When she asked how I'd hope to die - who asks that sort of thing? - Fuckface exclaimed she wanted to explode into hellfire that kills two Walpurgisnachts at the same time. Checkers informed me later that such a thing is beyond impossible, and fucking retarded.

My response : "Painlessly, and soon". Shut her right up.

Last I saw her was Thursday, where she asked what I wanted. Other than her going away, I informed her that what I'd like is for everything to stop sucking. To never have to do any of this secretary bullshit ever again.

Yesterday was a good day, too. And not just because Fuckface didn't bug me.

Because Checkers finally came to visit!

Well, her and some other people as part of goodwill talks or something. I think one of them was the Warmaster? She was kind of loud, but she brought me this really good apple pie.

Checkers volunteered to keep watch over me or something like that. She said she was ducking out of having to take part in the negotiations. Totally understandable.

I'd never had a real slumber party before, and I don't think Checkers had, either, but I imagine it would be something like what we did last night. We had a pizza delivered to my room, and it didn't have any trace of whatever Fuckface put on the stuff she tried to force on me. There was only the cheese. So much goddamn cheese! We skipped pillowfighting due to lack of a good bed for it, and because Checkers said the Eversors around here could probably smell a battle from fifty feet away. "And you don't pillow fight with Eversors, kid," was her sage advice on the matter. "They'll shove their weapons in the damn thing." So none of that, then.

And Checkers brought the adapter for the television like she promised, and a controller to replace the one Fuckface broke, -and- some titles I hadn't played before. That meant not just video games, but two player M-rated video games with Checkers! It was a bloody good time, and the content restricted stuff was everything I'd hoped it would be.

And after that I tried styling her hair while she talked about her assignments and assassinations. It sounded scary, but they sounded like bad people. As it turns out, I'm not very good at styling hair, and after a few swears from Checkers, settled on leaving it undone until she bothered to put it back into pigtails. She assured me she wasn't mad, so everything was okay.

And now we're lazing the day away in bed, because we were up alllll night. Which is fine. It's definitely fine. The important thing is that before the day ends I'll be out of here.

Heehee... So long Australia, I'm almost gonna miss you.

My heart almost jumped out of my chest when I heard the knock on the door. Checkers was the first one to respond, growling "It's not locked."

The door was thrown open, and Checkers groaned, "Oh, it's Crazy Cunt."

That can only mean one person. I immediately retreated back beneath the covers and hoped she didn't notice me. Not her. Not here. Not now. Please just go away, you'll ruin everything.

"Cooldowwwwn!" Fuckface cried out, "Why? Why do you cower in the dank darkness while the sun is out and I'm about? Why do you not SEIZE the day and make it YOURS?" WHY is she here? "And I don't believe those are your pajamas." They were new ones from when we went shopping earlier, fuck you.

Checkers grumbles sleepily, "The day's already mine. In here. What do you want?"

"A GIIIIIANT FIGHTING ROBOT, WITH LASERS AND MISSILES AN-" What the hell is she even talking about? "Oh, at this moment? I saw the door was closed and deduced Slam was still sleeping soundly. Why're -you- here?" That doesn't explain anything. I curl into a fetal position and will her to leave.

"Maybe she's dead. Or she left." Checkers continues to distract Fuckface from finding me, stating, "...And I WAS sleeping you crazy whore."

But Fuckface is persistent. "That is simply NOT POSSIBLE, or else the seal I -painstakingly- placed on her door last night would be BROKEN."


"The fuck are you talking about?" mutters Checkers.

Fuckface stomps on over, declaring, "No time! I must find her, and YOU are coming with me!" Wait, don't do that-

I throw off the sheet as I hear them struggling, murmuring, "Leave her alone..."

Checkers looks mad, and whispers, "Dumbshit, I was trying to cover for you."

I whisper right back, "I wouldn't inflict her on anyone." Nobody deserves to be stuck with Fuckface, least of all her.

Grabbing me by the arm, the overeager Fuckface yanks me out of bed, yelling loudly, "COME ON, we're wasting daylight! For we are going on a WITCH HUNT!"

""What? No,"" Checkers and I both deadpan in unison. Fuckface just lost any and all goodwill I might have had towards her. A witch hunt? Going after giant abominations of hate and despair? Fuck this. I don't want any part of it.

"YYYYYESSS!" she exclaims, having none of our objections to her insanity. "The -sheer stress- of a life or death situation will awaken her LATENT POWER, with which she will PULVERIZE the opposition, and earn a FAR BETTER position as an Eversor, and thus a HIGHER STANDARD OF LIVING!" So reasons the asshole hauling us out of the room and off towards certain doom. This is a bad idea that's going to get us all killed. Or at least me; pretty sure Checkers and Fuckface aren't killable. I don't want to be killed. At least I think I don't want to be killed...

"But she's already-stop dragging me," Checkers growls, a kitchen knife manifesting in her hand. I'd be concerned if it was anybody else wielding it, or anybody else on the receiving end. "How the fuck are you so retard strong?!"

And Fuckface... Slows down and comes to a stop? She stopped. She stopped running. She just stopped running.

"Nnnn... FINE!" is our party crasher's response. Her face looks pained, like it contradicts her very nature, but I can feel her grip slack. She's actually letting us go!

Holy crap, Checkers, you're amazing. How did you do that, that was awesome. You got Fuckface to actually listen to you.

"I was told I should attempt to compromise, and so I ACQUIESCE to your demands!" Yes. Yes. Yes! Do that! Acquiesce away! Far, far away from us. Hell, I'll even take you off my shitlist for this, Fuckface. This is turning out to be a good day after-

Nonononononono don't do that! Stop doing that! Don't pick me up! Don't put me on your shoulders! I'm not a child you chicken shit! Let me go! Bad day alert! Code red! Defcon 1! RAISE THE "I'M GONNA FUCKING DIE" ALERT!

"Put me down, put me down, put me down, please put me down now!" I wail, clutching onto her head for dear life. I don't want to fall!

Fuckface, that awful Fuckface, has Checkers in both arms in a princess carry, looking -every bit- the evil villain who is abducting us that she is. Like a goddamn pirate. "And now, it is Crunch Time!" Fuckface declares. "Which to the uninitiated such as yourself means, in this instant, RUNNING AT FULL SPEED AAAAAAHAHAHAHAAA!" FUCK I ALMOST FELL! The bitch runs down the halls and towards a FUCK DON'T YOU DARE DO THAT! DO NOT JUMP OUT THAT WINDOW YOU HORRIBLE FUCKFACE!

Checkers raises her knife and screams, "I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL FIND SOME PART OF YOU I CAN STAB AND I WILL OPEN YOU UP!" She tries to stab at our kidnapper. The knife just dinks against Fuckface's skin without leaving any mark at all. I fucking knew it.

And Captain Fuckface laughs it off, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER MY BLOOD BOILING WITH PASSIOOOOOON!" Your brains are boiling you crazy cunt! Stop and think about this! Or -don't-, since you clearly lack the capacity to do so! Just leave Checkers out of it!

"Put her down pleeeeeease..." I beg, but my plea fails to elicit any response from the crazy bitch.

Checkers looks up at me with indignation and a severe frown, unable to wrench herself free from Fuckface's firm grip on her. "PAPERS," she screeches as Fuckface launches herself through the open window, "HOW IS SHE SO RETARD STRONG?"

"Welcome to my world," I murmur, squeezing my eyes shut as I experience the familiar sensation of hurtling towards the ground.


Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus The Witch[edit]

I spent the last few hours tuning out everything happening around me and trying to find my Happy Place. I don't think I have one at this point. Goddamn Fuckface. I'm not opening my eyes if -you- tell me it's safe to do so. Safe for you isn't safe for me, I'll take blissful ignorance over-

"May as well, kid," Checkers reassures me. So I guess it's fine now. It takes a bit for everything to come back into focus, but when it does...

What the hell am I looking at?

Dan Kim - vsWitch1.png

All around me are desks. School desks, work desks, desks that usually go by a name I can't remember off the top of my head. They're freaking everywhere. Most of the ground is composed of them packed together really tightly, and the terrain is really uneven. There's desks forming little barriers, desks strewn around...

There's desks piling up to the pitch black sky. That is a lot of desks.

Wait, the sky's black and starless. How can I see anything? Is that... Is it snowing?

I get a better look around and freeze up when I catch sight of a sheet of paper with writing on it. What does this have to do with witches?

...Why's my trance not triggering? What the fuck-

Fuckface forcibly lowers me to the ground before I can muse any further. She's released her grip on me, which means I could run... But I don't want to leave Checkers stranded with her. What does she want?

Throwing her arms wide, Fuckface announces, "BEHOLD, the witch's barrier!" while Checkers shoots her a dirty look. She goes into some spiel about how this place is the mental landscape of a magical girl before she became a witch. It's... It's very depressing to hear. I mean, I'd heard about it before. That witches are magical girls who used too much magic or lost all hope, but actually being here, in the lair of what used to be a girl like me...

"But first," Fuckface's voice rings clear, "you MUST get into costume!" I guess even Checkers is in uniform now, but...

"But I -like- my cozy new pa-" I realize halfway through that Fuckface really won't take "no" for an answer, and sigh in resignation. "...Fine." A little flash of light later and I'm suited up in this ridiculous getup - Weasel shit ought to be in jail for how much this thing exposes. Then Fuckface hands me some kind of spear; I thought she wanted me to summon my own weapon or something?

"This is an EMERGENCY MEASURE!" she yells, making my ears ring. I guess I don't have to ask anymore, and it feels... Okay-ish in my grip. I dunno, I'm not an expert on weapons. It does feel reassuring to hold something, though, and I don't want to look like a scared little kid by clutching Checkers' hand the entire way.

Fuckface leads us on, with Checkers bringing up the rear. Maybe she was considering breaking me out of here... No, she looks every bit as defeated as me. Goddammit, Fuckface, you're gonna FOR FUCK'S SAKE PUT ME DOWN YOU-

Something loudly crashes to the ground behind me, followed by the sound of metal grinding on metal a ways up. I turn to look, and find that the way back is blocked by a landslide of desks. If I'd still been standing there...

"...Checkers?" I call out, realizing that she's not with us anymore. If you let her be crushed under that pile, Fuckface, I will NEVER-

"Not dead," she calls back. "Gimme a minute, not leaving you alone with-" There's a shift in the wreckage before another landslide (deskslide?) triggers, and Checkers screams profanities as her voice gets closer and closer. I try to wrench out of Fuckface's grip, but it's pointless - both struggling against her and trying to help Checkers get over here. Fuckface insists, "She'll be fine, trust me!"

The pile gives one last violent shudder before its peak topples toward me. Fuckface pulls me out of the way again as Checkers rides down the debris.

She stomps on ahead of us and growls, "Let's get this over with." Fuckface laughs and lets me go, taking the lead again.

I'd swear we were lost at several points. Captain Fuckface kept leading us on, and the path all around us kept falling over and trying to crush us. It was scary the first few times, but after the fifth time it started to feel like something of a farce. At least Checkers didn't get separated from us again.

Speaking of, she apparently had the same idea as me. She'd stopped our guide to chew her out for getting us lost. I took the opportunity to look around at this bleak hellscape. Other than the desks, there were some weird, spiny projections that crowned the top of the towering piles. They were covered in tar or something like that. I can't get a very good view of it, though; it gets blurry from this distance and I have to squint.

Either there's another tower falling, or Fuckface is really goddamn handsy today, because she just grabbed me by the waist. And has Checkers scooped up in her other arm? And there's some kind of thick line of something like tape that's-

Out of freaking NOWHERE, there's a strong lurch as though I'm on a goddamn roller coaster, and I can't feel the ground beneath my feet anymore. The wind just blew my ridiculous hat off. What the hell-

Are we flying? I can see that we're soaring above the ground, so we're airborne. So how- Wait, we're tethered to that... Sword?


FUCK! I don't care if you stuck the landing, I'm feeling dizzy from the sudden adrenaline rush and... FUCKING HELL! Just... FUCK, you didn't even warn me!

Fuckface isn't even acknowledging my scowl, and set me on the ground like a goddamn garden gnome. There's a big crater where that sword landed, and I don't know how we avoided falling into that hole. All the dust in the air makes me sneeze.

Checkers seems to be alright; less shaken than me, but she's not really paying attention to that shithead.

Dan Kim - vsWitch2.png

We're surrounded by... Things. Flat outlines of creatures in blocks of green, more of them slipping out of the tiny spaces between the desks that made up the landscape. Some of them look like people, menacing us with swords and axes, but the majority are very beastly in appearance. Freaking wolves and spiders and shit. All of them move as though they were skipping through time, like something out of an old video game.

I realize now that I was no longer holding the spear. I... I think I dropped it when Fuckface catapulted us over here. "Checkers..." I murmur, clutching her sweater sleeve as I try to hide behind her. I don't want to look helpless in front of her, but I really am right now. Dammit, I can't do anything to help...

"...Hey Crazy Cunt," Checkers growls again, some kind of kitchen knife in her hand, "You just gonna stand here?"

"Indeed!" Fuckface yells right back, sword somehow back in her hand, "The POINT of this exercise is-"

"The POINT," Checkers interrupts, waving her knife angrily at the things that are closing in, "was to have her kill a witch, right? This shit is your problem."

Fuckface just... Stands then and scratches her head - how come she still has her hat? "You're being awfully demanding today, Cooldown... But FINE!" she barks, hefting that stupidly large sword. "Now OBSERVE, Slam, what it is that you should STRIVE to be : an Eversor of INCREDIBLE MIGHT!"

Fuckface charges away and cries out like some kind of wild animal. The... familiars, I think the word is, start dying in droves as she hacks them into pieces. If there's something she's good at, it's drawing attention; everything seemed to be trying to swarm her, with limited success. There's no blood, though. They seem to be full of large candy sprinkles. Weird.

Checkers leads me away from the carnage, whispering, "Don't eat that stuff, kid. It'll mess you up." It's hard to tell where we came from, but I think Checkers was herding me back that way. Now was as good a time as any to try and escape from Fuckface.

Suddenly everything goes dark. A scrap of paper just frigging hit me in the face. Why the fuck... No, this isn't the time to explode. This is nothing. I just remove it from my face and toss it away... After reading it. I'm a little curious as to what kind of stuff would be on a page that doesn't trigger my trance.

The writing's pretty... Jagged, I guess. Like hasty, angry scribbles. Really hard to make out...


...What the fuck.

What the flying fuck is this? What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck? WHAT THE FUCK?

"Move it, Papers!" Checkers hisses at me, "That fuckwad's gonna finish up her murder spree real soon..."

I didn't even realize I'd stopped moving. But fuck. What the fuck? How the fuck? What is this?


I hold up the note for her to see, my voice trembling a little as I spoke. "This... rant," I try to explain, "it's... It's something I said the other day, but... Angrier. More... Murderous."

"...'Fuck the Sixth! Fuck the Eighth! Fuck Incubators! Fuck magical girls! Fuck all of this! I'll kill them! They're all gonna fucking die like the dogs they are!'" Checkers puts the note down and sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose while explaining, "Christ, kid, that doesn't mean any-"

"HEY!" Fuckface interrupts, covered in candy confetti a short distance from us. "That's the WRONG WAY! We've got witches to waste! Come ON Slam, a better life awaits you just up ahead!"

Better life would be one without you in it.

...Fuck, what does it mean? It doesn't seem like something remotely possible, but... Fuck. This is really starting to creep me the fuck out...

We traverse back through the spot where the fight erupted earlier, taking the long route around the crater. The remains of those sprite-monsters litter the ground, along with any candy sprinkles didn't fall into the crevices.

Turns out we'd landed in a valley, so that means hiking out through the only area that was remotely climbable : a steep incline made of stacked chairs and desks. Fuckface tests it by going first, and the whole thing collapses on her, stopping a few feet from Checkers and myself. I don't find it as funny as Checkers, though I put on a little smile to keep up appearances.

Fuckface emerges after forcing her way out, and doesn't look any worse for wear. I guess I could have indulged myself earlier, but it's too late now.

We don't have a way forward anymore, but we also don't have a way back. And I really don't want to get hurled through the air like that again. I don't know what, if anything, Fuckface is thinking, but she's staring at Checkers expectantly. I look to her as well, wondering if she has something.

"Oh, for--" Checkers groans in irritation, before she pulls out a broom - did she always have that with her - and holds it out. "Get on." Fuckface gets on in front, I get on in back, Checkers sit in the middle. I didn't question why, I just assume she knows what she's doing.

As soon as I feel my feet leave the ground again, I clutch onto Checkers like a friggin' albatross, which made her yelp. I murmur an apology without moving at all - because I don't want to fall. We're flying, we're actually freaking flying. Though I've got my eyes shut again, because I don't want to throw up while Checkers is watching.

"Good thinking," Fuckface praises - of course it's good thinking! Even a moron like you could see that. There's some shift in movement before pirate bitch girl announces, "As I suspected, our destination is right THERE!" My stomach lurches as we quickly descend.

I hope this ends soon.

I don't let go until I feel firm ground beneath my feet again. I pull myself off of Checkers and open my eyes again.

We're surrounded by high walls on all sides, covered in something brown. Looks like the floor is made of the same material. It feels... Spongy as I walk on it, like a giant cake. Checkers and I are following behind Fuckface, who just used that ribbon-tape-whatever from earlier to pull some familiars away from a giant, spiny ball. It looked like they were attacking it for whatever reason, but now they're a twinkle in the dark, dark sky.

"Eleanor Abbot Slam, step forward!" Fuckface barks out. I look at Checkers, who responds with a shrug, before timidly walking forward. "Your task now is to engage the witch," Fuckface explains, pacing in front of us with her stupid sword resting against her shoulder. "Though it WILL be perilous, know that WE, BOTH Cooldown and myself, are RIGHT BEHIND YOU, ready to STEP IN at a moment's notice if things go pear-shaped." Then you do it, Fuckface. I'm not even armed.

Still, it's reassuring to have two people here that are strong enough to bail me out. Even if this whole thing is a stupid idea. I might actually survive this.

My legs are trembling as I approach the spiky mass. As I get closer, I can almost make out some details on it. The spikes, for instance, are flat, rather than conical, and have little holes near the top. The points are silvery in color, while the rest is a copper. Or bronze. I don't have much experience with different metals.

It's about twenty to thirty feet from the thing that I start to smell something familiar. Or rather, I become aware of something I've smelled all along since I got here. It was there before, but I didn't really notice because I was used to the scent. Now, though, now the scent is strong, strong enough that it makes me dizzy.

It's ink. Leaking out of those spines... No, nibs. Those are pen nibs. Those are freaking pen nibs.

Dan Kim - vsWitch3.png

The mass shivers, then lazily uncurls itself like a pillbug. The entire thing reveals itself to be a giant head, the nub spine things everywhere but its face and hair. The nubs look much... Spikier, somehow. Like they're being extended. The witch's dull amber eyes swivel in their sockets to focus on me. Its lips curl into a confused pout.

Its face is mine. Right down to being framed by wiry lavender curls.

I'm looking at me.

We just... Stare at each other. I'm... I don't know what to do. I can't kill another me. I just can't.

And all this time, the thing has been completely silent. Not a sound coming from it, not even from its movement. And I haven't heard anything from Fuckface or Checkers. It's so quiet I can hear myself breathing.

The witch breaks the silence first, by opening wide and crying out. Its wail of rage and sadness sounding exactly like me. At first. Then it... Everything erupts in ink. It cries tears of ink, its maw drips with ink, its spines... So much ink it makes me nauseous just-

Fuck. FUCK!

It shouldn't have been able to clear the distance as fast as it just did, but one moment I had plenty of room, next it's just inches from my face! How the fuck-

My entire body shudders with fear, and my legs give out on me. I can vaguely hear shouting over the sound of my heart pounding, as I bring my arms up to... That's not going to do a damn thing to stop it. I don't feel any better at conjuring a weapon than I did yesterday, I just want to run and forget this ever happened.

But I can't. I can't move my legs at all. And as it opens wide to take a bite out of my head with its ink-stained teeth, I realize... I'm going to die here.

...This isn't fair. I'm going to die by my own witch. None of this is fair at all.

There's a weird pressure of something wrapping around my left arm, and I feel myself yanked away as the witch snaps its mouth shut. I feel off-balance after that.

...I can't feel my other arm.

"Jesus, Papers..."

I think that's Checkers talking. I don't know. There's a loud buzzing in my head as I'm looking at the stump where my arm was, which feels... Warm.

I'm too panicked to panic any more. Now I just feel... Really numb. And tired.

"This was a mistake... This was a HUGE mistake."

So tired. So fucking tired.

"Well no shit!"

It's... It's not bleeding too much anymore. I got some of it on Checkers, though.

"Look at her soul gem! Did -you- bring any grief seeds?"

I guess... It doesn't really hurt too much, either. I've had stuff that hurt worse.

"...Oh fuck! Don't you witch out on me, kid."

I slowly turn to look up at Checkers, my vision growing misty. Past her, the witch-me rests in two separate, burning halves, its insides gushing out like a fountain. Fuckface's sword looks house-sized from here.

Deep breaths. Deep, wheezing breaths. It's over.

My voice croaks as I speak, but I have to know, "That was... Me, wasn't it?"

Checkers can't look me in the eye when she murmurs into her scarf, "...Yeah. "

...Fuck. I think I'm crying. I'm crying and sobbing when I ask, "Isn't this too much?" before coughing up snot all over her sweater. Things are so fucking bad and now they're gonna get worse because I'm crying. They always get worse when I cry. For me, for whatever I care about. It always gets worse when I cry. Every time.

"I-I know I'm... I'm not good," I confess. "I've been a-a-a terrible person. I'm, I'm really bad and... And I deserve bad things."

And now Checkers and Fuckface are... Bad things are gonna happen to us all. Because I'm weak, and I'm crying.

"Papers..." Checkers tries to console me, and I -want- to be consoled. I -want- everything to be okay.

But I... I just can't fucking stop. I can't fucking stop myself from crying.

"Do... Do I really deserve all this?"

I can't fucking take it. I... I just can't fucking take this.

...And then, mercifully, everything goes black...

Dan Kim - vsWitch4.png

Magical Assassin Wendy Cooldown versus The Great Sage of the Outback Leman Russ[edit]

After the fucking debacle Crazy Cunt put her through, I was astonished Papers was still with us. Still…all there. Mostly there, anyway. More there than most people’d be, facing down their own witch. Let alone on their first witch hunt. She’d be a hero, in a better Officio. …Not ours, but not this outback hell on the asshole of the world, either. They were treating this like it was nothing. A brief stop in medical, enough to get her patched up and a few extra seeds as a precaution, then…

Well, I brought her back to her room. She didn’t need to be badgered and questioned after that. I knew Mary’d use it as a springboard for our negotiation; we’d all agreed this was neglect of the highest order – sending a fresh-faced noncombatant rookie into a barrier without so much as a real support team was practically murdering her. She was damn lucky Crunch could take that witch out as fast as she did, because I sure as shit couldn’t, and luckier that the grief seed was enough to get her back to the Officio.

…Someone had to look after her, though, and I volunteered instantly. I wanted to make sure Crunch didn’t fucking touch her after that stunt. Well, that, and I was sure I’d shove my knife through Leman Russ’s smug fucking face if she tried to handwave this. Last I talked with Annie, she looked like she was pretty close, too, and she LIKED Russ.

Elly’d been up for a few minutes now, looking all the world like death on two pudgy legs. Didn’t have an ounce of color in her anymore, and every time she’d open her mouth to try and talk, she couldn’t manage anything but a hiccup. Good thing I kept candy stashed away in my inventory (usually for Lily, sometimes for Annie or Nakajima) to take the edge off with; I got up a couple of minutes ago for just long enough to move to the other side of her bed, where she still had a hand to hold, and she made this terrified little noise, like a cat choking on a hairball.

It’d be cute on any other day.

Her hand squeezed mine again. It was…tiny, way too small, and it felt so frail right then. She kept glancing down to the stump where her arm used to be. Kid didn’t deserve this – any of this, not what we did to her, not what the Sixth did to her. Not what that crazy sword bitch did to her especially. Fuck. Just thinking about it made me want to stab a fucking lovehole in everybody in Australia. I was smarter than that, but shit. It might have been worth it.

…Footsteps in the hall. Soft ones, but there was no hesitation in them. I think the kid heard them too; she bit down on the sucker I’d given her, and her nails dug into my hand. Just as I expected, they stopped outside the door. Papers shot me a look, as if she were begging me to stop whatever was coming next.

“Fuck off!” I hissed at…yeah. I was pretty sure I knew who it was already. Wasn’t Vagina Spiders, she was louder, when she didn’t need to sneak around. Wasn’t Crunch or the door would be off its hinges already. Her Majesty had no reason to visit Papers, and since we’d made this incident into the lynchpin of our proposal…

“I’ll never quite understand you Americans. People call us a lot of nasty things, but even we typically start with ‘Please, come in’, or at very least ‘How you goin’?’” She knocked (as if it made a fucking difference) and let herself in, smoothly closing the door behind her, and gave me a small, mischievous smile that made my heart skip a beat (entirely against my will).

The Great Sage of the Outback Leman Russ was small and slender, almost frail. Silky red-brown hair fanned out behind her as she walked, and settled evenly around her as she sat next to me on the bed. I didn’t leave much room for her; I wanted to stay between the kid and these sheepfuckers for as long as I could. The air filled with an indescribable sent, a wild, fresh smell that I’d been told reminded Mary of her and Annie's hometown, minus some cow shit. Elly wrinkled her nose and turned away a bit. Seemed to be bugging her, too.

…It was hard to put into words the significance Russ seemed to give a room, but I’d been told before that that was, like, the most basic trait of a good Warmaster. It was a damn accomplishment, when you’re half-dog or…whatever the hell she was. …Her dress looked like it cost half my monthly salary, too. Five digits easy.

“How are you feeling, Eleanor?” The kid peeked out at her Warmaster and her lips parted. …There was a second of hesitation, then her nails dug into my hand all over again.. …She tried to take the sucker out with the hand that wasn’t there anymore, if I had to guess. I shot Russ a look.

“Your fucking retard rank leader almost killed her, almost definitely crippled her. Permanently. Does she look alright to you?” I growled, and Russ just nodded, as if she’d barely heard what I said. Smug fuck.

“She’ll need a new arm, then, and her leg…did she injure it in the barrier? The medical team mentioned she’d cracked her shin. It’s going to be hard for her to run until it’s healed properly.” …Running really wasn’t something Papers did. Except...away. She was pretty good at running away.

“One of your girls fucked up her leg. And we’ve already got plans to deal with it. All of it. Back in Santa Destroy.” I emphasized that last bit, in case she didn’t get the fucking message.

“I’m sure you do.” Again with that condescending tone. “And do you have a Culexus?”

“…Why do we need a Culexus?” I had to fight to keep my knife out of my hand already.

“For Eleanor’s sake, we’d like to wipe her memory of that…incident. You understand the severity of coming into contact with one’s own witch, of course.” Aaand I lost it. Lost the fight, felt one hand curled around an old, wooden handle as Papers squeaked and clutched the other. As if she wasn’t shaking enough already.

“You’re gonna scramble her fucking brain? No, this conversation is fucking over. We’re taking her. Now. “ I started to stand, and Elly followed suit, leaning on me.

Russ’s eyes flicked to my knife, but only for a moment. She just sighed.

“You may be willing to start a war over this, Miss Cooldown, but I’m not. I will not, however, allow you to just walk away with her.” I looked down at Elly. …Don’t even think she knew what was going on. She just wanted to be out of here. She never asked for any of this. She winced as she shifted her weight again, and I eased her back down onto the bed.

“If there are no further complications – and that’s still an ‘if’ at this point – we’re willing to offer her a memory wipe, if she chooses. Is that more acceptable? Giving her the choice?” Her eyes narrowed just slightly, and I felt a chill in the air. That much, at least, Elly didn’t seem to pick up. I sunk down on the bed next to her.

“…Yeah. But she’s…” I squeezed my knife, then dismissed it. ...She was a kid. Would she even know if she could live with that kind of memory? …I’d met a handful of people that had dealt with their own witches, and you had to be made of some pretty strong shit to walk away intact.

“She’s a member of the Sixth, Miss Cooldown.” Her tone shifted. It was colder, now. Commanding. It matched her new expression flawlessly. …It sounded better coming from her than the distant kindness she’d been showing, though. At least it wasn’t vaguely insulting. “It hasn’t escaped my notice that you’ve been doing nothing but coddle her since you got here.” The Warmaster’s tail swished behind her, and for a moment, I was a rabbit in front of a wolf. I glared back as steady as I could.

…I’d split her fucking stomach if she gave me a reason. She knew it, too. Not sure if I could have taken her in a fight, but I was already making a plan. Don’t doubt for a second that she was, too.

“Do you really think she’ll be better off rotting in the Eighth, Miss Cooldown?” Her eyes were a deep red, more natural than Annie’s or Miss Marigold’s. Staring down Leman Russ was like staring down nature itself.

“We’re not gonna let that happen again. What happened before was…disgusting, and we’re not letting our little shitcubator pull that ever again.” It was all too easy to get pulled into her rhythm. I found my own tone evening out, even as every muscle in my body was coiled, ready to rip her throat out.

“That isn’t what I mean. Do you really think a pretty cage full of sweets and video games is going to be any better for her?” I couldn’t read her. Not at all, and it made me edgy. She didn’t seem angry. Didn’t seem upset. Just…steely. Entirely sure of herself. Like she walked in and owned the both of us.

“Better than Crazy Cunt. You know. The reason she doesn’t have a goddamn arm right now.” Least it was easy to stay pissed.

“This isn’t about Crunch, this is about Slam. The reason I’m hesitant to let her go with you isn’t that I’m worried she’ll end up overworked and broken, it’s that I’m worried you won’t push her at all. For an Officio that claims to be full of cold-blooded assassins-”

“Oh fuck off, the kid’s traumatized.” If Papers hadn’t been clinging to me like a baby bear cub I would have leapt right there. I could practically feel my knife on that haughty bitch’s throat. “Warmaster Springfield has been working her ASS off to get rid of the image that our girls are all bugfuck crazy monsters. You’re just shitting on us when we’re trying to do something nice for somebody we fucked over!” Her tone wasn’t changing at all even now, and it was really starting to piss me off. Elly shrunk away from me as I all but yelled at Russ.

“She can’t sit in a room and do nothing forever.” She raised her voice slightly, just slightly, and that was all it took to make the whole world quiet. “And you have no place encouraging it. She is in my Officio. You are not. And if you were, you would damn well not be allowed to continue treating her like a helpless kitten. You of all people should know better, Assassin.” She hissed the word out, like she didn’t believe it. She was mocking me.

…Maybe I’d gone soft. Maybe she was right.

“…Eleanor. Do you have anything you’d like out of life?” Russ spoke again, her tone gentler now, and she turned her liquid steel gaze on Papers.

“Just leave her alone-“

“I wasn’t talking to you, Miss Cooldown. I was never talking to you. I didn’t even realize you were in here until I smelled car exhaust and processed beef, and I wouldn’t let you stay here if I weren’t completely sure you and your American friends would throw a fit. Let her answer, please.” I opened my mouth, then shut it and looked to the kid.

“…candy shop…” she mumbled, numbly. At the Warmaster’s urging, she repeated herself, louder. “…I wanted to open a candy shop.” The kid’s faced burned red, and I couldn’t help but smile a little. …Never would have guessed.

“…I want to keep you with us forever.” Russ beamed at her, the first genuinely pleasant expression I think I’d ever seen on her. With just a few words, Elly broke the tension in the room in half. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do first.”

…She’d be alright. I’d heard a rumor once or twice that Russ had a family – a husband and a couple of puppies - and I’d believe it, with that expression. It was almost nurturing, and a little tiny part of me was kinda jealous. I tugged my hand away from Elly and moved to her other side, placing my hand on her shoulder instead, urging her toward Russ.

“…C’mon, kid,” I murmured to her. “It’s okay. I’m still here.”

“We’re going to keep you here at very least until you can defend yourself properly. Heather was clearly not the best choice for easing you into an Eversor’s lifestyle, and you clearly have a ways to go before you’re ready to attempt her level of…training.” …Even her own Warmaster had to force it out when it came to Crazy Cunt.

“You’ll be expected to train on your own, or find your own trainer at a more suitable level. In the interests of allowing you to focus more on your goals and your training, you will no longer be required to do paperwork for the Officio.” Russ nodded again, mostly to herself. I think. Papers gave me a look, apparently entirely bewildered. Confused. …I don’t think she ever expected someone to say she got to stop doing fucking paperwork, and I especially doubt she ever expected anybody to take her dream seriously.

“You will, however, be expected to continue contributing to the Officio’s operation. To that effect, you’ll be working under my younger sister, Jael, in managing one of our side-businesses, Sundry Offerings. Ideally, you can also get a bit of experience behind the counter this way.” I was starting to feel like an asshole. Seemed like she’d really come up with a plan that…actually gave the kid what she needed to get going. Didn’t even occur to any of the rest of us.

“You’re going to need to show a little more backbone, but you have a goal now, don’t you? And we’ll be happy to help you work toward it as you train to become an Eversor.” Yeah. She was definitely a mother. Looking at Elly now, it seemed like she might have been thinking more about her than even her parents ever had, let alone us. “Of course, to do that, you’ll need to kill a witch on your own OR defeat one of our Eversors in single combat.” Papers gave me another look. She needed somebody to back Russ up before she’d believe it. …Poor kid couldn’t even do that much. Fuck.

‘Don’t fuck this up for her,’ the wolf glared at me over Elly’s shoulder. She all but mouthed it. My eyes snapped to her, then down to the kid’s, and I ruffled her hair.

“…Seems like Crunch is out of the picture, kid. And you’re off the hook for bitch duty. Why don’t you, uh…You think you’ll be okay sticking it out here until you’ve gotten your footing? We can talk about taking you back into the Eighth once Miss Russ is satisfied.” The Warmaster gave me an approving smile, and my cheeks burned a little. …Papers looked a little hurt, but gave me a nod.

“We’ll be testing you again as soon as your leg’s healed, so get to training as hard as you can before then.” Russ and I relaxed in near-unison, but Elly went as stiff as a board.

“What.” Elly squeaked the word out in her small, choked voice. “I can barely even walk, how am I-“

“You’ll manage. And Jael and I’ll be delighted to help you along the road to your own candy shop while you train.” Was that…excitement? She was really into that fucking candy shop. Maybe she just liked seeing the kid grow a purpose; I sure was.

“…What about Crazy Cu… …Crunch?” Her shoulders slumped. She’d given in, like she…kind of always did, I guess, since I’d known her.

“Heather’s taken a forcible leave of absence for the next…month.” The Warmaster’d barely betrayed her emotions so far, but the way she said it made me think it wasn’t exactly the punishment she had in mind. “You don’t need to worry about her for now.”

Papers twirled the little red sucker in her hand and nodded slowly.

“Maybe she’ll die,” I offered. Russ let out a small sigh, but it made the kid smile awkwardly up at me. Maybe she forgave me a little.

“I don’t want her to die. …I just…want her to leave. Forever. But a month is…okay. I guess.”

“A month will be plenty of time. I’m sure she’ll be a changed woman when she returns.” Russ reached out to pat Elly’s other shoulder, and the two of them exchanged awkward almost-smiles. “She shouted as much herself. Repeatedly. While she insisted she be allowed to pay for the ‘most magnificent robot arm’ we can have designed for you.” Another self-satisfied nod. “We’ve already begun making arrangements with the Second’s Mechanicus division.”

“She…what.” Elly opened her mouth, then shut it. …She didn’t want a MAGNIFICENT ROBOT ARM or whatever Crunch wanted for her. She wanted a regular arm, so she could do regular things. …That’s how she was. But she kept quiet and nodded. A dark look crossed Russ’s face; she probably understood, but…

…Well, we’d have done the same thing. ‘Regular things’ aren’t always an option for us anymore. Maybe she’d be able to get an extra, something more ordinary, and swap them back and forth, once she was bringing more of a paycheck in.

Russ stood and stretched, her ears twitching just a little, but I called out to her before she could leave. …One thing was bugging me.

“…It was restricted, wasn’t it? …The place she took us. Only way I can see to explain the…the witch. And she just gets a month off and an apology check?” Elly’s witch. There were only a handful of places in the world where that could happen. …Kid didn’t need to know even that much, though.

“It isn’t your place to question our Officio’s policies, Miss Cooldown.” Russ smiled coolly at me. Seemed like that was all she did. “But Heather was entirely within her rights as a Rank Leader. We do understand that her judgment was…subpar, but we’re all hoping a month of training with the warrior-nuns in the Seventh will do her some good, in more ways than one. Is there anything else?”

I started to shake my head, but paused halfway through.

“…I’m gonna stay with Elly until we head out. That gonna be a problem?”

“No, no problem at all. Expected, really; we’ll have your gift basket delivered to Miss Slam’s room, and you two can share it before you leave.” With that and a few swishes of her tail, she was gone, and Papers collapsed against me, losing herself furiously in her cherry-flavored sucker.

I just hugged her for a little while.

--Concept and Outline by Attarou ( --Guestwritten by Wendy Cooldown (

Part II: New Grind[edit]

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus Patient Gardener Dahlia Marigold[edit]

...So this is it, huh?

I was expecting something more GRAND and MAJESTIC for the Seventh. Like the Taj Mahal.

Not some Chinese monastery. It's not even that big. And it's certainly not that fancy, either. Nice decor, though.

I am even FURTHER let down with the almost total silence of this place. I do NOT enjoy silence. And it speaks volumes about a TOTAL LACK of kung fu fighting. Truly, TRULY disappointing.

BUT... All is not yet lost! For this humblest of sanctuaries can yet redeem itself! By assisting ME, Heather Crunch, in... In...

...I don't know what it is, but I have the UTMOST CONFIDENCE that they will know what it is I must be assisted with! A confidence expressed with my cocksure stride through the main entrance, my posture one of LIMITLESS CHARISMA as I enter the foyer! My SMILE, as I come face to face with the Spiritual Liege, BLINDING in its-

"Who you?" she snaps, -snaps-, at me. "What you doing here?"

I pound my fist to my chest and speak clearly, "I am Heather Crunch, Eversor Rank Leader of the Sixth Officio, and I have come seeking guidance!"

"Go away! You two hour early!" Hah! Like that's a good enough reason to delay!

"I am being PUNCTUAL! It is a VERY GOOD QUALITY for someone like me to exhibit!" THE CRUNCH TRAIN IS NEVER LATE!

She covers her ears. "Aiyah!" she shrieks, "Shut up, noisy girl, you give Xiaomei headache! You sit outside and wait!" She points back the way I came. BUT I CANNOT GO BACK, ONLY FORWARD!


"Outside! Now!" she cuts me off. My voice is louder, yet hers manages to rise above it somehow!


"You not listen! It one of many problems you have! Go outside and sit!"

But I must put my foot down! I cannot wait any longer! "I seek training RIGHT N-"

"Enough! This your training! Sit outside!"

...You should have said so in the first place!

I take my leave and seat myself on the polished wooden floor. If sitting is all that it takes, then HEATHER CRUNCH WILL SIT! Still as a statue, quiet as the TINIEST MOUSE!

...It doesn't feel like a challenge though. It's too easy. I could be -doing things- while sitting. Important things such as even MORE training! Or making AMENDS to those who I have WRONGED! And yet I can do NONE OF THESE THINGS SITTING DOWN! It feels so wasteful!

I stare intently at my reflection in the polished wooden floor, thinking deeply. Wondering what I should devote myself to doing during this ordeal...

Aha, I have it now! I shall compose an -anthem-, an anthem to ME! To honor my GREATNESS for when I have completed these trials and been born anew!

I can see it now... A sweeping orchestra. The opening replete with violins and trombones. Trumpeters blow their horns as the pace picks up. Drummers march and cymbals clash! THUNDER RUMBLES AND THE GROUND ITSELF SHAKES!

"SAVE US HEATHER CRUUUUUUNCH, hmm hmm hmm hmm hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!" The lyrics need some work, but it's a start. So next would be-

"Aiyaaaaah! Stupid girl not know when to shut mouth!"

I know it's not that great without the instruments, but that is unnecessarily harsh. I must explain myself clearly to the Spiritual Liege, and I do so, stating, "I haven't finished it yet, BUT WHEN I DO IT WILL BE GLOR-"

"Xiaomei not care!" she interrupts. Why does she keep doing that? "You go outside, work with Dahlia! Put stupid girl like you to use!" The girl extends a finger to the east, to an unremarkable door. I suppose that means this person is outside, then.

"YES, MA'AM!" I call out, saluting sharply! Then I turn on my heel and MARCH outside the way I was showed, EAGER to learn what this Dahlia person would teach!

"You do everything she say!" she calls after me, then yells, "And be nice or Xiaomei make you so sorry!"

The smell of flowers ASSAULTS my nostrils as I step outside. A field of flowers fills my far-seeing faculties with fancy fragrances. Somebody, somewhere, has TOILED LABORIOUSLY to create such a splendor.

But it -still- pales in comparison to ME!

"So yo'uh the one givin' Plum-Blossom a hahd tahme," a voice nearby drawls slowly. Walking out from behind a row of plants is a woman in a sundress and a straw hat. Even for one such as myself, it takes a moment to put together what she's saying.

"Are you Dahlia?" is my cautious inquiry.

"Ah'd prefuh ef yew cawlled meh Miss Marehgold," she says back, a folded parasol in her hand. I believe she just asked me to call her Miss Marigold.

I stand tall and bellow -proudly-, "I am Heather Crunch, Eversor Rank Leader of the Sixth Officio! It is -nice- to meet you, Miss Marigold!"

And Miss Marigold is examining me, scrutinizing me like a fine work of art! "Hmm..." she muses, eyes bright, "Ah think Ah see what needs tah beh duhne."

...Oh! Impressive! I am -awestruck-, for I did NOT expect to find the answers I sought on the first day! "Amazing..." is the only fitting thing to respond with.

"But befo'ah that," she says, holding up a hand to my hat, "Ah can't haylp but notice the flowahs in yo'ah hat."

Haha! She likes the hat! "It is a VERY nice hat, is it not?" I boast.


...She's not looking at the hat, is she? As though her voice came from far away, Miss Marigold tells me, "Roses symbahlize beauty. Deep pink ones lahke these mean 'appreciation' and 'gratitude'." She looks back to me, smiling, "Es the'uh somethin' yo'uh grateful foh, Miss Crunch?"

They just came with the costume... But she looks like she wants a response, so I proclaim, "I am grateful for this chance to redeem myself, to become a better person and make RIGHT what I have wronged!"

Miss Marigold keeps smiling even as she says, "Is that all? How disappointin', Miss Crunch."

"Disappointin'?!" Have I already failed?

She shakes her head, speaking reassuringly, "Yew shouldn't worreh about it. Shall weh get stahted?"

Without waiting for reply, she turns about and heads away. I quickly follow behind, deeper and deeper into the maze of plants.

I think I saw some of them move.

"Yo'uh task foh the dhey es to pull weeds," Miss Marigold's voice -snaps- me out of my reverie, and I dutifully listen to her instructions. "They'ah resiliehnt thangs, so yew need to te'ah they'um out bah the root."

I grin widely and salute smartly, and -then- I reply loudly, “Understood! I will –not- let you down!”

"Good, good." She sounds pleased. "Ah’ll beh back come evenh'nin to evalhuate yo'ah progress." With the task given, Miss Marigold leaves me by myself.

And thusly, THIS is how Heather Crunch works towards her redemption! Kneeling in the muck and getting her hands dirty! The sun blazing overhead! The tenacious weeds hiding their roots deep underground to escape the HANDS OF JUSTICE! HA! I wouldn’t have it any other way!

As the lady informed me, a PLAGUE of invasive weeds invaded this Eden. Perhaps the task was simply too arduous for someone of her delicate sensibilities. Perhaps it is fate – fate that I, Heather Crunch, restore this field to its pristine glory! Though the earth tries to swallow me, and dirties my wondrous garments, I will not relent! I grasp the offending plants near the base and RIP them out of the ground. I HURL them behind me, into an open space. It grows and swells into a pile, as I DIG OUT the most stubborn weeds by the roots. I am the EPITOME of CAUTION as I DUTIFULLY AVOID harming Miss Marigold’s plants.

My hands are grimy and disgusting. And yet it is FINE! It is absolutely fine for me, for I can already –feel- myself becoming a better person. Better than yesterday, better than I was a minute ago, better and better every second, ALWAYS STRIVING FORWARD! NOTHING STOPS THE CR-


I barely felt anything while my face was pressed into the mud. And in spite of how much I struggled, I could not pull myself up! I try to wrench the hand off of me, and yet it WILL NOT BUDGE! WHO could feasibly keep Heather Crunch down?!

"Ah must apolahgize fo'ah mah rudeness," comes Dahlia's drawling voice, "but Ah needed yew to stop tearin' up mah sunflowahs, and yew didn't seem to he'ah meh shoutin'."

Miss Marigold pulls me back up - she's got a really strong grip - and after wiping the dirt from my eyes, I survey the damages. I did not realize it until it was pointed out, but these are -not- dandelions I was pulling. The is a rather conspicuous amount of upturned soil in this sunflower patch I was just in. How mortifying! And here I was so -proud- of myself earlier.

I try to apologize, and yet, "I did not intend to do that," is the best I can give.

Miss Marigold believes me, reassuring me, "Ah'm sure yew didn't. We'll try agaihn tomorra'."

Thank you. "Tha... That would be nice, yes." That was not a thank you. Say thank you! SAY THANK YOU!

"He'ah, please allow me to show yew the way out." I can't tell if she's offering to show me out of here, or demanding it. I'd rather not dwell on it, so I nod along for now.

She's quiet the whole way back, and I don't really have anything to say. Not during the walk. Not when we return to the temple. Not when she waves me off.

The whole day feels -wasted- upon me. I have FAILED at improving myself, and I have NOT done any good. This has been a decidedly UNGLORIOUS day in my life, and it is starting to bother me. I need to do something to clear my head.

I think I'll run around town. Perhaps -there- I can find somebody to assist. Or perhaps some time out of the stifling sanctuary environment will help me clear my head. Yeah, I'll be able to focus better after that.

It is as I enter the nearby town that a CHILL runs down my spine.

How... How odd. And foreboding. It feels as though I am being followed. And -yet-, when I turn to look around, I see absolutely nothing there. Either things are really starting to get to me, or somebody is REEEALLY good at stalking me. And that I am being stalked by somebody.

I start jogging away, trying not to look suspicious, to see if the feeling persists. One block, two, three... It's still there. Even in the middle of this almost empty street, with little more than a few shops and a white van, I still feel as though I am being pursued. I hear no engines over the relative quietness, only my own heart thumping at a nameless dread.

...Waaaaait, that's an unmarked van. This is exceedingly suspicious-

The back doors of said van FLING open as a pair of people pop out! Pink-haired twins in china dresses, arms outstretched and beckoning me into the dark interior of the vehicle.

"Heyyyy, Mighty Heroine Heather Crunch!" teases one of them in a cheerful voice that sets me on edge, "there's candy in our van!"

...What? I try not to show any confusion on my face, as I expected her to say something more sinister for... I don't know why.

The other girl, a demure looking one, adds, "It would be lovely if you'd join us." Both of them gesturing towards the van. It's rather obvious that they want me to get inside, but to what ends?

I'm getting a feeling of intense bad vibes from this. Something horrible likely awaits if I step inside. Something terrible. Something scarring.

Something that cannot be allowed to go unchecked. I couldn't live with myself if I chickened out here and somebody else suffered for it. Heather Crunch is NOT going to sit idly by when evil sits in plain sight!

And I must shamefully admit to myself, I'm rather excited!

"Haha!" I give my best smile as I laugh some confidence back into myself. "Know today that -you-" I gesticulate towards the both of them as I clamber inside, "have bitten off FAR MORE than you can chew!"

One of them has the -gall- to giggle, to which I make a show of gritting my teeth! Grrrr! She's the one that climbs in after me and shuts the doors, trapping me in the lightless interior. It is shortly afterwards that the engine revs to life, followed by a sensation of movement as the vehicle starts moving.

Yes, bring me to your secret base. Your wicked schemes will not avail you today! Not while Heather Crunch is here to stop you!


"Oh, poo."

There's the familiar sensation of something sharp being shoved into my arm, and then being -repelled- by my UNBREAKABLE RESOLVE. I GLARE accusingly at the direction of the offender, whose dim outline shows an easily recognizable implement in her hands, minus the tip.

"Did you just try to jab me with a syringe?" I query ANGRILY.

"Is it too late to say no?" she asks in return. Interesting.

"...Not really," I reassure her, wagging my finger in her grinning face. "but it would be EXCEEDINGLY SUSPICIOUS if you did."

That didn't sound natural, though. Best to change the subject.

"So, WHERE is the promised candy?" I ask, as though it were exceedingly important. The grinning girl in the china dress pulls out a small capsule from somewhere and holds it up for me to see. I can almost make out what look like a skull and crossbones on its surprisingly large surface.

"It's in this pill right here~," she chimes.

I fold my arms and make a show of pouting. "I don't like pills," I say firmly.

"It's science candy," is her response as she conceals the skull with her fingers.

"VERY WELL!" I yell, giving the appearance of appeasement as I hold out my hand, "Give it here!" I don't even look at it as I pop it into my mouth.

The fiendish girl titters, "Gosh, I didn't think it'd be so easy," while rifling through a sack for what are undoubtedly terrible implements. Yes. Let them think that I am going along with it. That they have the upper hand. That I am not READY for them!

I discretely spit the offending thing into my hand, and conceal it in a pocket.

They are in for a VERY rude awakening! It's only a matter of time before the Crunch Train plows RIGHT through them!

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus The Nakajima Sisters[edit]

"Trial number one hundred and twenty seven," drones a dull voice in the background. "Diamond-tipped drill against Heather Crunch." A huge, wicked drill ROARS to life and approaches my wrist, my glorious costume already having been SHREDDED and SCORCHED in that area.

"And away we gooo!" shouts the cheerful girl as she brings the sinister implement in closer and closer. It makes contact with my unblemished skin, the bit STABBING against my muscles. The FRICTION and HEAT grow intense, but I barely even -feel- it!

From the looks of it, this place was an old warehouse before these two got to it, and they made sure it -looked- that way on the outside. Since we arrived, they have restrained me in heavy chains, with the winches bound into the foundation. Attached to my legs and wrists are tripwires, which are linked to explosive charges. There are weapons trained on my position, my -entire- torso -covered- in red beads! And beneath my feet is a tank filled with sharks that shoot LASERS from their mouths! I must give them credit for pulling all of that off so quickly before I could react.

After they bound me, the chipper one told me something about doing a few experiments. Something about testing how invincible I actually am. As the apparatus smokes from its fruitless endeavor, I'd say they have their answer. Though considering the various broken weapons scattered around, including a cement block that UTTERLY FAILED TO CRACK THE CROWN OF CRUNCH, they should have figured it out by now.

"Result is no damage, superficial or otherwise," speaks the demure one, writing something on a clipboard.

"Alrighty, Crunchy," quips the happy one, skipping towards me - stop looking at her legs, Crunch! "This has been reeeal informative, but now I need to inject some science into you." She has another syringe produced now, an eerie green liquid inside. "So if you could just keep your eyes open wide, that'd be swell~."

"And yet you have learned NOTHING!" I growl as she brings the syringe near my eyeball. "Otherwise you would RELEASE me, and relinquish your villainous ways!"

"But it's so much fun, isn't it?" is her VILE response. "Well, this might not be fun for you in a second-"

I turn my head away from the needle, muttering, "You'll taste justice from my Eversword soon enough."

"Eversword?" she titters, and I hear the sound of weapons priming at my disobedience. "Heehee, wh-"

"AAAAAALLLLLLLLL THE TIIIIIIIIMMMME!" I SHOUT from the very DEPTHS OF MY SOUL, YANKING the restraints out as the world turns red. The explosions that engulf my body would blow a LESSER person to smithereens. The volume of bullets blasting at me would shred a LESSER person. The shark lasers would scorch a LESSER person alive. Death would claim a LESSER person a thousand times over by now.


I encase the closest creature in tape and tug it towards me. While the water surrounding me muffles the outside world, I can still see red dots trained on my movements. Waiting, LURKING outside to rain ordnance down upon my being as soon as my hat leaves the waters.

Though they come at me crazed and shooting, the sharks scatter and run as soon as I start THRASHING them with the own kin. My makeshift club is soon too badly beaten and battered to be of any further use to me. NOW I can make my triumphant return. A HUGE mass of sticky silver strips fly up to the ceiling far above, but napalm immediately incinerates them. As I suspected. Thus, I must change tactics. The walls of the tank are too solid to climb out of, so that option is out. IF I WASN'T SO AMAZING, THAT IS!

I CLAW my way up, fingers and boots DIGGING into the wall and displacing the normally solid material. Gunfire pelts against me, but it fails utterly to even SLOW me, much less STOP my ascent! And soon, SOON I am FREE again!


...And change back into costume in an EXPLOSION OF LIGHT!

"Quick, Jade!" shouts the smiling girl from a ways back, "Use our Dream Combination Technique!" Something dings across the back of my head, and I turn to find the quiet girl - the one called "Jade", apparently - holding a dented folding chair.

"...It didn't work," she responds dully.

"She really IS invincible!" exclaims the villainous girl. "We'll have to go with the Rib Breaker Combo!"

The Jade one grapples me from behind as the amber-eyed assailant RUSHES me from the front! Fingers clawed, she attacks my ribcage! "Tickle tickle tickle tickle~!" I remove 'Jade' from my person by unhooking her arms, and then GRAB the nefarious girl by the wrists before she can escape!

"Ow ow ow ow, stop it, you're hurting meee!" she groans, slipping out of my HANDS OF JUSTICE with her WILY, SLIPPERY WICKEDNESS! "Need the Doomsday Drop done on this one, Jade!

A cinderblock CRUMBLES to uselessness after it breaks over my head, and a firebomb -explodes- over my chest immediately afterwards. And YET, even wreathed in flame, I stand stalwart and unbreakable!

"I am Heather Crunch, Eversor Rank Leader of the Sixth Officio," I cry out, whipping my cape around to smother the flames that dare ATTEMPT to burn brighter than I! "And YOU," I point to the sprightly one, "will YIELD to me, fiend!"

She has the NERVE to POUT and GRUMBLE at me, of all things, "And here I thought we were having fun."

"You tried to kidnap and drug me!" I snarl. And she shows no signs of ending these shenanigans. There's nothing for it.

I WILL the colossal red blade of mine into my right hand, swinging it while I point at her again with my left. "Enough games!" I declare. "Now we fight for REAL!"

"Sister," the jade-eyed girl warns sagely, falling back, "she looks serious. Perhaps you should take over."

The gleeful girl ponders the words of her doppelganger, and cheerily chirps, "Okey dokey, Crunchy, fun time's over now~."

A black, hooded cape appears from thin air in her hands and ENGULFS her briefly. When it flows back, she has CHANGED, CHANGED into her magical girl costume to fight this fight seriousl-

Wait, that's an apron, isn't it? And lacy stockings? Detached sleeves? And the cut that dress is DESPICABLY LOW AND DISTRACTING!

It is part of the plan, I'm sure. It's why I was unable to react to the incoming projectile until it was too late. Clouds of smoke ERUPT from the ground, COMPLETELY obscuring my vision. I stand vigilant, waiting for her to make the first strike.

"Heeere comes Amber!" calls my adversary from behind me. A FOOLISH MOVE, giving away your position like that. Fun, BUT FOOLISH IN A REAL BATTLE! I swivel around and stand my ground, ready to block whatever comes from-


Something slams into my back and launches me off the ground. I hadn't visualized my weapon as 'heavy' at the start of battle, so unfocused was I. I picture it now, and land on my feet, cracking the ground beneath from the impact. She's faster than I thought, but I'm sure the voice came from over-

"Fall From Grace!"

I spin around towards the source of the sound, and yet a pair of feet COLLIDES with my back again. BUT YOU WILL NOT DERAIL THE CRUNCH TRAIN THIS TIME! I do not budge an inch from the sneak attack, and spin around to strike her with-

"Bloody Sunday!"

"Nnngh!" She attacks from ABOVE this time, DRIVING a shaft of light into my shoulder blade. Of COURSE it didn't hurt, or penetrate, but it... Tingles very unpleasantly. And the area where it hit has a scorch mark.

"Thousand Needles!"

HOW DOES SHE KEEP GETTING BEHIND ME? She SLASHES me across the back, and when I try to slash back, there is nothing there. Something STABS me in the ribs, and then strikes my leg! Attacks come from EVERY ANGLE, and all I see are glimpses of a sword-like beam shaped suspiciously like a katana.

Why'd it have to be katanas? I NEVER win against people with katanas!


The attacks INCREASE in SPEED and INTENSITY, coming from EVERYWHERE at ONCE. Not good! My movements start to feel sluggish. Everywhere I swipe, I hit NOTHING at all!

Come on, Crunch. Think! What would Kharn do in this situation?

...Well, she'd make a gesture and take both of the girls to bed with a bucket of-


Enough games! I came here to turn over a new leaf! And if that means defeating a lightning-fast wielder of my weapon-y nemesis, THEN HEATHER CRUNCH WILL CUT THROUGH THAT BLADE WITH HER EVERSWORD!

"As much fun as this is," I bellow aloud, even as the attacks keep coming, "I'm afraid you've been CAUGHT ON TAPE! HA!"

Like a blossoming flower, my great and binding sticky tape POURS FORTH from my sleeves in a TORRENT of ribbons! It FILLS the air around me on both sides, then front, then above and below, even as I have an ALL-ENCOMPASSING network of sticky tape. Even if I cannot see the attacks coming, I can make it so that they CANNOT EVER REACH ME! YES, SUCH INGENUITY IS POSSIBLE FOR HEATHER CRUNCH!

And already, I sense movement over...

"Jaaaaade! Stop the cheer routine and get the chainsaw, now!"


Swiftly grabbing hold of the relevant strands, I tug with MONSTROUS FORCE! There is a yelp of surprise from my KATANA-USING ATTACKER before a figure stumbles into my arms! I got her now! She confirms it by screaming, "Kyaaaa~! Jade, help, I'm being ravished!"

What the, I'm not- ARGH, AGAIN she slips away! "Stop doing that!" I shout after my rival!

"Make me~!" she jeers infuriatingly. STILL she is able to elude my grasp, and yet a ray of hope shines through the darkness! Literally! The smoke is thinning, and I can see again! And with her still struggling against the bindings, I break into a full run towards her, letting out a primal ROAR OF BATTLE! My limbs feel heavy and weak, BUT THERE IS NO STOPPING THE CRUNCH TRAIN!

"Son of a submariner, she's still going," my foe murmurs in hushed awe as she clutches the sword, its beam humming and flickering.

"Amber," says the other girl, worry creeping into her voice, "perhaps we should-"

"Get behind the blast shield, Jade!" 'Amber' interrupts, flipping a series of switches on her blade. "I'm going all out!"

"HA! Now THAT'S what I like to hear!" I switch to a two-handed grip to oblige her, willing the Eversword to be dense and heavy. "Don't hold back!"

"Go easy on me, okay~?" my opponent teases, her blade humming loudly as it grows. Erupting through the ceiling, its edges jagged like lightning, its HEAT palpable. It is almost BLINDING to look upon.

She's grinning at me. I'm grinning at her. In this moment, right here, there is no good or evil, no right or wrong. Only two worthy opponents facing each other down on the field of battle. Loving every second of it.

But the moment must pass! She swings the tremendous blade, cutting through the roof like it's not even there. "ANARCHY IN THE GALAXY!" she cries out.

I bring my sword up to block as the surging, scorching energy CRASHES into it, sending up SHOWERS of sparks! Either the intensity is that great, I am that weakened, or both, but the heat actually -HURTS-, and she FORCES me into a crouch! I cannot win like this!

I put my sword's weight into pushing the searing beam of death back, drawing on my innermost reserves to repel it! The arc is thrown back only for an instant, but that's all the opening I need. I think BIG and HEAVY, and my blade EXTENDS, taking out the far wall! Again I beat the beam back, and again the Eversword grows larger, until it DWARFS her blade!


"MINE'S BIGGER!" I yell, as I put EVERYTHING into a single attack, my bright red blade BURNING with INTENSITY AND FIRE!



...The Eversword flakes away like flower petals in the wind. I'm breathing heavily. I've broken into a sweat. The fringes of my coat are charred. Spots dance in my vision. And my hands are shaking. 'Amber' doesn't seem to have it much better, and is flat on her back taking big gulps of air.

That was... Fun? Fulfilling? Whatever it was, I feel serene at the moment. But I'm not done here yet.

I stride over to where my opponent has fallen to claim my prize. -This- particular piece is going in a special part of my collection, framed and mounted on the wall!

...Stop gawking at her chest heaving and check her hands for that weap-

"...What happened to your hands?!" I exclaim in shock! Her hands are -charred-! Some spots even expose the bone!

"Heehee, don't worry about it..." she replies with a smile, wiggling her fingers, "I'm immortal~."

I offer a hand, and she giggles before grasping it. I help her back onto her feet - she winces a couple times - and I smile a winner's winning smile right back.

It's here that the other girl reappears. "Sister," she intones, "perhaps now we should explain to Miss Crunch why we're here before any further misunderstandings occur."

"Aww, you're such a party pooper, Jade," 'Amber' murmurs, lips curling into a pout.

Looking me in the eyes and throwing up a salute, she explains, "Well, Crunchy, we're here on behalf of the Eighth to keep an eye on you!"

"Heehee... I wanted to test your invincible body~," she remarks, "and holy crackers, the rumors were true!"

That's RIGHT! They kidnapped and experimented on me! "Rrrrregardless of your intentions," I proclaim, "I MUST take you in for your transgressions!"

"So you're going to ravish me after all~?" Amber inquires, batting her eyelids-


"You're blushiiiing!" SHE TAUNTS ME!


"Aiyaaah! Crunch why you back here? You go home now!"

HERE I stand again before the Spiritual Liege of the Seventh! I have BOTH of these perpetrators FIRMLY in my grasp this time, BOUND to my hands with tape to prevent any further escapes!

"Ahahaha," the noisy one laughs, "that IS really your name!" What's wrong with my name? It's a great name!

The honorable Spiritual Liege looks -disgusted- with her, MUCH LIKE MYSELF, and shrieks, "You go away, devil girl! I throw needles again!"

"I've got some needles for you, too~," the devil girl responds.

"SPIRITUAL LIEGE!" I speak LOUDLY to CEASE this chatter before the situation ESCALATES ANY FURTHER, "I have CAPTURED this rogue and her accomplice and would requ-"

"Why you bring her here?" she interrupts me YET AGAIN! I DISLIKE HAVING INTERRUPTIONS HAPPEN TO ME!

I query quizzically, "What do you m-"

"Why you bring devil girl to Xiaomei?" is her reiterated question, and she declares, "I not even touching that one. You keep her!"


"BUT I H-"

"Go away!" she screams, and SLAMS THE DOOR ON US! HOW ABSOLUTELY RUDE!

"Woohoo!" cheers the SOURCE of my CURRENT IRE. "Another flawless operation with no negative consequences!" She holds up a bandaged hand, and her sister compliments the gesture, culminating in a HIGH FIVE! THE GALL OF THESE TWO! I am OUTRAGED AND APPALLED!

UN-willing to linger in the presence of this TERRIBLE DEGENERATE ANY LONGER, I RELEASE them and MARCH BACK TO TOWN!

"Heyyyy!" calls the LOUD AND TACTLESS GIRL! "Let's go get ice cream, Crunchy~."


"Please?" SHE PERSISTS! I SPIN AROUND to VOICE MY DISAPPROVAL, but all I see is her sister clasping her hands together and looking blankly at me.

"Pretty pleeeease~?" she calls out from AHEAD of me, having SOMEHOW overtaken me!


"I'll give this cool sword if you do~."

"Here you are, then! One dish of Very Berry Strawberry..."

"Yay~!" squeals Amber as she receives a bowl containing ice cream the same hue as her hair.

" Triple Chocolate Fudge..."

"Thank you," replies Jade as the server hands her a cone saturated in chocolate.

"...and one Strawberry Rocky Road Flambé in a waffle bowl."

I grunt in acknowledgement at my order as the server leaves us be. The ice cream's still burning. Normally that wouldn't stop me, but...

...How did they rope me into PAYING for this? The loser is supposed to do what the -winner- says.

I look at the both of them. Amber Nakajima. Jade Nakajima. Sisters. The former from the Eighth, the latter from the Seventh. They introduced themselves as such after much questioning.

"Crunchyyyy," whines Amber, frowning at me and showing her bandaged hands, "I can't hold my spooooon! And Jade has her hands full!"

I GLARE and GLOWER at her. She just pouts harder, and I have to turn away. When I said Heather Crunch burns hotter and brighter than any star, I did NOT mean like this. Her giggling only makes it WORSE!

This... Why?! Why am I losing to my emotions HERE? Is this her power, WEAKENING my resolve? Is this part of my penance? Having to deal with Amber's UNWANTED advances? Advances from this BEGUILING SIREN that tries to TEMPT me?

...Actually, perhaps there is something I can do after all. Yes! I can set her down the path of righteousness!

"Only you can do it, Crunchy!" Amber pleads, eyes sparkling, lip trembling, "Please help me, oh great hero~!"

HAHA! So THIS is how I redeem myself! By finally, TRULY helping somebody in a meaningful way! If that is what it takes, if I must SUFFER through this THOROUGHLY UNDESIRED AFFECTION, then...

I GRASP the spoon TIGHTLY, SCOOPING UP the pink-red frozen dessert, and bring it closer, CLOSER toward her mouth!


Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Swashbuckler Kai Cress[edit]

I can't reach my alarm clock for some reason. It's blaring its annoying beep but I can't shut it off. Opening my sleepy eyes to the glare of the morning sun, I turn to see the obvious problem: I don't have a right arm.

Damn. This is going to take some getting used to, isn't it?

So I have to get out of bed to turn it off. Was hoping to use the snooze alarm, but since I'm up already, I should get ready. Jael's nice, but she told me on day one that she won't forgive me for being late. Feels weird, getting lectured by somebody younger than me. She did give me a toaster, though. Between her and the stuff from the gift basket, I should be set for a couple weeks. For instance, the bag of bread that I'm spinning open was supposedly something the Warmaster herself baked. It makes good toast, in any case. I'll have to splurge on some jelly packets before I use it all up.

Drop one piece in the slot, drop one piece in the other slot, and push the tab down... It's heating up, but it'll take a few minutes, and I'd rather not just stand around and wait. I'll try out that new shampoo I got yesterday. Supposed to smell like flowers and be good for curly hair, instead of smelling like flower-scented turds and making it feel stiff. I don't normally care about that sort of thing, but since I have to interact with people now, I'm supposed to look presentable. And also smile more.

Reluctantly removing my comfy pajamas - well, more like struggling out of them one-handed - I step into the shower and turn on the water. FUCK IT'S COLD COLD COLD FUCK! All grogginess gone, I squirt the shampoo on my head and work it into a lather as the water starts to warm up. Smells like lilacs. It's pretty nice.

That should be enough lathering, so I let the water rinse it off, and finish showering. While struggling with the hairdryer, I step on the footstool and inspect myself in the mirror.

...I'm frowning again.

For fuck's sake, cheer up, Eleanor. Nobody wants to see you pouting all day. And things aren't so bad right now. You've healed up, and you're not a traumatized, sobbing wreck like you thought you'd be.

So why am I still so unhappy?

Looking out into my room, I see a golden fist resting on the table. The 'most magnificent robot arm' Fuckface arranged to have made for me.

That might be part of it.

It's better than being armless, though. My hair's drying and I'm done showering, so now I can put it in. I pick it up, still surprised by how light the thing is, and slot it into place. Whatever's inside it starts to purr quietly as I regain feeling on my right side. Flexing the thing and making fists with it... Yeah, it works fine. I just wish it wasn't so gaudy and bulky.

Toast's been done for a while. I change back into costume and pluck the slightly warm bread from the toaster. Still have half an hour before I have to be at Sundry Offerings, so I can take my time with-

-knock knock knock-

Somebody at the door this early? I continue scarfing down breakfast - it's good toast - and make my way to the door. A little hop onto and over the bed puts me in position to turn the knob. Delicately, though, because the Second had me crushing walnuts to test the prosthetic's abilities.

I don't know what I expected, but I was somehow still surprised when the person knocking turned out to be a pirate.

...Okay, Fuckface looked like a pirate, but this lady looked even more pirate-y. She's got a long, buttoned-up red coat that flares open over her stomach, with those big poofy things on the shoulders, and a belt with a skull buckle on it. She's got skull cufflinks on her cuffs, and a bunch of rings on her fingers. There's a skull-and-crossbones bandana on her head on top of silver hair. Eyes are kinda orange, and her teeth are sharp. She puts me in the mind of a shark...

I just now realize I've been gawking at her with toast in my mouth.

While I'm pulling the food out and murmuring an apology, the lady is grinning at me. I feel like I'm being sized up for a meal.

She's the first one to speak, and asks, "Be ye Eleanor Abbot Slam?" She even talks kinda like one... Oh, right, she asked me a question.

"Y-yes," I respond, "that's me."

"Arr!" exclaims the pirate lady, pointing at me with a claw-like finger, "Warmaster Russ extends congratulations on your leg healin' up."

Oh. Is that it? "...Thanks?" I murmur.

"Moreover," she continues, evidently not finished, "she insists that ye report for Eversor examinations, right now!"

Seriously? I ask her just to make sure, "Right now?"

"Aye, right now!" the lady affirms. She stops pointing and instead offers her hand. Like she's going to drag me around like a kid. "Are ye comin' or not?"


I'm a little torn. On the one hand, the sooner I do this and get this over with, the sooner I can leave this place and join back up with Checkers and company. On the other hand, I don't really feel like I'm ready. I haven't really done anything to prepare at all. I'm not sure I'm even mentally prepared.

Pirate lady isn't too keen on waiting, it seems. She's scowling and snarling at me now, "I don't tolerate fools who can't make up their minds! If ye can't decide in the next five seconds, I'm goin' t' eat ye alive!"

And I believe her. She really looks like she could do that if she wanted. In fact, she looks like she -wants- to do it. I'm reminded of the witch that nearly bit my head off, and it makes me shiver.

But then she's grinning again, cheerily telling me, "That was a joke, lass! A joke!" She leans in to whisper conspiratorially, "But if we dally too long, 'Her Highness' will give us both an earful." I don't know who that is, but... I don't want to get yelled at.

"So," the lady asks once again, "be ye ready?"

No, no I'm not ready. But I don't really have any choice, do I? So I tell her, sounding every bit defeated, "...Yes ma'am, I'll go now."

"Don't call me ma'am!" she replies, gripping me by the hand and leading me out. "Th' name's Kai Cress, Actin' Eversor Rank Leader, and leader of Squad Krakenmaw! But ye can call me Roger."

I'm only half paying attention at this point. Right now, a feeling of dread distracts me, and I'm trying not to look at her tail. I think it's a tail. It's coming out of the space below her dress like a tail. But it has a face on it. And teeth. And... Guns. A bunch of guns. And it's covered in tattoos. And it's very big. Really hard not to stare. Especially when it's staring right back.

...Huh? Wait a second.

"Why Roger?"

"Because I'm a right jolly person, I am!" cheers Kai, her laugh sounding like a motorboat running.

...Okay, so... She talks like someone who only vaguely knows how to sound like a pirate, she might possibly be a cannibal, her tail is looking at me like I'm food, and she makes bad jokes.

I still don't dislike her as much as Fuckface. Fuckface wrecked Checkers' visit and made me lose my arm. Fuckface can go eat dirt.

I hope she doesn't mind if I eat while we're walking, though. I'm not doing any kind of examination on an empty stomach, and nobody can make me.

...That's some good toast right there. Definitely getting some jelly in the future.

"So," I start talking between bites, "what does this Eversor examination... What do I have to do?"

"Ye have to best another Eversor in battle!" Kai jovially declares. Crazy bitch seems way too happy about it. "The both of ye will fight until one of ye surrenders or is no longer able to continue."

"Won't I be at a disadvantage?" I ask. "I don't have a weapon, and I haven't really... Trained or prepared for this. At all."

"A weapon will be provided for ye!" is her idea of reassurance, as is, "And worry not, your opponent is still a rookie."

"Although," she murmurs, her smile fading to a frown as she claws at her chin thoughtfully, "she -was- selected after she paid for the privilege."

They paid to fight me?

"...Who'd want to fight me, though?" I ask, finishing the last of the bread. I think we're at our destination, because Kai/Scary Pirate Lady is pushing open a set of double doors in front of me.

Inside is a room that... Well I think it's really... It looks...

It looks like a tornado ran through it, with claws. Every surface has deep gouges in it. The whole place looks well-worn and... Kinda freaks me the fuck out. It feels like a gymnasium, only even more soul-crushing. And there are racks and racks of weapons lining the walls. I really, really hope that those are rust stains on some of them.

There's a couple figures in here besides us. They're a ways away, so I can't really see them very well, even with the lighting. I make to move closer, but Kai stops me by keeping a firm grip on my arm. I look at her, confused.

"For safety's sake," she states, holding up a little transparent box with a cushion inside, "I'll be needin' to hold on to your soul gem."

I kinda have my doubts about this sort of thing. "Is that really allowed?" I venture.

Kai actually looks serious when she's speaking this time, "Ye can say no, but we won't be held responsible if ye die here."

...Well it's not like I have a lot to lose. I gingerly put my soul gem onto the cushion, and Kai smiles again. She's giving me a cocky, two-finger salute. I awkwardly attempt to return the gesture, somehow not braining myself with my metal arm.

"Are you quite finished?" a cold, business-like voice intones, echoing through the hall. "I don't know about you all, but I have a schedule to keep."

I stumble towards the weapon rack, and my nose fills with the smell of blood. There's dried blood everywhere, on the weapons, on the floor, some of it even got onto the ceiling. The dizzying array of armaments is... Making me dizzy just looking at it. Some of them are gleaming really wickedly, and I think I saw one of them move.

...I don't like the look of any of them. I'll just go without.

It's as I advance upon my opponent and... Whoever the other person is... That the feeling of dread from before returns. It doesn't seem to be from the business-like person muttering about 'proctoring for a couple meatheads'. Her tattoos are kind of scary, but that's not what's bothering me. So that must mean...

"...Oh fuck me..."

Hopping around and unfurling her wings is Milly Schulz. Fucking butterfly girl is my opponent. I can't fucking do this. I can't-

"Miss Slam, please proceed to the arena. Now." The businesswoman orders, and I find myself involuntarily moving forward. Scary Pirate Lady is pushing me towards the mat that Milly is dancing on.

"Ye have a history, I gather?" Kai inquires.

I nod quickly, and whimper, "She broke my shin..."

Kai makes that weird laugh again. Sort of a 'rerererere' sound. It's unnerving.

Far, far too soon, I'm standing across from butterfly psycho. She stops jumping and points at me with one of her spiked maces.

"If it isn't the little barbarian that destroyed my beloved garden," she sneers, her face ugly with contempt. "Come to beg for forgiveness?"

Well this is news to me. I love apologizing for everything and not getting hurt! "Can I really do that?" I ask hopefully.

The wicked grin on her face only grows wider. "Naturally! Give up and agree to be my personal attendant for the rest of your life, and I'll let you live!"

"Of course," she adds dismissively, "that is after I beat some respect into you." Bitch sure does love to talk. Fuckface actually has real competition for being the person I dislike the most at this moment. The air around her crackles with lightning, making her look all the more intimidating. This was a bad idea after all.

"Goodness knows you need to learn manners from somewhere, considering your worthless upbringing and whorish friends obviously taught you nothing."

"...the fuck did you just say?" I snarl.

"Aww, did I hurt your feelings?" the fucking cunt jeers, making her face look very punchable.

"You take that back, you prissy bitch!" I yell back. I think... Yes, she's actually the person I hate the most right now.

This stupid bitch. This stupid goddamn bitch is taunting me, leaning down and practically spitting on my face.

"Are you going to cry about it like a child?"

I want to cry. I want to go back and cry about all of this ridiculousness. About how much shit I have to put up with. About these awful people I run into.

But as my vision goes red, there's something I want to do even more.

Business woman calls out from nearby, "Alright, enough trash talk you two. You ready?" I'd forgotten about her.

Fuckwad piss-drinker over there nods. I make an affirmative noise. Crazy pirate is cheering some distance away.

"Three, two, one, fight." The countdown comes quickly, and it takes a second for me, and my enemy, to realize it.

That pompous asshole charges at me, screaming, "I'll make a scarf from your entrails, you little shitstain!"

I make a fist, and it wraps around something. A pen, taller than I am. One with ink dripping from its nib onto the mat. The nib is sharp; sharp and pointed like a spear. I bring it up and hold it with both hands, pointing it at my opposition.

I know on some level that I'm going to feel awful about this later. I'm going to regret it. I'm going to almost cry about it, wishing I hadn't done it. I'm going to hate myself for doing it. And then I'm going to ring up Checkers and ask her what I'm supposed to do.

I might even be in way over my head, fighting against her. I could get my ass kicked.

But right now, in this space, what I want to do more than anything else is to beat Milly Schulz into the ground. What happens after that happens after I make her eat her words.

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Aristocrat "Milly" Schulz Redux[edit]

As it turns out, this bitch is stupidly good at throwing out lots of attacks really quickly. The first thing she does is hammer at me with her maces; each attack is charged with enough electricity to make my hair stand on end. I have to keep moving my spear to block them, and one of them smashes into my metal arm. That's the only one that doesn't hurt, even though I blocked all of them. Mace bitch manages to sweep my legs out from under me, though, and I'm kissing the mat soon enough, the taste of blood in my mouth. Fuck, that hurts.

Laying around bitching about it isn't going to help things, so I roll away, narrowly avoiding a blast of lightning that would take me out of the fight. Fuck, it hurts to stand now, too. She's got kicks like a fucking kangaroo. The stupid pantaloon things are sticking to my left leg; it's definitely bleeding.

Focus, Eleanor, FOCUS! Ignore the pain, you're good at that. It's just that this time you're focusing on laying the hurt on a bitch.

Yeah. That insufferably smug face of hers is pissing me off. Not as much as what she said, though. I'm going to beat an apology out of her.

I step back a little, looking every bit like I'm still on the defensive. As I'd hoped, the impulsive berserker comes charging at me again. Her mouth's moving, but I'm not paying attention to any of her bitching. In a heartbeat, I close the distance between us. The look of surprise and disbelief on butterfly girl's face... I kinda wish I could frame it over a fireplace. It contorts into rage and anger when I stab her in the foot. I try to follow that up with a sweep to knock her down, but she pulls off some acrobatic bullshit to jump away. I see her cringing when she lands, though. Red blood and black ink stains her pretty white high heel shoe.

She's pointing at me with her mace and shouting. Her voice is muffled and indistinct, but it sure doesn't sound like an apology.

Her yammering gives me an opportunity to dash up to her and make her other foot part of a matched set. She's hollering as I grind the tip of the pen into her foot, driving it deeper and opening a bigger wound. Not so regal now are you, you prissy, stuck up bitch?

"Apologize. Now," I snarl at her, the effect diminished by our significant height difference. I'm able to pick up the word 'mongrel' from her response, but otherwise can't make any of it out. Still not an apology, so I remove the spear and make to start skewering other things. Like her hands, which I should have been paying attention to, as I narrowly avoid both maces crashing together where my head was, sparks and electricity flying from their impact. Hopping out of their reach, I make to counter; there's no way she can avoid me now.

Except she avoids me anyway, by flapping her wings and going airborne. My stabbing attack just barely misses her. I forgot the bitch could fly.

She quickly flies out of my reach and hangs in the air like a fucking hummingbird. I can't make out her expression from here, but I bet she's pissed off. Lightning dances off her maces as they start to glow. A mix of blood and ink drips from her feet onto the mat. Butterfly bitch is injured, but she doesn't show any signs of slowing down other than her hovering being a little erratic. Is this what an Eversor is like? Being able to pretty much ignore what should be incapacitating injuries and keep going? I fall back, my own wounds dully throbbing as I start to feel tired. Fuck, I'm panting, too.

I'm... I'm just not cut out for this sort of prolonged, strenuous activity, at all. If I can't end this soon, I'm going to lose, and then I'll have another thing I'll never forgive myself for.

I grip the pen tightly with the stupid metal arm, and then I bring it back. Then I line up my shot. And then, taking a few steps forward, I scream, "FUCK YOU, WHORE!" before hurling the spear at butterfly bitch with everything I've got.

The missile screams toward Fuckerfly with deadly accuracy, making to pin her to the wall like a bug in a collection-

And she dodges it in mid air, the spear getting stuck in the wall between the weapons I don't care about.

No. No no no no no. That's not fair. That's not fucking fair at all.

But I should have seen it coming. I telegraphed my entire attack. I was a fucking idiot who fucking forgot the most basic fucking rule, and I deserved to have this shit happen.

Everything that was merely aching before, it all starts hurting at once. I'm acutely aware of burns on my left arm, and I think that wound on my leg is gaping now. I fall to my hands and knees in pain and despair, trying not to cry. I fucked it up. I fucked it all up. I can't make Fuckerfly take it back. I can't be an Eversor. I can't go home. I can't open a candy shop. And I was a fucking idiot for ever thinking I could.

"Did you really think you could win?" echoes Fuckerfly, her words biting harder than any of my wounds. "A worthless mongrel like you, an Eversor? Don't make me laugh."

I am worthless. I am a mongrel. I am a fuckup who can't do anything right. I can't argue that at all. But I still... I just wanted her to feel the slightest bit sorry for insulting Checkers. For insulting my parents. For insulting other people. I don't care about me, but I wanted her to not mean those. And I couldn't even do that much.

Why couldn't I even do that much? I deserve bad things and slander, but they don't.

Fuckerfly's voice interrupts my thoughts. "As enjoyable as the sight of your groveling is," she sneers, "it's time to extract payment for your transgressions."

"Now scream for me!" she yells. There's a thunderclap, and I look up to see a huge lightning bolt strike the mat in front of me, leaving a trail of fire in its wake. Fuckerfly... No, Milly, is laughing haughtily as my demise draws closer. I could run, but what's the point? I'll just get tired.

Please. Please just get it over with.

The lightning bolt fizzles out and stops just before it tickles my nose. I'm almost blind at the moment, but I hear something splatter to the ground a ways off. Looking up, I see Fuckerfly bent double, coughing and retching before a stream of vomit escapes from her lips. Her flying is even more irregular. She almost looks like she's drunk from how much she's swaying in the air. I wait and wait for her to resume the fight, but it's not happening. She's just barely hovering a few feet off the ground now. Is she okay?

Come on, Eleanor. You've been given a second chance. Don't waste it. It hurts like a bitch with the adrenaline gone, but I rush over to Fuckerfly just as she looks like she's getting over it. My power fist is pulled back for what I hope is a devastating hit.

Up close, I see her lips are stained black, and there's black veins on her arms and legs. There's a very sharp smell of ink in the air. Her eyes are red and bloodshot, too.

Focus, dammit! It doesn't matter even if it's the fucking plague! Focus focus FOCUS! I might be a fuckup, but if I try, I can still FUCK HER UP!

Fuckerfly raises her maces to attack again, but FUCK! THAT! SHIT! I smash my fist into her groin, uppercutting her with a cunt punch. There's a disgusting snap of bones breaking as her pelvis shatters, and Fuckerfly is sent spinning into the wall.

I'd swear even my mechanical arm is starting to feel tired, and I want to stop now. But Fuckerfly is sitting up and clutching her electrified weapons. So, even though it hurts so much that my vision is blurring with tears, I dash over to her as fast as I can go.

There's a lot of blood where she landed, with little swirls of black in it, too. Strips of skin and tendon barely keep Fuckerfly's legs attached to her body. I think that's a half-digested scone poking out of where her stomach was. And I can smell ink, though it's not nearly as strong as the stench of blood and other stuff.

God, I feel sick already.

"Y-you stup-" starts Fuckerfly, who immediately starts screaming when I pulverize her right arm, her mace clattering to the ground along with much of her useless appendage. She shakily raises her left mace, a bolt of lightning shooting out and striking the mechanical arm. I barely even felt it. Planting my foot on her chest, I grab her remaining limb just as she charges up for another shot. There's a popping noise, followed by a wet, tearing sound as I rip it off of her; her head bangs flatly against the bare metal floor.

I'm panting heavily now, I feel sick, and my eyes feel heavy, but Fuckerfly is in much worse shape. Her limbs are useless, and she's throwing up again. She's screaming curses at me now, too, most of them unintelligible, but I know what she's trying to say. More insults about me, whatever. I don't care anymore, she can't hurt me now.

Apparently, I was wrong. I forgot about the wings. Fuckerfly flaps her wings to launch herself at me. I think she's trying to bite me, but she's too slow. I grab her by the face and force her back to the ground. I make a fist with my left and try to punch her, but it just hurts when it connects with her ribcage and doesn't seem to do anything.

I'm going to feel awful about what I'm going to do next. But Fuckerfly's not staying down, and I'm still pissed about what she said about Checkers and my folks. Kneeling down on both wings to keep her pinned, I memorize where all the bits of her are, then shut my eyes so I don't have to watch what happens.

I bring my robotic fist down on her ribcage and crush it into pulp, the splashing and crunching sounds making me cringe as bits pieces of the girl splatter around. I feel some of it get on my face, and that makes me hesitate before I bring it down again. And again. And again. And again. Punctuating each strike by screaming "FUCK YOU" as I blindly reduce a living, breathing person into meat. Some of it even gets into my mouth, but I keep going.

The smell, the sounds, the exhaustion, the taste of blood, and the act itself finally become too much to bear, and I throw up my breakfast on top of the girl's corpse.

I think I can stop now.

I try to crawl away from the mess I've made, but everything hurts too much. Even the robot arm hurts, or maybe those are just phantom pains. Either way, I flop onto the ground and land in a pool of viscera and gore.

Don't look at it. Just don't fucking look at it.

A pair of firm hands pull me up from the ground and onto shaky feet, dragging me away. Even though I'm not looking at the mess anymore, my eyes feel almost too heavy to open.

...Fuck, Eleanor, you didn't even get hit that much. How can you be this tired?

Because I'm weak. If I didn't have this stupid arm, I'd be a little smoking stain on the mat right now. But that doesn't make it okay to do the same to Milly.

"And the winner, by total body destruction," calls out Kai from somewhere close, "be Eleanor Abbot Slam!"

"Congratulations, kiddo, you murdered a person" Madge quips dully. "Aren't you proud of yourself?"

I force my eyes open to look at them, and make the mistake of glancing back at the carnage. From this distance, it's a red and pink splatter against the wall, with some bits of white, yellow and black thrown in. I don't feel sick, though. I don't think I have any more sick to feel at this point. Instead, I feel...

...I feel tears forming in my eyes. I feel tears flowing down my cheeks. Fucking hell, you're just going to drag everyone down with you, Eleanor. And I just can't stop them. This whole thing is surreal and disgusting. I feel like I'm still stuck in that witch barrier.

"Don't cry now, lass, we'll have you patched up and shipshape in no time!" Kai reassures me as she pulls out a first aid kit, readying gauze and ointment to treat my injuries.

"I'm... I'm not proud..." I murmur quietly.

Madge sounds confused when she asks me, "What was that?"

"I'm not proud of myself..." I sob aloud. I turn back to look at both of them, feeling shame and indignation at their clueless expressions. "I... I... I went too far! Why didn't you stop me? She couldn't even defend herself at that point..."

"And it was right brutal, it was!" cheers the asshole pirate, earning a misty-eyed glare from me. "Ye make a fine Eversor, Slam!"

"Miss Cress," Madge says slowly, smiling at me, but in a way that doesn't feel like a real smile, "why don't you tend to her injuries while I do the talking?"

Pirate shark thing laughs it off noisily, but still asks, "Are you sure-"

"Yes," Madge insists, adding, "that's an order."

"Very well then, your Majesty," Captain sharktail concedes, shaking her head in bewilderment. While she's applying something to my arm that stings enough to make me wince, Madge - oh, she's the one who's holding me up - starts talking.

"Miss Slam," she asks, voice suddenly much gentler, "why were you applying for the Eversor program?"

"To... To go back home," I answer, sniffling a little afterwards.

"To go back home?"

I nod, explaining, "to the Eighth Officio." That makes Madge wince, but she doesn't interrupt me. "Russ said I had to... Had to be strong enough to protect myself."

I wait for a response, but the woman isn't saying anything. The only sounds are those of the pirate captain rummaging around the first aid kit. Madge is glancing at her watch every now and again.

I break the silence first. "And... And I was told... That she'd help me open a..." I feel my cheeks redden as my voice dips to a murmur, "...a candy shop."

"Am I correct to assume you dislike fighting?" Madge asks suddenly.

"Oh!" I jerk back as something taps my soul gem; gun shark lady holds up a grief seed full of black mist.

"I... Yeah," I answer, "I don't, I don't really like hurting people." Kai gives me a weird look, but says nothing.

"Miss Slam, you're what Miss Russ would refer to as 'terribly good-natured'," explains Madge. Despite her smile, her voice is cold enough that it makes me shiver. "While I can appreciate that you're not as bloodthirsty as the other crazed killers around here" Kai sniggers at this, earning a glare from Madge before she continues speaking, "how do you expect to earn your keep?"

"I could do paperwork like before..." I respond sadly, all my progress in the past few days starting to crumble like sand in a tide.

Madge is skeptical, "Can you really, though?"

"Hate paperwork," I mutter, shaking a little. "Paperwork hurts. Mentally. Physically. Even in my witch barrier, there was paperwork..."

"So you're the one that Crazy Crunch-" starts fish girl, but Madge hushes her.

"So," Madge summarizes, "you don't like hurting people. You don't like doing paperwork. What can you do, then?"

I glance at my feet, starting to cry at my own uselessness. "I... I don't know," I sob, "I just want to help..."

"You don't have to hurt people when you fight," Madge tells me, raising my hopes. "If you go witch hunting, that is."

...Fuck. Fucking hell. I don't think I can go through that sort of thing again without having a permanent mental breakdown. One nobody - not Russ, not Checkers, not my folks, not all the Culexus in the world - could snap me out of. Is this really the only thing I'm good for?

"Think of it this way, Miss Slam" explains Madge, as Kai finishes bandaging my legs, "Witches are magical girls who have been twisted by rage and grief into monsters. They are pitiful creatures, but still violent and dangerous. They're like once beloved pets who have become rabid, and infect everything they sink their teeth into. The most merciful thing you can do, then, is put them out of their misery."

Madge holds me by the head with both hands and looks me dead in the eyes. Her touch is freezing cold.

"Do you believe that you can do that?"

"...No." I answer flatly.

Madge looks disappointed. "Then I-"

"But," I interrupt, "I still want to try."

Madge's smile comes back. "Very good, then," she responds, letting me go to my stumbly feet, and glancing at her watch. She looks back to the shark girl, who has finished putting her stuff away. "Miss Cress?"

"Aye?" Kai pipes up.

"Please escort Miss Slam back to her quarters," Madge orders, adding, "I believe she's earned a rest."

Kai makes a little mock salute at her, grinning and calling back to her, "Aye aye!"

After that, Madge briskly walks toward the exit at the opposite end of the room. She's probably in a hurry.


"...Miss Madge?" I ask timidly.

Stopping and turning on her boot heel to face me, her half-cape swishing, Madge quirks her eyebrow in minor annoyance. "What is it now?"

I shrink back at this, feeling terrible for holding her up.

"Um... Thank you," I squeak. And just as to not delay her any further, I add, "That's all."

With that over and done with, Madge swiftly leaves Kai and me behind. She waves briefly, and I'd like to think that made her day just a little brighter.

Kai shakes her head and grumbles, "I can't understand this whole 'not wanting to hurt people' nonsense." Putting a clawed hand on my shoulder, she speaks up encouragingly as she leads me back out the way we came, "Still, I'm sure ye will make a fine witch hunter."

I feel myself going a little red in the face from such praise. Or maybe I'm just that tired. Either way, I tell her, "thanks."

The walk back is mostly uneventful. A lot of people glanced at us, but nobody stopped us or really said anything. It gave me some time to think, which caused me to remember something I should have asked about much sooner: "will Miss Schulz be okay?"

Kai laughs that odd laugh again. "No need to worry about Moneybags!" she reassures me, then snorts, whispering, "From what I heard from Her Majesty, she's been needin' to be knocked down a few pegs for some time now."

"In any case," she says aloud, no longer making a weird conspiratorial whisper, "the lass will be fine with some new prosthesis."

I just nod back. I guess it's okay... But I should send her a card or something. Probably won't apologize in person, though. That can't end well.

We stop in front of my room, just as something else hits me. "Wait," I exclaim, "what about work? I was supposed to be at Sundry Offerings later!" Jael's going to be so mad if I'm not there in time.

"Arr, me apologies, lass!" Kai says with an embarrassed smile while scratching at the back of her head, "I meant to tell ye that ye have the rest of the day off!"

...Huh. Okay.

"But startin' tomorrow," she warns, "ye be in Eversor trainin'!"

And with that said, she leaves me alone. Her tail thing is still glaring at me, right until she rounds a corner and disappears.

Put key in slot. Turn knob. Pull open door. Remove key. Go in. Shut door. Lock door. The room's just as I left it not too long ago. I don't know why I thought it'd be any different.

I'm hungry again, but more than anything else, I'm tired. Deactivating my costume makes some of the mess, and some of the smell, go away, but I'm too exhausted to shower the rest off. Too much hassle. Plus I don't know what I'm supposed to do with these bandages. Are they waterproof?

I pick up my pajamas off the floor and slip them back on. The sun's still out, so I close the curtains on the window, leaving the room... Relatively dark, before flopping onto the bed.

Oh, remove arm first. Turn this way, then that way... It comes off with a click. There's a lot of blood and stuff on the fist.

I'll clean it up later. I'll call up Checkers later.

Right now I'm just so sleepy.

But... I think I'm going to be okay. Yeah. It's not great, it's not ideal, but I think I might be okay. And so is Milly. She'll be okay. Things are going to be okay. I'm sure of it this time.

...I really hope things are going to be okay.

Omake: We Need A Hero[edit]


"Heyyyy, Crunchy, what's up?"

"NAKAJIMAAAA! How did YOU get this number?"

"Magic. But that's not important, because Jade and I need your help!"

"What does my RIVAL need help with that she cannot do herself?"

"Well, remember how you trashed our place?"

"You mean how I DESTROYED your DEN OF SIN in our GLORIOUS...LY TERRIBLE BATTLE? Don't you EVER make me do that again!"

"Heehee, soooorrryyyy! Anyhoooo, now Jade and I have nowhere to go! We're stuck out on the street, cold and starving like that digging matchstick girl!"

"Somehow I find that VERY HARD to believe!"

"It's really true!"

"Supposing it is... This involves me -how-, exactly?"

"We need a place to stay, and we still have to keep an eye on you, so I figure we should kill two birds with one laser : We can stay where you're lodging!"

"...You canNOT be serious."

"Super duper serious! Jaaaade! Tell Crunchy how serious I am!"

"My sister is terribly serious. Please help us, Miss Crunch."

"Yeah, let us crash with you!"



"NO! I will NOT allow you to defile my sanctuary with your villainy!"

"Aww, that's not very heroic at all!"


"Please. You are our only hope, Miss Crunch."

"C'moooon, save us!"

"Grr... VERY WELL! I will extend to YOU, THE NAKAJIMAS, the use of my current residence!"

"Yaaay! Yay with me Jade, we're in!"


"BUT! If I catch you doing anything suspicious there, the Crunch Train is RUNNING YOU OUT!"

"Oh don't you worry about that. You won't catch us doing any such thing~!"

"...Good! See to it that you don't!"

"Alrighty! Thank you sooo much, Crunchy~."

"Yes, yes, now let me give you the address..."

"We already know where you live, we'll be there in five!"


"See you soon! Bye bye~."

  • BEEP*

"...I have a very bad feeling about this..."

Magical Torturer Suzi Berry versus Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam[edit]

Dang, why couldn't I just let her sleep through it? No matter how many times I see it, she always looks too darn cute when she's sleepin'. She's like a frowny little angel.

Though, considerin' how long that quickie took, she's probably had too much time as it is. I take out my phone and flip it on, and, obscurin' the naughty bits on my wallpaper, is a clock that says... I still have a few minutes before I have to get goin'.

"Rise and shine, Elly!" I call out cheerily, partin' the curtains to let some light in, and then standin' at the foot of her bed. Elly's wincin' and tossin' beneath the covers right now... Ah, there's one eye open!

"...Nnn... Huh...?" Ihihihi, she's groggy~.

I give my little introduction, wavin' by curlin' my fingers and sayin', "Helloooo~! Suzi Escort Service, here to pick ya up." After givin' her a smart little salute, I crawl onto the bed and pose tastefully at the end.

"...Oh, it's you..." she murmurs, sleepily wipin' at her eyes and sittin' up in bed to glare at me. It... takes her a bit to do that one-handed. She's wearin' those cute pajamas, too. "How'd you get in?" she asks. She wasn't even surprised? Oh well.

"Ya need to lock yer windows, Elly~," I tease her. Not that lockin' her windows stopped me before, ihihihi. And, aww, she's already got a case of bedhead again.

"...'kay..." she says, blearily rubbin' at her eyes again with just one hand. She must be really out of it after all.

Somethin's been buggin' me, though. Somethin' familiar in the air. I can't place the smell exactly, but it smells like...

"Do I smell flowers?" I ask her.

She just nods a little. "Shampoo," she clarifies. I didn't take her for the type to use the flowery stuff.

I can't help but grin a little bit at this.

"Why Elly, ya little heartbreaker," I say, narrowin' my eyes at her and tuggin' her curly hair to make it bounce like a spring, "were ya dressin' up for a date?"

"No..." she mumbles while yawnin', tryin' to glare harder at me through squinted eyes. And she forced my hand away. "What d'you want?"

"Oh, just to serve my Officio to the best of my ability..." I say in a dreamy voice, whirlin' around and danglin' my legs off the foot of the bed, "and maybe a little house on the hill near the ocean, with a servin' staff that doesn't mind bein' touched..." I wipe at the edge of my mouth with my sleeve.

Elly takes a bit to process what I told her, and then drones, "...Wonnerful. Hope you get it... Now why're you here?"

"Ihihihi, ya wanna know about the spiders and the bees, do ya?" I answer. She's frownin' in confusion. It's too darn cute.

"Tha's not-"

"Just kiddin'," I interrupt. It's time to get down to business, so I tell her, "I'm here to take ya to a party " She blinks slowly a couple times, then scowls at me.

"...Fuck off..." she growls, fallin' back down onto the bed and pullin' up the sheets.

"Come onnn," I playfully demand of her, crawlin' over to where she is. "Get up!"

She pulls the covers over her head. "Don' wanna..." she mumbles.

"Ya gotta!" I insist, pullin' the covers away, "Warmaster's orders."

Elly's voice is muffled when she buries her face in her pillow, sayin' "...Screw that, got the day off..."

"Don't ya like parties?" I ask, genuinely curious.

She turns her head to speak - well, grumble - clearly, sayin', "Too noisy..." before coverin' her head with another pillow. "Now get outta my room..."

Normally, I'd leave it at that - don't wanna overstay my welcome here - but orders are orders. So I tear the pillow out of her hands and shout, "Eleanor Abbot Slam, if ya don't get outta bed on the count'a three, I'm draggin' ya there myself!"

"...Go away..." she says quietly.

Nothin' for it, then. "One... Two... Three-"

Elly rolls over, fallin' onto the floor and cursin'. "Fuck!" she shouts, strugglin' to sit up one-armed. She's glarin' at me, and snarls, "Fine! I'm up! Let's get this over with."

While she's pullin' herself to her feet, I remind her, "Ya can't go in yer pajamas, hon."

...She sure is glowerin' a lot today. Still scowlin' as she transforms into costume. That seems to have cured the bed-head, if nothin' else. After she's slotted in her arm with a -click-, she's already marchin' out the door. Trailin' after her, I reach down and gather up some webbin', and...

"Hey! What the hell are you doing?" she screeches in alarm.

"I'm afraid that yer reaction earlier was a little too slow," I chide her, havin' her firmly trapped in my little mesh. Pullin' her behind me, she looks like a kid bein' dragged on a blanket. Not lettin' her use that golden gauntlet to claw at the ground, though, so I give a little tug -here- and... Snared the arm! And she doesn't look too happy about it.

"Lemme go, you crazy pervert!" she screams, wrestlin' with it and gettin' stuck like a fly. "Get this thing off!"

"Ihihihi, already got off before I got here!" I happily inform Elly, elicitin' a disgusted groan from her. "And had a quickie with that cutie pie with the rabbit ears." I think back on it and shiver a little. "Ya wouldn't believe what she can do with her-"

"Shut up and let me go!" she interrupts. How rude of her to do that~.

"Only if I can hold yer hand the rest of the way to keep ya from runnin' off," I taunt back.

"Fuck you!" she spits. "Stop treating me like a child!"

"No thanks~!" I cheerily reply, addin', "And I'll consider ya a proper adult when ya get yer first kiss."

I turn back to look at her, and... Ah, there it is. She's blushin' an adorable shade of pink right now. "Ihihihi, yer gonna be a real heartbreaker when ya grow up, Elly~. But for now just let big sis Suzi take care of ya."

Well she seems to be in pretty high spirits, all things considered. I guess that's enough enough toyin' with her for now. Don't want to tease her too much.

Nudgin' open the double doors, I announce to the room at large that "We're heeeere!" 'Here' bein' a relatively small room for small ceremonies. They brought in a few extra tables for the refreshments, and most of the chairs are up against the wall.

Four heads - three rank leaders and the Warmaster herself - turn to look at us, and all of them bear confused expressions.

"Warmaster!" I exclaim, lettin' the net dissolve away before standin' up straight and salutin'.

The Warmaster is the first of the bemused partygoers to respond. "Miss Berry," she asks, "why is Miss Slam restrained?"

"Ya told me I had to bring her here, but she wasn't cooperatin'," I explained.

"And you explained to her attendance was mandatory?"

"Yes, ma'am!"

"You couldn't lead her here by hand?"

"She wouldn't let me!"

"Did you tell her there was a party?"

"Yes, ma'am!"

"With food? Cake? Ice cream?"

Ah. Whoops.

"No, ma'am, I did not."

"You should have done that first," the Warmaster chides. As an afterthought, she tells me, "at ease." I drop the salute and turn to look at Elly...

Holy cow, her eyes are sparklin'.

"Cake and ice cream?" Elly pipes up, turnin' to look at me, her face full of hope, "there's cake and ice cream?"

I pat her on the head and she doesn't even flinch. "That's right, Elly," I inform her. "Everybody was just waitin' on us."

Elly's actually smilin'. And now she's frownin' and starin' at the ground, mumblin', "...Sorry."

"What are ya apologizin' for?!" I ask incredulously.

"Because I made everyone wait for cake and ice cream..." she responds, hands behind her back, "I know how much I like cake and ice cream, so makin' people have to wait for it..." She looks to the room at large and says just a little louder, "'m sorry."

"Don't apologize," instructs Madge, ever the order-giver. "Indulge yourself." She certainly is; she may be usin' a teacup and saucer, but I can smell the bourbon from over here.

"Aye! Welcome t' the party, Slam!" cheers our jolly old Roger, Miss Cress, a half-empty bottle of rum already in her hand. Oh, she's lookin' at me now. "And it looks as though ye already found yourself a fine lass, too."

"Oh, ya flatterer~," I titter, battin' my eyes. This makes her laugh. Elly's givin' us both odd looks as Kai catches her breath. "Now ye just need a few swigs o' rum and-"

"Miss Cress," Madge interrupts, givin' her a smile and a glare, "I believe Miss Slam is not old enough for alcohol." This makes the poor Eversor frown.

"Arr, ye don't like fightin', ye don't like killin', and ye don't like rum?" grumbles Miss Cress, takin' a swig from her own bottle before pointin' a claw at Elly. "If ye were any less a person, I'd make ye walk th' plank!"

"In any case, do not mind us," Madge says with her trademark smile. "Treat us like we're not even here."

"Hah, like th' Unseen Queen needs help w' that!" jeers Miss Cress, earnin' herself an elbow in the ribs from Madge. Doesn't stop her from laughin'. Silly bugger.

Lookin' back at Elly, she's a bit taken aback. Tryin' to make her mouth form words that won't come, until she manages to ask, "...Why?"

The Warmaster smiles warmly at her, sayin', "because you passed initiation, of course." Hah, the Warmaster's tail's waggin'! She's really pleased with herself, isn't she? "We asked Miss Cooldown what you liked, and made preparations just minutes after you did so." Elly's still strugglin' with words at this point. The Warmaster puts her hands on Elly's shoulders, talkin' real gentle. "I know it is a bit much to take in at once. Think of it as us making amends for not offering you a proper welcome when you first arrived."

Looks like Blue's already stuffin' her face now that the guest of honor's here. "So she's the one who knocked the smug out of Milly Moneybags?" she asks after swallowin' a mouthful of corndog. The kid doesn't seem to recognize her, but she's probably never met her before.

Elly asks the Warmaster, "...Who is she?" while pointin' at Blue. Sure, act like I'm not even here.

Miss Russ leads her away from me, motionin' with her head to move back. I guess she wants to do this part herself. "This is Miss Contra," the Warmaster responds, "our Vindicare Rank Leader."

"Hello!" greets the redhead, makin' a smart and snappy salute after puttin' down her meal, and says, "Vindicare Rank Leader Belinda Contra here! But Blue's fine. Bel is preferred, really."

Gesturin' back toward the other two, the Warmaster continues introductions, sayin', "And I believe you've met Miss Cress and Miss Shine."

Cress is already givin' her cheeky two-fingered salute. "Aye!" she exclaims, standin' up straight, "actin' Eversor Rank Leader Cress, reportin'!" Even her tail seems to be at attention here.

"Callidus Rank Leader Ethelinda Joyce Shine," states Madge, already at attention. "'Madge' is fine, thank you."

"Miss Winters would be here to represent our Culexus," the Warmaster explains, drawin' Elly's attention back to her, "but she is indisposed at the moment."

Elly frowns with concern. There's no way they've met. Especially without me knowin'. But she still asks, "...Is she okay?"

The Warmaster reassures her, statin' confidently, "she will be fine, I'm certain of it." Which is probably true.

That seems good enough for Elly, and she nods in acknowledgement. "But why are so many important people here?" she inquires, lookin' around again. I give her another little wave, but the Warmaster shakes her head at me, so I put my hand down.

Smilin' brilliantly, the Warmaster lays it out for Elly by tellin' her, "because you're our special guest, of course!"

"...All of this for me..." Elly murmurs, takin' a moment to process it. She's a little red-faced right now. "Thank you..."

Geez, she almost looks like she's gonna hug Miss Russ at this point. Oh well, don't mind me, I don't need an introduction anyway.

Ah well, Elly seems happy enough.

Reluctantly, I leave the kid alone with the Warmaster. Probably doesn't need me hoverin' over her shoulder anyway. Miss Russ knows what she's doin'.

Lookin' around the room, I find Miss Cress and Blue talkin' enthusiastically about somethin'. Judgin' by Miss Cress's violent gesticulations, and goin' by Blue's fascinated look, it's probably not somethin' I want a part of. The buffet itself looks temptin', but I'm not real hungry or thirsty. Already ate out before I got here.

So I make to stand next to Madge, and she pointedly takes a step away from me, smile falterin' a bit. Such a killjoy.

"Not sure why our Warmaster wanted me to fetch Elly if she was just gonna shoo me away," I say, foldin' my arms behind my head and leanin' against the wall.

Madge takes a sip of bourbon and shakes her head. "Search me," she responds, then adds, "please do not actually try to search me." Such a killjoy.

"She's just tryin' to get in good with the Americans, ain't she?" I query, bouncin' on my heels and tiptoes. Madge doesn't seem to like it, but she should know by now I'm not one for sittin' still.

After sighin', Her Majesty royally informs me, "that was my guess, yes." Then she chuckles, addin', "Well, Blue jumped at the opportunity for free food." That sounds about right. That's the only reason I can think of for all of these preparations, and for all the top brass of the Sixth bein' here. Well, not all the top brass. Ashford wouldn't have anythin' to do with somethin' so frivolous, but the Equerry...

"Where's Grumpy?" I inquire.

"Miss Morkai?" clarifies Madge, to which I nod my head. "She is still busy with the paperwork that Miss Slam used to do. I do not believe bringing her is a good idea."

Uh oh. "She's not gonna try and antagonize Elly, is she?" I venture, visibly cringing. Elly's in real trouble if Grumpy's after her.

Madge shakes her head. "The Warmaster would not allow it, and Miss Morkai knows it," she says, takin' another sip.

Elly looks pretty content right now. She's smilin', for one, and seems to be enjoyin' the burgers. Russ is just standin' near her, talkin' about her future and how to prepare for it.

It's nice for the kid, and yet...

"It's gonna be real hard for Elly from here on out..." I say at last, smilin' grimly.

Madge stares intently at her teacup. "Personally, I do not believe Miss Slam can handle it," she says after a moment. "She is simply too soft, and the Warmaster doesn't want to change that about her. Her victory was simply a fluke."

"The Warmaster usually ain't wrong, though," I counter.

"True. I do not want to see her fail, either," Madge says, takin' another sip from her posh teacup. "And not just because it'd mean more work for me."

Lookin' at her, I smile just a little bit in a sincere way. "Because she ain't a crude meathead?"

Madge nods in response. "Because she's not a crude meathead, yes." That's good enough for me.

"I'm still gonna keep an eye on her when I can," I declare. I think Madge flinched at that, which got me a bit curious. "What're you gonna do?" I ask her.

"I'm going to do my job as best as I can," she says coolly. "If it involves her somehow, that is entirely coincidental."

I grin at her, tauntin', "Ya sure talk like ya got a stick up yer arse when the Warmaster's in the room, don't ya?"

Madge's smile twists into a smirk. "Like you would find a stick up your ass objectionable," she retorts.

"Ihihihi, touché," I respond, smilin' widely. That one was actually pretty good.

Looks like they're bringin' out the cake now. It's a big chocolate one, with cherries on it. Should be enough to feed all of us. Well, maybe not Blue, but if she eats Elly's cake before the kid has had her fill, I'm gonna-

"Miss Berry?" Madge calls my name suddenly out of the blue. I turn to look at her, and... Well, she's smilin', but her eyes are hardened. She looks serious. "What did you think of Miss Hesselius?"

"Ah, the one you set me up with?" I ask. She nods, and I start smilin' again. "She's a great gal. I can see why the other folks are a bit creeped out by her, but I don't mind her company at all." I giggle a little, thinkin' back on the meetin'. "Plus she's got this thing where she-"

"She's looking forward to seeing you again," Madge interrupts. "Should I ask my contact to bring her along during the conference?" Ah. So that's what it's about.

"I'm sure she is," I mumble, lookin' at the floor. "But I'm really not the type to commit, y'know? You understand that, right?" I hear Madge takin' a long drink before she sets the cup and saucer down on a nearby table.

"I ssssee."

Uh oh, she's very, very angry now. I look back at her and her expression is nothin' more than a smile and two eyes showin' how much restraint goes into her not immediately makin' my life hell on earth.

"I mean, I'm just not ready for that kind of a relationship," I try to explain, bringin' my hands up defensively. She doesn't seem to buy it. I sigh a bit, tryin' to be reasonable and tell her, "I really do like her - in fact I really do like her a lot. I might even love her, but-"

"But WHAT?" Madge hisses, her normally cool and collected voice now venomous and spiteful. The smile only makes it worse. "You've been 'not ready for a relationship' for, what, five yearsss? Sssix?" She shakes her head at me. "I know you misssss your dear friend, but you've had time enough to bed everything that didn't refussse you, and you're SSSTILL not over her?!"

I want to tell her yes, that it's okay, that I'll sweep that lady from the Second off her feet and make her the happiest gal in the world. And yet...

"I'm real sorry, but... I, I just can't."

Madge continues glarin' at me like she wants me dead, moreso than normal, and then quietly asks, "then what should I tell her?"

I shake my head at her. "I'll tell her," I volunteer. "No need to burden yerself. It's the least I can do."

Just as Madge is about to lay into me some more, the Warmaster claps her hands and motions for both of us to come forward. "We'll talk more about thissss later," Madge growls, walkin' over to where everyone is gathered. Such a killjoy.

I follow a little bit behind her, curious as to what could possibly be-

Oh. Oh, wow. I guess it's a bit late, considerin' it actually happened a bit more than a month ago, but...

Elly's just standin' there gapin'. I can't blame her, I wasn't told about this part either. But I really should have expected somethin' like that from Miss Russ.

There's fourteen candles on the cake, their little flames flickerin'.

"Happy Birthday, Eleanor," the Warmaster says softly, before leadin' us in song.

...Yeah, it's gonna be tough for Elly. But I think I can afford to put off worrying about the future until tomorrow.

Omake: Good Luck[edit]

"Checkers Checkers Checkers!"

"Hey, kid, how was the party?"

"They had cake and ice cream! And I got an advance on my salary as 'motivation' or something. It's ten thousand dollars! That's more than I made in a year before, and now it's twice that much, every month!"

"Heh, I take it you had fun?"

"Y-yeah. Well, no..."


"It was nice, but it wasn't, y'know... Fun?"

"Well when you get back... Yeah, we'll do better than those sheepfuckers. We have Disneyland."

"I'd... Yeah, I'd like that."

"So, I heard you killed the shit out of your opponent?"


"You didn't like killing the shit out of your opponent?"

"It felt... Wrong. I don't like hurting people. E-even mean people like Milly."


"How do you go through with it?"

"Kid, you...You and I are different, I'll put it that way. ...Let me talk to Dorothy about it, she'd probably know more about it than me. I guess until I get back to you... Aim for the legs and joints, it's painful but it'll cripple anybody after you and it's nonlethal, and witches aren't people. That's a whole fucking forest of problems if you start thinking of witches as people."

"Y-yeah. I decided to hunt witches instead."

"Even after... Y'know?"

"Yeah. Really, I don't think I can do it..."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"I'm gonna try anyway. I, I want to help somehow. And witches need... Need help moving on, right?"

"...Well, shit, I don't know about that, but whatever floats your boat, Papers. Good luck with that, really."

"Thank you, Checkers."

"...Oh, one more thing."


"...Fuck, this is embarassing... Don't tell anyone about this or else..."

"I won't. What is it?"

"...H-h-happy Birthday to you, H-happy Birthday to you... H-happy Birthday, dear Eleanor... Happy Birthday to you..."

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus Magical Ascetic Valentina Tenko[edit]

"Sister, she's going to wake up any minute now."

My eyes SNAP open as consciousness returns to me, and I spy a sneak straddling me with a sheepish smile, in a yellow shirt that SCANDALOUSLY reveals her navel, and grey sweatpants that accentuate her FOCUS CRUNCH FOCUS DON'T LET HER GET IN YOUR HEAD!

In her hand she is holding another syringe. I thought myself SAFE sleeping in a negligee, but I WAS GRAVELY MISTAKEN. I could almost overlook this HORRIFIC breach of trust and violation of my personal space... If this wasn't the THIRD TIME THIS WEEK!

"NAKAJIMAAAA!" I bellow at her loudly, which only makes her smile bigger, "I TOLD you to stop trying to experiment on me in my sleep!"

"I apologize," she says demurely. Well, that's more-

Wait, that's the other Nakajima, standing off to the side. "Not... Not you," I clarify. Why's she the only one dressed?

"Oh crackle," Nakajima - the first Nakajima, that is - squawks, trying to stand. "She's awake!"

No more games. I make to snatch the syringe from her hands, informing this SATANIC SIREN that "I'LL be taking THIS devil's instrument, and-"

"Kyaaaa~!" she screeches, before toppling on top of me. Of all the stupid, contrived nonsense...

I NARROWLY avoid having my eye pierced with the needle, which clatters onto the floor! "Geh... Get off of me!" I rage at her, trying to untangle myself!

Wait, how'd her hand get in there? Don't even think about- "Ohhh, that's soft and squishy~!"

"A-ah..." I coo helplessly as a jolt of electricity runs up my spine... THEN SNAP TO MY SENSES AND TENSE UP, THUNDERING, "RELEASE YOUR GRASP ON ME, YOU SINFUL SUCCUBUS, OR SO HELP ME I WILL-"

"Jaaaaade!" this VIOLENT VIXEN SHRIEKS, attempting to RESTRAIN me! "Stop taking pictures and get the syringe, I think she's serious!"

"A very nice pose," comes the voice of the other Nakajima, along with the sound of a camera shutter clicking.

"Jaaaade! Hurry, she's about to-"

"DYNAMIC EXIT!" I CRY OUT, REMOVING Nakajima from my person by BRACING against her and THROWING her off with my feet! HAH! Even when not transformed, THE CRUNCH TRAIN EJECTS UNWANTED PASSENGERS! Nakajima LAUNCHES OFF the bed, clear to the other side of the room, and hits the wall!

"Owww!" the girl groans, stumbling forward. I see what you're planning, Nakajima, and I will THWART it! For as soon as she's stumbled over to where the syringe is, I am already LEAPING out of bed and DESCENDING UPON HER LIKE THE FIST OF GOD! She only has a moment to pick it up and call out "Got it!" before THE CRUNCH TRAIN RUNS HER OVER AND PINS HER DOWN!

Prying it out of her hand, I declare triumphantly, "your nefarious needle is MINE now!"

"Hey, give that back!" Nakajima calls out beneath me, unable to pry me off. "That solution's really hard to replace!" she adds, trying AGAIN to grab my chest, but I RESTRAIN her arm while keeping the nefarious instrument out of her reach.

"I'M going to hold on to this," I declare, to the BOTH of them. "You can have it back when I am GONE."

"Give it back!" Nakajima pleads. "Pleeeeease!" She's frowning heavily, but I will NOT be moved as I am going to focus on the OTHER Nakajima instead!

"We would appreciate it if you returned that to us, Miss Crunch," other Nakajima says politely.

I shake my head, for I have made up my mind! "NO!"

"Pretty please with a cherry on top?" says Nakajima hopefully. I turn to look - DAMMIT SHE'S MAKING PUPPY-DOG EYES AT ME! Will failing... resolve crumbling... GAH! This soft-heartedness of mine is going to come back to haunt me someday. I just know it!

"If you promise to stop trying to conduct SCIENCE on me in my sleep," I say slowly, "THEN I'll give it back. Deal?"

Nakajima pleads pleadingly, "can we run more tests on you while you're awake, then?"

"What?" I ask incredulously, keeping the wiggling woman held down. "Why would I EVER allow that?" What are they thinking?

"To test your physical limits beyond what we have already tried," explains other Nakajima.

"Aren't you just the teensiest bit curious?" inquires Nakajima. Her lower lip is trembling. Confound her, she raises a good point.

"Nnngh... No funny business?" I ask.

"We're not gonna kill you or make you wish you'd died, Crunchy," reassures Amber, who THEN adds, "unless something goes wrong, but what are the chances of that?"

"Remarkably low if we are not trying," says other Nakajima, having moved adjacent to me. FORTUNATELY, the implement we are bargaining for is out of BOTH their reaches.

"I'll agree," I concede... BUT I state my terms, saying, "that is, IF you swear that you will not conduct experiments on me while I sleep, and will NOT use this opportunity for EVIL!" My grip tightens as I bellow "SWEAR ON IT!"

Amber calls out, "aww, butterpoop!"


"Just kidding," Amber says with a grin, holding up her hand, pinky extended. "Pinky swear!"

"PINKY SWEAR!" I yell out, RELEASING my grasp on her to wrap my pinky around hers.

"Pinky swear," murmurs the other Nakajima, linking her pinky around ours. We hold it for a moment, and... I hand the other Nakajima the syringe. Amber cheers.

"Alright then!" I say, my mood considerably improved, "are you preparing breakfast again?"

"Yah huh!" Amber chirps, nodding her head, "Jade and I are invincible when we're together!"

"Unstoppable culinary machines," affirms other Nakajima, the syringe already gone.

"I would like that!" I reply with a smile, then order, "SNAP TO IT, THEN!"

"Umm... Could you get off of me, first?" asks Amber, face slightly red. What is-


"DIABOLICAL DEMONIC DELILAHS, THE BOTH OF YOU!" I scream at the Nakajimas. Amber just titters and Jade looks at me impassively. The impact is probably lost after being said through a mouthful of food.

Swallowing, I clarify, saying, "Having said that, you are EXCELLENT cooks!" Before coming here, it'd been AGES since I'd had an American-style spread. A plate of crispy bacon and steaming scrambled eggs over here. A plate of golden waffles DROWNING in syrup and butter over there. Before me, PUMPKIN MUFFINS AND HASH BROWNS! I click my chopsticks together and hold up another slice of bacon, then start to DEVOUR THE GOODNESS.

Nakajima bows her head, and starts murmuring, "gosh, and here I was hoping you'd say I'd make a great wife someday."

I nearly spit out my meal. Was she attempting to make me choke to death? I'M ON TO YOU, NAKAJIMAAAAAAAAA!

"Aww, Crunchy's cute when she's blushing~!" she teases, my face growing hotter. I... Just... Argh!

Other Nakajima interjects, "you said she was cute all the time." G-grr... Stop fanning the flames, you duplicitous-

"What? Jade, I did not!" a pink-faced Nakajima cries in outrage.

"Did so," claims other Nakajima, holding up her phone and proclaiming, "I have proof."

Nakajima is pointedly unable to look at my glorious, if flustered, visage, stammering, "Well don't tell her that!"

"Too late," says other Nakajima, holding the incriminating item just out of reach of her sibling. I feel a powerful urge to avert my head...

Swallowing, I croak, "nuh... Nuh... New subject!" Recapturing their attention, I ask, "When did you STOP poisoning my food?"

A serious atmosphere chokes the cheer out of the room. Both of them look equally shocked. "Uh oh," Nakajima groans, "you noticed?"

"I'm NOT stupid enough to miss it," I inform her, pointing my chopsticks at her. "Now ANSWER MY QUESTION!"

Other Nakajima bows at me, stating, "We have been trying since the beginning, and only stopped today. My apologies."

"Yeah, yeah, sorry," Nakajima says insincerely. Her curiosity overwhelms her tact, and she presses, "say, you haven't been feeling nauseous or sleepy or anything?"

Puffing my chest out, I proudly declare, "Not in the SLIGHTEST!"

"Be serious," Nakajima says without ANY trace of amusement, "this is important science stuff."

Setting down my chopsticks, I inform them, "I have NOT felt any such -weakness- after consuming these meals."

The two of them stare at me for about a minute. They see only the BLINDING truth, as other Nakajima states, "invincible body."

I grin at them, the seriousness SHATTERED, and shout, "INVINCIBLE!"

"Yaaaay!" Nakajima cheers while hugging her sister. "We're off the hook!"

"No you're not!" I interrupt, startling them both. "Between THIS and allowing you to continue your experiments, YOU OWE ME." With how they're staring at the ground, it's CLEAR that they understand this. FINALLY, I have the upper hand!

Satisfied, I take a swig of milk before I pick my chopsticks back up, and RESUME my consumption.

Mmm, these eggs are nice and fluffy. Taste like VICTORY.

"Sooo," Nakajima says nervously, "what happened with the flower lady?"

Pointing my utensils at the Nakajimas, I inform the both of them, "she REFUSES to see me after the INFERNO CONSUMED her flower fields!" It wasn't supposed to rage out of control like that.

"But on the plus side, no more wasp's nest!" Nakajima volunteers.

"No more anything," other Nakajima drones.

"In any case," I continue after finishing a muffin, "I -must- meet with the Spiritual Liege once more, and find out WHAT is on the itinerary for today."

"And we'll tag along out of sight, right Jade?" Nakajima says excitedly, turning to her sister.

"Completely silent," other Nakajima confirms.

"SEE TO IT THAT YOU DO!" I roar, transforming into my costume at long last, "For I have ANSWERS to find!"

Both of them nod in response. Nakajima fist-bumps her sister and calls out, "Nakajima twin powers, gooo!"

"Aiyaaaaah!" screeches the Spiritual Liege of the Seventh, who looks quite cross. "Crunch why you come back?"

Bowing slightly, I answer her, "SPIRITUAL LIEGE! I am here for the remainder of the month, as I seek-"

"You set back Plum Blossom anger management two years!" she interrupts. STOP DOING THAT, IT'S RUDE!

"That was not my intention," I answer her plainly. It wasn't supposed to get out of control like that.

"You not even sorry!" she seethes, MENACING me with that... paper on a stick thing. "Xiaomei make you sorry!"

Thumping my chest with my fist, I PROUDLY declare, "even so, I ERRRADICATED the wasp's nest, AS I WAS INSTRUCTED TO-"

"Xiaomei not care!" she interrupts AGAIN, pointing now towards the western hallway. "You train with other noisy Rank Leader!"


"You dismissed!" the Spiritual Liege says with finality, turning her back on me. It seems there is simply NO REASONING with her.

...I WORRY for the state of this Officio with such a person in charge.

I take my leave and STRIDE down the indicated hall. The place is only MODESTLY furnished, with PLANTS and PICTURES and PICTURES OF PLANTS lining it, aside from the various closed doors. The hall is DEATHLY quiet, aside from the clacking of my steps on the wooden floor.

And the various sounds the Nakajimas are making as they follow me. Sounds such as jumping and LOUDLY somersaulting, things that are COMPLETELY out of place when trying to be quiet and sneak around. Even I know that much, as the Big Boss INSISTED I learn about how to move stealthily. While it hasn't seen use, it allows me to know, WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING, that they are doing it WRONG!

"Hey Crunchy! We're being ninjas!"

...Do NOT look, Crunch. It's simply NOT worth it.

The only door open is a sliding door at the end of the hall. I make to move through it, and look around-

Wait, my Crunch senses are tingling! DANGER IS NEAR!

There's movement to the left of me. I turn to face it just as a BURNING SWORD BEARS DOWN UPON ME!


"And so comes the Truth-Seeker," speaks the wielder, a girl with long blue hair, "who holds the sun upon her back!"

"What is the MEANING of this?" I demand, holding the searing hot blade between my hands and forcing it back! "And what is the MEANING of that thing you said? WHO ARE YOU?"

My assailant WISELY sheathes her blade after that. "I am the lone island in a sea of tranquil fury!" she answers.


"I am the whispering winds and the babbling brooks, intermingling and shifting!" she elaborates. I don't get what she's talking about.

"No, your NAME!" I angrily demand of her. "What is your NAME?"

Putting her hands on her hips and staring straight ahead, the person says, "My name is Valentina Tenko! The Eversor Soul Temperer of this most sacred of places!"

"Is that like a Rank Leader?" I ask of this confusing person.

After relaxing her posture, she turns to look at me and COMPLETELY IGNORES MY QUESTION! "Are you the one known as Heather Crunch?"

Aha! "I am indeed!" I respond. "So YOU are the one I was supposed to find."

"Indeed I am!" Tenko replies, and asks of me, "but have you found yourself?"

I frown in confusion. "I'm... I'm right here, aren't I?" I ask. I'm me, right? I pull at the fabric of my jacket to see that, yes, I'm almost certainly myself and not another person.

Tenko throws her arms wide and turns away from me, declaring, "And yet you are nowhere at all!"

"No," I try to explain to her, "I'm right-"

She looks over her shoulder, looking very pleased with herself when she assures me, "I see now that you have much to learn, Seeker of Enlightenment!"

Between this, the Spiritual Liege, and the Nakajimas, my patience is NEARLY AT ITS END! "I KNOW that!" I SHOUT, GESTICULATING WILDLY. "THAT is why I'm here!"

"You only know of battles without!" Tenko scoffs, "but what of your battles within?"

"You're not making any SENSE!" I SCREAM!

She's not even looking at me! She's looking outside! "The zealous fires that race across the sky draw closer to the horizon!" she proclaims, spinning around and drawing her blade from its sheath in a burst of flame. "Come, Seeker of Wisdom, show me your heart!" What is she-


I can't help but smile at this. "HAH! I know what -that- means!" I say with COMPLETE CERTAINTY! IMPOSING my will into physical form, my Eversword manifests in my hands! Both of us take our stances, and it's Tenko that makes the first move! My trusty blade repels a fiery slash, but Tenko simply uses the momentum to make ANOTHER swing! I am unguarded, but not defenseless, as my UNBREAKABLE body takes the attack, and that ones that follow, in stride!

...Well, it hurts a bit. Quite a bit, really. I forgot how hard Rank Leaders hit.

Tenko follows up with a FIERCE upward kick. I am sent FLYING and reeling from pain as she LEAPS after me! I am COMPLETELY HELPLESS!


I WILL heaviness into my blade, and I PLUMMET to the ground before she can reach me. Tenko knows what's coming next, but her evasive maneuvers are NOT fast enough to stop the Crunch Train!

"COUNTER SWING!" I bellow, whipping my sword back and SLASHING into the airborne figure! Even though she blocks some of it, she CRASHES into the far wall!

I thought it would break, being wood, but it did not. Curious. But not important! As she points her weapon at me, a CONE OF FLAME ENGULFS ME! The searing heat is even MORE intense than that of Nakajima's energy katana, and is QUITE PAINFUL! It is even singeing my costume away!


CHARGING THROUGH THE INFERNO, I slash at her AGAIN! Even though Tenko is able to parry my blow, I FORCE her back with the sheer weight of it, and she seems to be in WORSE shape than I! I can tell she's holding back - we both are, but I don't know how much stronger she can get.

"Your fighting is like a raging typhoon!" she commends me, panting slightly. "And yet, it lacks something!"

Holding up my sword, I ask of her, "What does it lack? What is the answer that I seek?"

Smiling at me, Tenko stands up and dusts herself off, before slipping her weapon back into its sheath. The temperature of the room quickly drops. She points at me and exclaims, "You are as the monkey with the key to the plantation!"

Huh? "Did you just call me a monkey?" I ask indignantly, bringing my sword back up.

"You lack discipline!" she clarifies. Which... Doesn't clarify anything.

"Discipline?" I ask yet again, letting my Eversword disappear.

"You rely too much on the strength of your soul gem, rather than the strength of your soul itself!" she proclaims, pointing outside. "Have you ever seen the sunset through your true eyes?"

"I don't understand what you're saying."

Tenko faces me once more, a self-satisfied look on her face. "Have you heard the world laugh without invoking your magic?" she inquires.

"...Does hearing Nakajima's giggling while dressed for bed count?" I ask warily in return.

She shakes her head. "I'm afraid not," she says, advancing upon me. "You shine as brightly as any pearl, but beneath that luster you are still merely a grain of sand."

She's standing uncomfortably close right now. Why is everyone here so STRANGE? "Could you just explain to me what to do here?" I query.

"Shed that garish luster, Seeker of Justice!" she retorts, clenching her fists. "Bare your true self to me, as the grain of sand it always was!"

I let her words sink in for a moment, then asks, just to make sure, "You mean transform back into a normal girl instead of a magical girl?"

Tenko confirms this with a nod.

I only do that at bedtime, though. Which means... "I'm not comfortable running around in a nightie, or just my undergarments," I tell her, hoping she picks up on my discomfort.

"Then bare your soul to the world without the threads of fate binding you down!" she yells, tugging at my clothes.

"What? NO!" I yell, pushing her back!

"Is the baby bird afraid to leave the comfort of its shell?" Tenko taunts. What is WITH these people?

"I said NO!" I screech at her!

"Then I shall be your wings, Truth-Seeker!" Tenko exclaims, and- Oh no, she's actually starting to undress. "Gaze upon my brilliant innocence and feel no shame!"

Shameless is right! "JUST, JUST GET ME SOME NORMAL CLOTHES!" I yell!

"Very well, Truth-Seeker!" she proclaims, clearly disappointed. Ugh! If she weren't my equal in battle, I would have NO respect for her right now!

"Here you are!" Tenko exclaims after pulling something out of her inventory. "A new shell for the hermit crab!"

I catch what she tosses to me and grunt at her in acknowledgement. She has given a black sleeveless athletic shirt and a pair of long pants with a jungle camouflage print, that flare slightly at the hips. They feel comfortable in my hands, and look stretchy enough to fit.

Both of them are wrinkly, and smell faintly of peaches, but seem to be the right measurements. And she just had these clothes in her inventory, when she -clearly- lacks the endowments for them. Disturbing.

"Make haste, Truth-Seeker!" the increasingly bothersome person urges. Sighing heavily, I transform out of my costume, and back into my nightgown. I pull it over my head, careful not to tear it, and-

"Nice!" calls the annoying voice of Nakajima, followed by a VERY tasteless wolf whistle. I freeze like a deer in the headlights, my back to the entrance.

"Please just stare quietly, sister," other Nakajima murmurs over the sound of her camera's shutter. "You are making a scene."

Ignore them. Just ignore the perverts, Crunch.

"Crunchyyy, come on!" pesters Nakajima, prodding at the back of my head.

"Sister," other Nakajima murmurs, "Miss Tenko said Miss Crunch was to meditate under the waterfall until sunset." Which is what I've been doing for the last... I'm not sure how much time has passed. I've had my eyes closed since Tenko left.

The freezing water pounds on my head and shoulders relentlessly. I'm actually starting to shiver. But thus far, I've been able to put that out of mind. I've come close to achieving some sort of inner peace.

And then these two show up.

"She said a bunch of baloney!" Nakajima insists. I believe it's her that is grabbing me from behind. "Now help me pick her up!"

"What if she fights back?" retorts other Nakajima.

I'm let go of, and then something is planted against the small of my back. "Plan B, then!" And then, in as many days, I am pushed into the dirt and mud! Wiping the muck from my eyes, I make to turn and glare at my oppressor, but there's something more interesting ahead.

Half a dozen identical copies of other Nakajima stand at the ready, eyes staring dully ahead. As one, their heads turn to face me with a loud clicking sound. Looking closer, their skin has a metallic finish, just like...


"At last!" bellows Nakajima as she takes up position behind the assembled FIGHTING ROBOTS! "I, Amber Nakajima, have the great and mighty Heather Crunch at my mercy! Now, bear witness to the power of SCIENCE!"

Pointing at me, Amber gives the order to her henchmaids! "Go, my minions!" she cries out. "Bring her to meeeee!" Over the sound of machinery moving, her evil laughter ECHOES where there should be none!

I may have to explain myself to the Soul Temperer later... But FIGHTING ROBOTS!


"Yes?" a voice demurely queries behind me. I spin around and see other Nakajima doing the waterfall meditation I had taken up until moments before.

"N-no, the other- NEVER MIND!"

Omake: Running[edit]

"Can't go on..."

"Ye can't quit now, Slam! This be but th' halfway point!"

"But... I've been running... So far..."

"Ten leagues in thirty minutes, but ye still have an hour t' go!!"

"But... But all the laps..."

"If ye can't even do an hour of runnin' without wavin' a white flag, then-"

"...Can I... Can I have some... Can I have water?"

"Arr! Here ye go!"

"...'nks. I can... I can keep going, I think."

"That's th' spirit! Now let's see if ye can do -twice- as many laps in that much time!"

Ordinary Girl Heather Crunch versus the Nakajima Sisters[edit]

Before me, Nakajima is shielded by no less than SIX robotic guardians. They bear a VERY strong resemblance to the other Nakajima meditating under the waterfall, although for some bizarre reason they are dressed- no, designed- to appear as maids. The caps and aprons appear to be there purely for aesthetic design, but the metal domes used for the dresses shield the legs from direct attack. And the poofy pads on the shoulders... They look as though they retract to reveal something. A small projectile launcher, perhaps? In any case, they are both decorative AND functional!

The mouth areas don't -appear- have any seams that indicate they would open. Unless it was a deception to hide weaponry in the head cavities, which I would NOT put past Nakajima! However, the articulation for the arms, hands, and fingers is CLEARLY visible to my amazing eyesight. They don't -look- as though they are capable of bending at the waist, and THAT is a problem for them if they lose their balance. I wonder if they have a stabilizer of some kind to compensate for that?

There are a set of metal plates covering the chests. Now THOSE are almost certainly covering some kind of weapons. Vulcan guns? Missile launchers? Flamethrowers? In any case, it's something that needs to be protected when not in use. Speaking of which, attached to the hem of the metal 'dress' on each one are what I am COMPLETELY CERTAIN are chain swords. Or was it chain sawds? I forget what they're called. In any case, they have sharp-looking teeth running along one edge of the blade. Probably powered by electricity instead of gasoline. Not the most reliable of weapons, but EXCELLENT for cutting a lesser magical girl open like a sapling.


"So, uhh..." Nakajima says to interrupt my admira- admonishment, SILENT ADMONISHMENT of her MECHANICAL ABOMINATIONS, "aren't you gonna transform now?"

Ha! As much as I would LOVE to show her just how SUPERIOR I am to her assembled robots by UTTERLY CRUSHING THEM, I need to TRAIN! To better myself, as dictated by the Soul Temperer's decree - by fighting as a civilian instead of as a magical girl! And to OVERCOME my dependency on my powers in place of pure, refined SKILL and PROWESS!


"Ahahaha, that's adorable!" she laughs, LAUGHS, at my resolve! It is ABSOLUTELY infuriating! I MUST put my foot down in the face of such things!

"I AM NOT ADORABLE!" I inform her VERY STERNLY, wearing a VERY not-adorable face of CONVICTION! "I AM A SWORD OF JUSTICE!" I EMPHASIZE the last point with ELABORATE GESTICULATIONS! I should be posed in front of an EXPLOSION right now!

I'll make my own later. I DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS!

"Where's your sword, then?" Nakajima inquires. As expected of a villain, unable to understand a hero's resolve!

I respond by pounding my chest, and boasting, "I HAVE A SWORD... IN MY HEART!" And she just laughs again!

"Are you for real?" she asks between giggles.

"Come on over and find out," I respond. Oh yeah, that was cool.

"But seriously, though," Nakajima says, voice FULL of condescension, "show me that indestructible body of yours already!"

"It is a HANDICAP!" I declare. "THAT is how CONFIDENT I am that I will -not- be defeated by the likes of you OR your army of robots!"

"Weeell, this is more of a squad -"

"ENOUGH! NOW we talk with ACTIONS instead of words!" I snarl, posing dramatically once more. She is saying something or other but I YELL OVER HER SO THAT I AM NOT INTERRUPTED! "So unless you are RIGHTLY AFRAID of being CRUNCHED on by an ORDINARY girl, then BRING IT ON, NAKAJIMAAAAGGGH!"

That... Hurt?

I look down and... Part of my torso is... Gone. There's just a... A black, smoking gap where it used to be.

I'm... I'm not sure what... There was a bright flash of blue light, wasn't there? Or was that after I got hit? I turn my head to look at my assailants again and... Yes, their eyes are glowing. I can add lasers to the list of things they are able to do.

Well played, Nakajima.

"Science says you're not invincible when untransformed!" the heartless harpy cackles as her automatons advance upon my position. "Science also says you better hurry!"

Damn... Really hurts...

"It's just a scrape!" I reply, putting everything I have into maintaining a facade of absolute confidence. This entire venture feels like it may have been a bad idea.

"Come onnn, transform already!" Nakajima urges. A little voice in the back of my head repeats this urging. It'd be so much more sensible, it argues, to use every advantage I have to utterly crush my opposition.

But that would go against what I set out here to do! It would mean I learned NOTHING! I HAVE to do it this way!

"I will NOT transfo-" My declaration is cut off by the painful thump of a chainsword tapping against my left shoulder, followed by the quiet whirring of metal teeth as the trigger is pressed for just an instant. Blood splatters everywhere as it rips through flesh down to the bone. I have to bite my lip to keep from screaming in pain.

"You keep this up and you really -are- gonna be handicapped, Crunchy!" chides this... horrible, despicable murderous person as the blade is pulled back. Leaving a gaping, oozing gash behind. How can she do this with such a carefree smile?

Like you're any different when you're fighting, the voice nags. And starts to laugh.

"SHUT UP!" I scream to silence the both of them. I just need to disable the robots and...

Wait. How... How can I disable them like this? I don't have a weapon, and any contact would put me in danger of losing a limb. Transforming is not an option, either, but... I don't...

I don't think I could take them on in a straight fight at all. Not like this.

"If you say so!" this... Fiend cheerfully exclaims, before ordering her minions, "rip her up, but leave the gem intact, ‘kay?"

The robots slowly, slowly move towards me, causing me to instinctively take a few steps back. What am I supposed to do here? How can I win this fight?

CAN I win this fight? Is it even winnable?

Just transform, that horrible voice buzzes, and trash them like the third-rate box of scraps they are!

SHUT UP! I am NOT listening to you and I am NOT compromising myself like that!

One of the maids focuses on my left leg as her eyes glow for a split second, and a quick step away causes another beam of blue light to just barely misses my right kneecap, in part because it didn’t bother to turn its head to correct the shot. And yet the skin is charred black from the heat, and it hurts to stand on it.

…There really isn't any other option, is there? I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Ever. But It looks like I have no choice.

I plant one foot in front of me and bellow, “You’ve gone and done it NOW, NAKAJIMAAAA!” My expression is one of GRIM and RESOLUTE DETERMINATION, as I once again point at her. “I am FORCED to use my SECRET TECHNIQUE! One that I had hoped I would not need to EVER use!”

Her bemused smile fills me with confidence. Ha! She has absolutely NO idea what I am about to do! Which gives ME the ABSOLUTE ADVANTAGE with this technique!

“Alrighty, everyone!” Nakajima calls out, clapping her hands to get the attention of her machines. “Hold your positions and get ready!” And they stop in place and take up a defensive stance. HAH! PERFECT!

“THIS IS IT NAKAJIMAAAA!” I ROAR, ready to WIPE that smug smirk off Nakajima’s face! “HEATHER CRUNCH'S SECRET TECHNIQUE FOR OVERCOMING AN OVERWHELMING DISADVANTAGE!” I take a deep breath in preparation!

And then I POINT JUST OVER my shoulder and mention, “I just remembered something important! See you later!” and throw the Crunch Train into a FULL SPEED REVERSAL! “RUNNING AWAY TECHNIQUE!”

“Ehhhh?! That’s not very heroic at all!” shouts Nakajima towards my retreating back. I’d agree, but I REFUSE to give her that satisfaction!

The waterfall seems so much further away than it was before. But it’s my best chance to deal with them. There was a cave entrance behind it, which means caves, which means I can lose them in there!

Haha! I’m so cunning sometimes I surprise myself!

“Stop her, my underlings!” Nakajima urges from behind. “Shoot her!”

Let’s see… What did Big Boss say to do when things are shooting at you? Keep going towards cover and… Don’t move in a straight line away from the shooter! So JUMP to the left and AUGH THAT HURTS!

I forgot about that injury from before. It’s so UTTERLY INCONVENIENT, having to deal with such things during moments of URGENCY such as THIS!

A near miss reminds me that I MUST keep moving and IGNORE this pain! And so I SPRINT back into action, dodging away from the LASER BLASTS again and again and AGAIN! While not as fulfilling as engaging them directly, I am still aware that I am fighting against ROBOTS! My adrenaline is SURGING! My blood is BOILING! My heart is POUNDING! My hair is BURNING and I-


“Ahahaha! Oh wow, she looks like a cat with its tail on fire!” NAKAJIMA HOWLS WITH LAUGHTER! STOP LAUGHING, NAKAJIMAAAA! YOU WILL GET YOURS FOR THIS!




“What the heckles, Jade!” SHOUTS NAKAJIMA, “you’re not being a team player!” OTHER NAKAJIMA WAKES, BUT SHE IS TOO LATE!

As the waters cascade over me, I hear the sound of a flame being extinguished. And -that- merely serves to IGNITE MY DRIVE TOWARDS VICTORY! FURTHERMORE, my leg and my side hurt LESS as the chilly water pours down, and it RINSES my burning blood out of the fresh wound in my shoulder!



Or, after running in far enough that I cannot rely on my eyes alone, I can use the brilliant light of my soul gem instead. Metaphorical fires do not actually help you see in the dark. Or keep you warm for very long. These wet clothes are starting to feel cold.

Hmm… I was hoping for an expansive cavern or branching tunnels, but this river path has been frustratingly linear-


I have just stumbled into an EXPANSIVE CAVERN with what I assume are BRANCHING TUNNELS and a few LARGE ROCKS scattered around! And it has a RAMP up to ANOTHER TUNNEL! FURTHERMORE, the stream I had been following leads to YET ANOTHER TUNNEL! Interesting, but THIS, THIS ROOM HERE, will make a GRAND STAGE for an EPIC CONFRONTATION between GOOD and EVIL!

But first, after stepping out of the stream and tracking water everywhere, I must make preparations. Preparations such as dealing with the inconveniences of injuries and wet clothing. Luckily, I am completely certain nobody is here this time to catch me stripping down and wringing out the shirt, pants and underwear I wore.

Before redressing… I tear off a long part of the right pants leg, and tear that vertically. Tying it over my shoulder wound, it does well enough as a bandage in the absence of actual medical supplies.

You have medical supplies, the voice grumbles faintly as I get dressed; you just need to access your inventory.

Not listening to you, annoying voice.

Now then, how many feet away from your soul gem can you be?

Perching up on the ramp gives me a good vantage point. And it conceals me from the lights approaching from the way I just came, which were preceded by the sloshing of water as several people trudged through.

“Heyyy Crunchy!” Nakajima’s eerily cheery voice calls out, echoing through the cavern. “Come out, come out wherever you are!”

The six robots emerge, a pair of floodlights mounted on each shoulder. Their heads swivel around as the narrow beams sweep through the cavern, and pass over my hiding spot. I had hoped they were tracking me by my soul gem. Perhaps I overestimated them. Or perhaps it’s not very exact.

“Hiding’s not very heroic either, y’know!” Nakajima adds.

A fair distance behind the robotic minions, I can make out the figures of the Nakajima sisters. Hiding behind your underlings, eh, Nakajima?

Rather than fanning out, the robots are moving in a formation of three rows of two. Terrible news if they catch me, as it means I have to deal with them all at once, but wonderful news if they fail to find me. Which I’m betting on, as it appears they have just noticed my bait.

Yes, there they go, drawn towards the faint red glow of my soul gem below, in an alcove beneath the ramp, with the real Nakajimas staying a fair distance behind them. The mechanical whirring draws closer and closer as the robots are about to enter the alcove.

“Aha, found you-” starts Nakajima from somewhere below, who is interrupted by ME this time, as I spring my trap!

“ROCKS FALL, ROBOTS DIE!” I roar, pushing a huge rock onto the unsuspecting mechs beneath! There is a sound of metal breaking, followed by an explosion – aha, so THAT’S what was in the chest cavity. Surveying the damage, I see the alcove is not blocked off as I’d hoped, but TWO of my assailants have already been taken out!

“What the carp?!” screeches Nakajima in surprise. Already I am sprinting down the ramp to engage the remaining four, picking up the large rock I had set down earlier.

“You fell RIGHT into my trap, Nakajimaaa!” I yell, the lights - and the robots - turning around to face me as I slow down to take in the moment. Yes, that’s right, Crunch is BACK in the spotlight!

“Shoot her shoot her shoot herrrr!” shouts an excited Nakajima, and four sets of eyes glow in unison. JUST AS I WAS HOPING! For that means I can immediately JUMP out of the way and continue my slow advance! YES INDEED, so confident am I, that I don’t even NEED to hurry! I can savor the moment, savor dodging ANOTHER volley of lasers, savor NOT getting scorched this time! Savor fighting KILLER ROBOTS!

“NICE TRY, NAKAJIMA,” I boast, grinning and pointing at… Where I’m pretty sure she is. “but I know your machines’ WEAKNESSES!”

“Getting crushed by rocks isn’t a-“

“AS I had originally figured,” I gladly interrupt, “THESE units you built cannot SEE the target for the second they spend charging up their LASER BLASTS.” Right on time, another salvo shoots past. I can feel the heat, but it doesn’t hurt. NOTHING hurts right now. “Of course you KNEW that, didn’t you? So you have them COMPENSATE if the target is moving!” I start running to the side, and the robots’ heads swivel to follow, as their eyes gain that telltale glow. “HOWEVER!” I say, moving in exactly the OPPOSITE direction. “They CANNOT compensate for somebody changing direction WHILE THEY ARE MOVING!” And, sure enough, when they fire, their heads are pointed in the direction I was going before, and NOT where I am now. I have OFFICIALLY outsmarted them!

“Heehee, that’s… actually… correct?” Nakajima falters, clearly taken aback by my genius. “…Well whatever, you’re going to get tired soon, so why not just give up?”

“BECAUSE I HAVE OBSERVED EVEN MORE WEAKNESSES!” I respond. As I cross into melee range, the maids begin reaching for their chainswords. “Covering the legs to keep them from being damaged was a good plan, except the arms do NOT bend back enough for them to right themselves if knocked down, LIKE SO!”

I LEAP into the air and deliver a FLYING kick to the nearest robot who JUST finished unsheathing its weapon! HYAA!

…OW! Kicking something made of metal is VERY PAINFUL!

But it WORKED! For the machine is THROWN into its companion, and BOTH topple to the ground! Their arms and legs wiggle helplessly as they FAIL to right themselves!

A whirring sound indicates that the other two robots have successfully armed themselves and are about to chop me up with overhand slashes. Whoops.

I LEAP back as best as I can (ow ow ow) and the chainswords CARVE through their fallen companion and DIG into the ground! Another one down, AND it appears that they have embedded their weapons in the rock! I RUSH forward and BASH the other downed unit in the face with my rock until the robot ceases its movements!

“THAT’S FOUR DOWN, NAKAJIMAAAA!” I proudly declare!

There’s no sound other than the mechanical whirring from the other two robomaids struggling with their weapons, and my heavy breathing. Finally, Nakajima speaks up in a low, quiet voice, and asks, “…Who are you, and what did you do with the idiot we were fighting earlier?”

“Ha HA!” I laugh, and point, and POSE! “Through simple observation, THIS level of planning is possible for Heather Crunch! What do you think, Nakajimaaaa!”

…Of course having their weapons trapped in the ground was a stroke of good luck, but it’s better if she doesn’t know that.

“It was very surprising,” Nakajima rep- Wait…

“NOT YOU!” I growl. I am getting TIRED of this gag!

“I thiiiiink we can unleash the rockets now!” Nakajima cackles, as the remaining robots leave their weapons behind. The metal plates on their chests part to reveal an array of warheads poised to launch!

“I’M NOT DONE YET!” I roar. “After all, you needed to keep THOSE covered up because they make for great targets!”

“Aaahh, please shut her up henchlings!” Amber howls as the missiles are primed. BUT TOO LITTLE TOO LATE!



I spin back to face them and yell at my remaining adversary, “AND THEN THERE WAS ONE!”

It UNLEASHES its furious salvo of missiles at me, but I am TOO FAST!



…Everything starts to spin as I am tossed forward…

…I can’t move my head…

…I can’t feel anything below my neck…

…I can see the last robot some distance back…

…And it is crushed by a stalactite…

…The only light left is the red of my soul gem…

…And then everything goes dark…

Omake: We Promised[edit]

"Huh... Didn't think she'd win."

"Near the end, I didn't think she would lose."

"Yeah, it was weird! I'm surprised Crunchy knew anything about... Well, anything!"

"We may have underestimated her intelligence."

"Mayyybe? She might just be some kind of idiot savant. Anyway, did you record the fight?"

"The combat data has been recorded."

"Not the data I wanted, buuuut it's not like it was hard to jury-rig a bunch of low-grade robots from pieces of the old hideout."

"It may yet prove useful."

"And more importantly, now she can't stop us from experimenting on-"

"Sister. We promised."

"I guessss. You grab her soul gem and I'll gather up all the pieces of her I can get."

"It was fortunate that she had it placed somewhere away from the fight."

"Yeah, yeah, but wouldn't it have been funny if she had actually died?"

"Not especially."

"What's lucky is that her body is mostly intact!"

"Sister? We must hurry if we are to finish before Miss Tenko returns."

"I'm comiiing!"

"...Do you have to do that?"

"Heeheehee, her butt is squishy, too~."

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus The New Grind[edit]

Today I learned something crucial. It’s that, if you’ve overslept from exhaustion due to overexertion, the solution is to come in late and accept your boss grilling you on whether or not you’re really you, as opposed to somebody posing as you. I can understand Jael’s paranoia about… Everything, as I’m still convinced the other shoe is going to drop one of these days, but come on. It’s a fucking general store. The worst thing you have to worry about is shoplifters.

Well, I didn’t do that. I did what I was not supposed to do : I tried to parkour my way to my job. Don’t do that, unless you’re sure your legs can stop shaking long enough to clear the distance between the rooftops. Because otherwise you’re going to get yourself hurt. I blame Fuckface for that stupid idea. That was the kind of thing she’d do, and her retarded influence must have rubbed off on me.

…God, my limbs feel like pain-filled jelly. ”Light workout” my ass. How can they call it that with a straight face? One hundred push-ups, one hundred sit-ups, one-hundred squats, and ten kilometers of running is not a light workout unless you’re a freak. And they want me to do at least that much every single fucking day? Fuck. I’m still hurting in places I didn’t know I had.

Well, it’s a few minutes before I need to clock in. At least I’ve gotten here early enough to patch myself up and catch my breath. Other than the torturous workout routine, Kai gave me a first aid kit and a portable barbecue pit, saying that everyone in the Sixth gets those. No fucking idea how to use the latter. So right now I’m just washing the blood off my elbows and applying the disinfectant – ow ow ow, that stings like a motherfucker – so I can put on the bandages. Maybe pop some analgesics.

…They have little cartoon cat faces on the bandages. Is this somebody’s idea of a joke? I bet it’s Spiderbutt’s fault. Treating me like a goddamn kid.

…Hehe. They’re smiling kitties. Cute.

Oh, don't forget the painkillers. You're supposed to smile for customers, Eleanor, not wince at them. Hope I get the dosage right - it's usually two pills, isn't it?

With my injuries wrapped up, I can slip on the black and orange apron that passes for a uniform. Or struggle a bit with it - damn this bulky- there it goes. There's a tag on the front with my name on it, or at least I hope it's my name and I didn't grab someone else's by mistake. That was really embarrassing...

At least signing in doesn't mean actually signing in. It means swiping a card into a slot and hoping that whatever's flashing on the nearby screen indicates success. And I haven't forgotten mine yet - rather proud of that, to be honest.

The little beeping sound it's making probably indicates success, so yay!

And the painkillers have reduced my aches to a dull throb, which means I probably only have to worry about headaches now. Also yay!

...Though there doesn't seem to be anybody else here yet. I'm not early, I don't think - analog watch says I'm on time - so what happened? A flu breakout or something like that?

...Now I'm getting myself worried about people whose names I don't even know. Hope they're all okay, anyway. If nothing else, I don't want to deal with customers all by myself. I don't think I can safely operate a cash register.

But it's better than paperwork, so I'm okay with it. And I get to actually help people! People that aren't batshit insane!

Well, they usually aren't. They can be rowdy sometimes, but they kind of shut up and apologize after a while when I ask them to stop, which is better than things normally are when I ask people to stop doing things.

...Point is things are better. Yeah, definitely better. They could be better than better, but they're not horrible. It's the difference between getting your cheek pinched and being set on fire. A minor annoyance versus something that makes you wish you were dead already. So that's good, right?

Push the cart this way, push the cart that way. Stack this, stack that. Stack things on shelves, stack things in displays, stack things on top of each other, being helpful hmm hmm hmm~. It'd be nice if I could read the labels, but I think I've gotten pretty good at this in spite of everything.

Oh, and the other people working here made it here okay. That's quite a relief, because I don't think I can run this place on my own! I can't even ring things up without triggering a trance, or, at best, a migraine – I’m probably going to have to explain why I stopped working the register.

I should learn their names at some point.

And now my favorite part: putting stuff up in the candy aisle. Colorful packages dot the shelves as I push the cart full of merchandise down said aisle. There's a lingering smell of chocolate and sugar, despite everything being packaged in boxes or wrapping. Maybe somebody vandalized the displays? I know I did that a few times when I was little, until I got caught. I may need to check for that later. Hopefully I can get it done fast enough that I'm not accused of lingering.

I still don't recognize half the things here, but maybe it's just different packaging. Or it's just been a really long time since I've seen American confections. Starting to get a bit nostalgic and homesick-

Stop that, Eleanor. You're not thinking about that right now, no way. This is a happy place. Stay positive and stop frowning, or customers are going to complain. Just put the stuff where it goes and match colors with like colors.

Speaking of customers, I hear the slightly off-rhythm squeaking of sneakers coming closer, like someone unsure on their feet. I turn towards the source and beam, giving my best enthusiastic greeting while still continuing to put things where I think they belong. "Hello, Marina!" I exclaim, "can I help you with anything today?"

She's a frequent shopper from what I've seen. Really nice lady, even if she is a little off. I don't think she's slow, so much as... Dreamy?

I keep my eyes trained on her while waiting for her to respond. I've found it takes her a few seconds to notice you. There's a little clinking sound from her fiddling with her necklace, which she does when she's spacing out.

Finally she turns toward me, side ponytail swaying a bit, and smiles. "...Good morning, Eleanor," Marina replies. As per usual, she sounds relaxed. Maybe a little sleepy. "I was just picking up some more chocolates. Are any of them on sale?"

"Yes, actually!" I say excitedly, beaming as I lead her toward a brightly colored display. Hee, she must've missed it earlier. "We got these new ones in that are going at two for a dollar!"

Marina picks up one of the boxes I indicated and scrutinizes it slowly and lazily. "...How do they taste?" she inquires.

"I haven't had the chance to try them yet," I answer honestly. "I was considering picking up a couple boxes for myself if people came back to buy more." Which is probably not something you want to say to a customer, but I'm not good at lying about this stuff.

She considers this and tugs at her necklace again - oh, those are shark teeth, aren't they? Neat! Then she... opens one of the boxes and pops one of the candies in her mouth.

I try to say something, but before I do, Marina looks back at me and murmurs, "Say 'aah'."


I didn't know she could move that fast. She shoves one of the wafers in my mouth before I even finished talking. I can taste a little bit of-

Fudge and coconut sprinkles! Yum!

Then she picks up a few more boxes. "You've convinced me," she says, which, along with swallowing the tasty snack, makes my cheeks flush with pride. It makes everything hurt less for a little bit.

Marina smiles back at me before leaving, and I wave goodbye before I resume sorting things. I'm definitely getting a few boxes of those later.

Really wish I had a more normal-looking arm here. People just keep staring at it, and it’s making me real self-conscious. I… I hope I’m not driving people away by being here. It doesn’t look like business is slowing down, but maybe it’s just been this way ever since I came in.

No no no, snap out of it, Eleanor. Fuck. You’re better than this, don’t let it get to you. Just… Find something to do. You only have an hour until your shift is up, so make it count. Then you have lunch, and then the Eversor training starts again.

I’m so absorbed in my thoughts that I nearly bump into somebody. I make to apologize, but-

“…Marina?” Sure enough, it’s her, pushing around a cart full of those items from the promotional display.

Marina slowly turns to look at me with a sleepy smile. “…Oh, it’s you. Hello again, Eleanor.”

“Um, hi,” I murmur, then cough before I speak up. “Do you need help with anything?”

She shakes her head at me, making her necklace clink on its own. “Oh, no, thank you,” she assures me, “I’m back to purchase more of those chocolates.”

I just kind of stare at her blankly, and then glance at her cart. Then I turn to look at the display, which is now empty. Then back to the cart, where several of the boxes appear to be empty. And finally back to her. "Marina?” I venture, “Have you been standing around the store all morning buying chocolate?"

She nods, and actually seems a tiny bit bashful when she tells me why: "...I kept running out..."

…I shouldn’t laugh. I’d probably do the same if given the chance. But still, her comment had me in stitches. I’m bent double, gasping for breath as I try to stifle my laughter. Marina’s giving me a bemused look, which makes me laugh even harder.

I at least –try- to be professional. “Don’t…” I snort, “Don’t forget to – hee hee - pay for those, okay?”

“Of course…” Marina answers, pushing her cart along towards the register. “Have a nice day, Eleanor.”

I remove a hand from my mouth to give a shaky wave to her.

Okay… Okay… The thing to do now is… Is stop laughing. Stop laughing, and restock the display. Yeah.

I push my empty cart through the double doors at the back of the store and enter the warehouse in back. Well, not quite. There's big crossroads where the path splits to the left and to the right, and the one on the right is for the big stuff. Like the bouncy castles. The normal store stock is on the left, so that's where I go. Not sure what's straight ahead, other than more double doors, but somebody needs to clean that hall up. It's scuffed up real badly.

They probably keep kangaroos or something back there. I dunno. Not my problem. It gives me the creeps, anyway.

Nnnng... Why do they have to label everything back here? You're killing me here. At least I know where the things I'm looking for are at, though. Stuff that's new and on sale goes near the front of the warehouse! So it's right over... There! I carefully load three dozen boxes into the cart and head on back the way I came.

...Hee... I really shouldn't do this, but...

Putting my right foot on the little shelf on the bottom, I grab the handle and dangle myself off. Then I just kick off the ground with my left foot and ZOOM! The cart rattles loudly as I propel it forward, kicking the ground harder and faster and making a sharp turn at the intersection. Man, it's been too long since I've done this!

I think I've heard people call them trolleys before, and trolleys are something you ride on, right? So now that I've built up speed, I stand up on the basket and just ride it out the doors. I must be quite a sight, like something out of a bad commercial, but I really don't care right now. I've got a clean record, so even if I get in trouble it's only a first strike. I can get away with this much, right?

...Eh, maybe I shouldn't push my luck.

I come to a stop in front of the display from earlier and stack and stack and stack all the boxes up so that they're facing outward. Can't look like I'm slacking off, 'cause I'm not!

I didn't think I'd enjoy doing, you know, work, but compared to everything else I've been through? When life gives you lemons, you make lemon tart out of it! Hee!

I wonder if Fu- nah, I'm in a good mood - if Crunch is having as much fun with whatever she's doing. I hope so. I really do.

Omake: We Can Rebuild Her[edit]

"Why'd you have to go and put her head back?"

"It would be difficult for her to walk with her head stitched to her foot."

"Yeah, but that'd be funny!"

"It would also give away our involvement in the matter."

"Yyyyyeeeaaahhhh... But it'd totally be worth it!"

"I doubt that."

"Aw, barnacles, Jade, why're you taking her side lately?"

"I am doing no such thing."

"Yeah you are! You're even giving blood to her!"

"To accelerate her recovery. She needs to return to meditation by tonight, not sit as a corpse for a week."

"Well why can't she? It'll keep her quiet."

"If anything, you're the one acting strangely. I thought you liked her?"

"I'm just being friendly~."

"You found someone who is supposed to be indestructible, and didn't care if they died. Was somebody who could withstand an extraordinary amount of punishment not what you wanted?"

"Ehhhh, right now I'm trying to knock her off her high horses. I mean, her attitude just... Wow. I mean, geez, she even makes ME a little mad."

"Even so, Miss Cooldown made a request."

"Wellllll, Wendles said to 'watch her', and we watched her get blown to pieces, so we're doing great on that front!"

"That is almost certainly not what she meant."

"You know how Callidus aaare."

"...I suggest a different tactic."

"Does it involve blowing her up and putting her back together with a little screwball flag sticking out her-"



"You'll like it."

"I doubt iiit. But anywaaay, what boring, non-explodey idea do you have?"

"The outfit Miss Crunch came in was severely damaged and will need to be remade so as not to arouse suspicion."

"That's easy and not fuuun!"

"Furthermore, Miss Crunch has indicated that other than the negligee, she has no other clothes."


"I do believe we owe her at least this much for taking us in. Considering we also tried to poison her. Don't you agree, Sister?"

"...Hee hee hee..."

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Entrepreneur Jael Russ[edit]

Here comes the person who takes over my shift. Her arrival would normally mean quitting time and lunch time for me, but looking at the hands on the clock at the front of the store – don’t look at the numbers – I still have forty-five minutes, I think. And I’d spent the last fifteen trying to put stuff on the high shelves. I could get a ladder, but that’s really embarrassing.

"Hey, new kid!" she shouts. I guess she does want something.

"Mm?" I murmur. I feel that was too quiet, though, so I also ask out loud, "Yes?"

The girl jerks her thumb over her shoulder towards the double doors in back, and informs me, "Boss says it's your turn for Zoo Duty."

I give her a look. "Zoo Duty?" I wasn’t being serious about the kangaroos, and yet there it is.

My coworker nods her head. "Just head through the other double doors way in back," she informs me. “I’ll take over here.”

Well this wasn’t in the job description I was given, but beggars can’t be choosers. "Alright, thanks for the heads up!" I tell her, “and have a nice day!”

With the taller person taking over, I head back into the employees only area. Instead of going left or right, I head down the dirtied hallway straight ahead. I have to resist the urge to take a broom to the dirty footprints all over the floor. Maybe I can scrub them up if I come in during off hours on the weekend. I know overtime is frowned on when it’s not necessary, but this is just something that bugs me a little. I doubt Jael would mind too much if I did.

Hah. Look at me, being this fussy about cleanliness at fourteen. I must be finally catching the craziness that’s inherent to magical girls. Or Eversors, anyway. Soon I’ll be jumping out windows to get to places faster instead of trying to plummet to my death. Or I could go breaking down walls like I’m delivering drinks to people. Maybe I should get a boat to go with the cereal mascot outfit, hehe.

Pushing through the second set of double doors brings me to a much larger, even dirtier room. And by dirtier I mean holy shit I think that’s a dried bloodstain on the floor! The imposing metal door taking up the far wall does not help that macabre image. It looks more like an airlock than something that belongs in a corner store. Or it may be something to hold back a monster, with all those deadbolts, locks and such on it.

“Earth to Eleanor, come in Eleanor!” calls out the high-pitched voice of a child.

Snapped out of my gawking – that seems to happen a lot lately – I adjust my posture and stand up straight. “Hello, Boss,” I reply with some forced enthusiasm, “you needed me for something?”

“Absolutely!” Jael chirps, hands in both pockets of her trench coat – why is she wearing a trench coat over a suit, it doesn’t go with the hair bobbles – and fiddling with something. “I’m almost done verifying your identity as well.”

"What're you-" I try to ask before she shushes me. An odd, tingling feeling washes over me, before Jael claps her hands together.

"Well, either you're not a Callidus,” she says, as though that explained everything, “or you're really, really, really good."

"I... Huh?" Callidus? I’m not a Callidus.

"Anyway,” Jael continues, ignoring me and gesturing to the big scary door, “welcome to the Zoo, Eleanor!"

She looks so enthusiastic.

“…Could you explain what this is about?” I ask meekly. “I’m confused.”

Jael cants her head at me and frowns. "Eh? Didn't Sis-“ Hah, her face went red for a second. “Er, Leman Russ tell you about it?"

I shake my head. "No,” I respond, trying not to offend my boss. “She said I should work here for behind the counter experience while I'm doing my Eversor training."

Fuck, I must have said something wrong. Jael actually looks kind of upset. Well, her smile faltered, anyway. "The agreement was to not send me any rookies..." she grumbles under her breath.

“Um,” I ask after a moment’s silence, “am I in trouble?”

"Er, no!” Jael reassures me, sort of smiling again. “Not specifically! Well, it sort of is, but I should have read over your papers instead of simply taking Leman Russ at her word. Or she means to offend me intentionally, but I would really like to believe that is not the case." Her words really are not reassuring at all. Neither is her pacing around me like a predatory animal.

"So,” she continues, her smile never leaving her face, and her voice still cheerful as ever, “you claim she wanted you to work behind the counter, but from what I can tell, you haven't done so even once. Why is that?"

I thought this would have been explained to her, but I tell her anyway, "...Numbers and words trigger my Vanus trance, even if I'm out of-"

Jael comes to a halt in front of me, causing her ridiculous trench coat to swish around, and shouts, "a Vanus trance?!” Crap, she looks like a kid whose parents brought out the big birthday present. “You're an honest to goodness, real-life Vanus? And you're working here? For me?"

I feel like I need to proceed really, really cautiously right now. "Y-yeah." I answer slowly.

"I mean, I just assumed from the arm that you were another Eversor,” she babbles rapidly, pointing at the bulky robotic arm. “That was the agreement - Leman Russ said you were an Eversor - but you’re a Vanus, too!"

"Huh? Uh, the arm is from Fu-" Ah, probably shouldn’t swear in front of her. "From Heather Crunch doing... Something I can't talk about." The Warmaster was very particular about what I couldn’t say about the incident if I wanted to keep my memories to anybody that wasn’t a rank leader, which was pretty much everything other than names.

This seems to drain away Jael’s enthusiasm. "Oh,” she murmurs sheepishly, “the incredibly dangerous girl with kangaroos loose in the top paddock? Yes, that would explain it.” She offers me a pitying smile. “You have my sympathies."

I sort of smile back, but it’s a bit forced. "Thanks." Try not to think about it. Don’t think about how you almost had your head bitten off by-

"Eleanor?” Jael asks, snapping me out of my daze. “How would you feel about a change of position?"

"...Does it require working with letters and numbers?" I ask suspiciously.

"Yes?” Jael answers, her smile slightly bewildered. “It's clerical work, but-"

"No,” I interrupt her. Probably a bad thing to do, but I keep talking. “I don't want to do that sort of thing anymore. That's why I'm here. That's why I'm training as an Eversor. I hate… being a paperwork slave."

Jael says nothing and just continues staring at me with the same smile on her face. To fill the awkward silence, I tell her, "I'm sorry. I just can’t do it."

"Eleanor,” Jael says, her voice carrying a sinister growl, “you're surrounded by letters and numbers all day. That indicates to me that you have some control over it. So I don't buy your excuse at all." Fuck, she really wants me doing her number crunching for her or something.

"If...” I croak, then swallow before continuing, “if I try really hard not to focus on them, then it doesn't go off." Or I just focus on it and accept it, and hope to God I remember everything I’m supposed to when I’m awake. It took a lot of attempts to get Checkers’ number right.

"Eh?” Jael inquires skeptically, looking me straight in the eyes, “you've been doing that this entire time?"

I don’t dare blink. "Y-yeah,” I answer.

"This could be a problem in the future,” she muses, resuming her pacing around me. “I'm kinda-" she stops and clears her throat, "that is, rather surprised that you haven't done anything about it yet."

"What -can- I do about it?" I ask dejectedly, suddenly in a bit of a sour mood.

Jael shrugs. "I don't know,” she admits, “but I'd assume that, if not from the Sixth, you could get help from the Second, the Fourth, or the Thirteenth in some capacity.”

Yeah, no, I’m not going back to the Second for anything that’s not life-threatening. They started giving me really scary looks after somebody pointed out my uncanny resemblance to a portrait of one of their old Inquisitors of Heresy/Witch Hunters.

Also they were kind of stuck up.

"In any case,” Jael continues, “you are relieved from Zoo Duty until you're a full-fledged Eversor."

"Okay...?" I still don’t know what Zoo Duty is about, but I guess I don’t have to do it.

"I'll go over your file tonight and see if any other accommodations need to be made, but you need to take steps to deal with your trance issue on your own,” she orders. “Even if Leman Russ said you're okay, if you can't find something soon, I'll have to let you go."

I’m going to get fired if I can’t control my uncontrollable ability?

"Isn't that a bit much?" I groan.

This was a mistake. Jael’s smile melts for the first time since I've met her, leaving only a deadly serious expression in its wake. "Eleanor, you would do well to remember that I am your boss,” she informs me with icy coldness, her earlier cheerful tone gone as though it had never been there. “It is my job to put you to work and to make a quid, not to be your friend. Whatever your circumstances are, however badly Heather Crunch ruined your life, however much Leman Russ pampers you, I'm not going to help you any more than necessary. Is that clear?"

I swallow audibly before I dutifully reply. "Yes. Clear as crystal."

Jael’s not looking at me anymore, instead staring at the ground and growling. “I don't know what Sis was thinking, letting someone like that run wild...”

This time I just keep quiet. It feels like I’m -this- close to being in trouble, and I don’t want to cross that line.

“In any case, I believe that's everything for now, though I might have more questions for you tomorrow.” Jael glares at me and gives another order. “I suggest you forget you saw anything here.” Feels like a damn lion is staring me down.

“Saw what?” I squeak like a cornered rat.

This was apparently the right thing to say, as Jael brightens immediately. “Exactly!” she shouts, seemingly in high spirits again. “Well, your replacement is already on the floor, so you're free to clock out and head home now."

"Oh!” I exclaim, kind of startled by her proclamation. I suspect that means I won’t get paid as much for today, but that can’t be helped. “Alright, uh, bye?"

"Have a nice day, Eleanor!” she calls after me as I leave the room with the frightening door. “And good luck with your training!" She shouts after I’m in the hallway. “And watch out for Callidus ambushes!” She shrieks after I’m through the second set of double doors.

I just go out and put my card into the reader before heading outside. As soon as I leave, everything starts to ache again.

Yeah, I… I guess this could be worse. But I don’t think I’m crazy enough to be a good magical girl.

Omake: Dressing Up[edit]

"I fail to see why it is necessary for me to wear the cap."

"Well that's 'cuz you're dumb, Crunchy~."

"I am NOT DUMB!"

"Are too!"


"Are too times infinity!"

"The cap is important. It completes the outfit."

"The outfit isn't even DONE yet!"

"Well it's cuuuute~!"

"That... justifies NOTHING! You said you were making NORMAL clothes!"

"This totally counts as normal!"

"Embrace it. Resistance is futile."


"Loser does what the winner says!"

"I did NOT lose! It was a DRAW!"

"Whateverrr. Now hold still so I can get some accurate measurements, unless you wanna run around nakeeeeeed~."

"Grrr... This better be tastefully done..."

"Aaah, even your measurements are annoying! How'd a jerk like you end up with a brick house body?"

"You're pulling the tape too tight! TOO TIGHT! LET GO!"

"'Brick house' measurements confirmed. I shall proceed with the sewing if there are no further objections."

"I object to this treatment!"


"I should just hack off those fat things and preserve them in a jar!"


"Jade, get me the surgical saw! We're doing a chestectomy on our captive!"


"I am currently preoccupied with sewing the costume and recording this for posterity."

"Now hold on -just- a minute-"

"Stop talkingggg, Crunchy, you're annoyingggg! And distractingggg me from hackingggg off your-"


"Wha- Hey! Put me down!"

"I reFUSE to reLEASE you from my hold! You are nothing more than a FEATHERWEIGHT to me, Nakajimaaaa!"

"It's part of a healthy lifestyle."

"No. Not. You."


"Ha HA! Nothing clever to say about your -capture-, villain?"


"Ready to surrender?"

"Could you just... Stay like this for a while?"

"HAH, as I- huh?"

"Just hold me like this. Just for a little bit."

"Er... Uh... Like this?"

"Yeah. Like that."



Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Mermaid Miss St. Maur[edit]

Aches and pains ache and pain a lot less in costume. That’s one advantage of being a magical girl, I suppose. Unfortunately, being a magical girl tends to get you injured a lot, so it kind of evens out.

But the hurting’s gone down to a tolerable level now, so there’s nothing to distract me from combat practice - other than the fact that I dread combat practice. Well, I dread just about everything they come up with for training here, and haven’t really fought anything since Fuckerfly, but I haven’t gotten the itinerary for the rest of the day’s activities. The grueling workout near the end doesn’t count.

…Fuckerfly is still okay, right? They keep saying she’s fine, but I haven’t seen her in quite some time. Then again, I haven’t been on the rooftop since I wrecked her stuff, so maybe she’s just staying there.

Anyway, this is still better than paperwork. I actually don’t want to die here, so it counts as an improvement.

Well, here’s the place I’m supposed to fight at. The entrance to the same training hall that Fuckerfly fought me at. Same set of double doors that Kai opened for me last time.

I just realized I’ve been seeing a lot of double doors around the Officio. And they’re big ones, too. Like, big enough to fit an elephant through. The implications make me shiver.

I push open the doors into the well-scarred training hall.

…Shit. It’s that giant, spider-legged fishbowl with the plastic castle inside. I hadn’t been chased around by it in a while, so I was hoping that it was gone. Apparently that’s not the case.

Who even builds shit like that, and –why-?

And then everything goes dark as somebody covers my eyes from behind. The smell of perfume is just barely there, but I recognize it. And it fits her M.O., so…

“Miss Suzi, please let me go,” I drone tiredly. Don’t want to deal with this shit today.

“Heyyy, how’d ya know it was me?” an annoyingly chipper voice calls out behind me. “Was it because our hearts are connected~?” Ew. No.

“Spider sense,” I mumbled. Shit, shouldn't encourage her.

Spider Cunt removes her hands, allowing me to see again. “Ihihihi, not bad, not bad,” she praises. The lady walks into my field of vision, wringing her hands and looking at me through half-lidded eyes.

“So,” I say after a bit, “other than making me uncomfortable-” Don’t give me that look, it can’t be that hard to act normal - “why’re you here?”

Spider Cunt stops pouting and puffs up with pride. “Why, I’m yer proctor for today, Elly,” she informs me, adding, “yer chaperone.”

“Oh.” I guess I can’t get rid of her.

Somebody's climbing out of the weird fishbowl thing. So I’m not fighting the fishbowl. It’s another… Another flesh and blood person. Fuck.

“...It’s not going to be like last time, right?”

“Mm?” Spider Cunt murmurs.

“I don’t want to…” I plead, gesturing towards my opponent, “you know… Don’t wanna have to murder someone like that again.” Or get murdered, I guess. I shouldn’t assume I’m going to win. I'm probably going to get my ass kicked, but still...

The creepy girl’s lips twist into a creepy grin. “Then allow me to deliver the good news for ya,” she explains, putting her arms behind her back and rocking on her heels. “Today’s combat exercise is just best two outta three rounds.”

“…So no overkill necessary, right?” I ask hopefully.

“Not necessary, nope!” Spider Cunt assures me, but her expression’s darkening. “Though I don’t know if yer opponent will abide by that,” she adds.

…Fuck. I’m going to get ripped apart, aren’t I?

Spider Cunt places her hand on my shoulder and… I think she’s trying to look reassuring.

“I’ll make sure she doesn’t overdo it, Elly,” she tells me with confidence. “Promise.”

I don’t know if I can trust her on that, but I nod my head anyway.

Suzi takes a couple steps back and takes out the box with the cushion I saw last time. “Now I’m gonna need ya to put yer soul gem in this box here,” she explains, as if I’d forgotten.

“Please don’t touch it,” I implore her as I set the shining blue gemstone onto the cushion.

Suzi’s giggling does nothing to reassure me. I don’t think I have a choice in the matter, though.

My opponent, dressed in what is unmistakably a white wedding gown, is bent forward like she's ready to spring on me.

I glance towards the exits, but both of them are blocked off with fucking SPIDERS and spiderwebs. I'm stuck here, then. Great.

“Noooo chickenin’ out, Ellyyyy~,” Suzi calls out from a few feet away. Meanwhile, my opponent - let's call her Fish Girl - is stumbling around on her feet like a drunk. She leers at me with slight smile, one eye concealed by her hair. Looks kinda tired. Maybe I lucked out.

Fish girl slowly lifts her arm and waves at me. I awkwardly wave back. It makes her smile a bit wider. Not sure if I should be happy about that or not.

“Alright, are both of ya ready?” Suzi bellows out. Right, I need my weapon. It's like conjuring a normal pen, but you think bigger and meaner.

I open my metal hand wide, then close it around the tall object that just appeared. Can't say I like the whole 'pen spear' thing that much, but it gives me some distance from Fish Girl. I nod my head to Suzi, and my opponent-

Oh fuck me, she's got a spear too. Or is that a harpoon? Fuck.

“Threeeee, twoooo, ooooone…” lilts Suzi, before she yells out “go!” The creepy spider girl then scrambles away from us.

Okay, I can do this. Just have to stick the pointy end in her twice and we'll be done here...

But I'm scared. Holy crap I'm scared. She’s poised like a predatory fish about to go in for the kill, and her bemused, unflinching expression is -not- helping. My blood's frozen cold and my feet won't move any closer to her.

Fish Girl cocks her head before slowly advancing towards me, spear thing held firmly in both hands. Her dizzy movements don't make me feel better about my chances anymore. I end up taking a step back, and then another, and another - my legs shaking the entire time - until I've broken out in a run and reached the nearest wall.

“Elly?" Suzi calls out with concern. "Yer opponent’s back there.”

“Exactly!” I spit, back against the wall.

“Ihihihi, don’t be so nervous," Spider Cunt teases me. "It’s not even yer first time~.”

Easy for you to say. Your innate creepiness probably gives you some immunity to this sort of scare tactic.

Without thinking, I move up and cock my arm back, and then hurl my pen spear straight at her. The weapon remains unnaturally straight in its flight, screaming towards Fish Girl as she makes no attempt to dodge out of the way.

Okay, in retrospect, that wasn't the smartest thing to do. But I still didn't expect her to deflect it out of the air with her own spear. The pen spins away and clatters some distance behind her before rolling to a stop.

Before I can make another one, Fish Girl changes her grip so her right hand is empty. She flicks it over her head, and just as quickly pulls it down and points in my direction. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of tiny, silvery objects fly out and rocket towards me. I try running, but more of those things flying towards me cut off my escape. I crouch down and put up my arms to shield myself - robotic arm first, hopefully it'll take the brunt of whatever hits me.

The silver objects streak by, a couple of them just grazing me. The attack seems to have stopped, and Fish Girl is doing something else with her free hand. I should probably move again, but curiosity gets the better of me, and I stand to look around and see what became of the projectiles.

Embedded in the walls and floors - the walls and floors made of goddamn sheet metal - are hooks. Lots and lots of metal fishhooks, with a very fine, almost invisible string attached to each hook. A fishing line.

Fish Girl tried to pull me in with fishing line. The fuck.

This seems like a good time to escape and try again, until Fish Girl reels herself in, hurtling towards me so fast she's fucking -flying-. I don't even have time to put my arms up again before her hips slam into me.

I'm knocked into the wall and bang my head before I slump to the ground in pain. Suddenly the aches from this morning don't seem so bad in comparison. Fish Girl towers over me, spear poised to strike. I'm able to bring my arms up, but I'm in prime head-skewering territory right now. I force my eyes shut, not wanting to see it coming.

There's a light tap on my head, and then a shuffling noise. I bring my arms down and look, and Fish Girl is slowly walking away, fish tail sticking out of the bottom of her dress.

She has a fish tail. I should have guessed.

“And that’s one point against ya, Elly," Suzi calls out from nearby. Oh sure, don't bother to help me stand up. I try to do so on my own, but stumble even more than Fish Girl. Moving my legs hurts too much now, though I don't think I'm bleeding. I make the pen from before disappear, then summon another one. I use that one as a cane and stagger back towards Fish Girl, who's still giving me a eerie smile. She's still got one of her hands free.

Oh shit.

“Round twoooo…" Suzi yells, Fish girl raising her arm. "Fight!”

I don't get any chances to dwell on this before there’s a tugging at my clothes, followed by my skin being pierced by a fresh shower of sharp hooks. I manage to avoid screaming in pain by instead emitting a loud, agonized groan. The tugging from before is MUCH stronger, and I'm yanked off my feet as the hooks dig deeper, dropping my spear. Now it's me hurtling through the air, with the hooks ripping at my body. My robot arm's not snagged, but it's still wrapped up tight enough that I can't move it.

...Fuck, this hurts. This hurts worse than Fuckerfly’s attacks did. Much worse.

And now, being deposited in front of Fish Girl, I'm reminded of that screaming witch that tried to bite off my head. The screaming witch that was me. The screaming witch that would have succeeded if Fuckface and Checkers hadn't been there to intervene. I look pleadingly at Suzi, who's just grinning at me and not lifting a finger to help, like it's some kind of game to her. Fuck you too, Spider Cunt. I knew you were just a goddamn sadist from the start.

...Well, I'm not going to die without my soul gem being crushed, but I don't think it's going to tickle when I get cannibalized. And I'm not going to pretend there's any other way this will end for me.

I look back to my captor and loudly plead, “just make it quick!” She nods, her grin widening, and raises her spear up high. Ready to skewer me from head to toe. Again, I squeeze my eyes shut, bracing myself for the worst. For what good it'll do me. I don't know how it feels to be impaled, but it probably hurts enough that no amount of preparation can help you.

...I think I'll just tell the Warmaster that I can't do it. I'll just tell her I can't do this shit. It's too much. I can’t fight witches, I can’t fight magical girls, I can’t do anything...

Something sharp taps my head a few times, as a soft voice slowly drawls, “I caught you… Eleanor.”

...Wait. I know that voice.

“Victory goes to Miss Marina St. Maur!”cheers Suzi, who tells me, “gotta do better than that next time, Elly~.”

“…Huh? Marina?” My eyes snap open and I look at Fish Girl again. There’s no way. The hair is different, and the attitude was different, and… Well, they walk similar, and she’s got a sharktooth necklace like Marina, and same red eyes, but there’s just no way. There’s no fucking way this is possible. Marina was –nice-. Actually –nice-. Not pretend nice like Fuckerfly, but nice in the way that there’s no way she’d skewer me with a whole bunch of hooks.

“Thank you for earlier,” Fish Girl tells me. “Those snacks… They were delightful.” The hooks and fishing line all disappear at once, and I’m free to shiver and bleed out. Fuck, it is her. I got suckered into trusting somebody again.

“Oh? Ya know each other?” Suzi queries.

“I shop where she works,” Fish Girl replies. “Helpful girl. Very friendly.” Her words are starting to sound really condescending now. Or maybe they’ve been like that all along.

Fuck. I can’t trust anybody here, can I? This is ridiculous. This is absolutely ridiculous. I try to stand up again, noticing dozens of little red spots on my costume where I’m bleeding, and glare at Fish Girl. I want to give her a piece of my mind, but I’d just get my ass kicked if I did that.

Fish Girl is rifling around in her inventory for something, and pulls out an unopened box of chocolates that she got from the store. Ripping it open, she daintily holds up a piece and smiles at me. “Say ‘aah’.”


Marina sticks one of the wafers in my mouth, and I instinctively chew it. While the healing power of fudge and coconut washes over me, she hands me the rest of the box. “You forgot these,” she chides. Which was true – I wanted to pick up a box earlier, but didn’t get around to it.

“Fanks,” I murmur through a mouthful of cookie.

Marina shakes her head. “You looked like you needed them,” she replies. And I probably did.

I’m trying not to smile, but it’s hard. It’s really hard not to be happy when you’ve got something tasty like this and not everything is terrible. I swallow, and stifle the urge to immediately grab another, so I can ask an important question. “But why’d you do all the scary, painful stuff, Marina? Those hooks hurt.”

Marina’s smile turns mischievous when she admits, “I like to play around with the new blood.”

“O-oh. I see.” I want to ask about the fishbowl, but I’m more frightened than curious about that. Maybe another time.

“It’s just for fun. Nothing personal,” she assures me, patting me on the head like a kid. “We all went through it.”

I kind of nod along in understanding. It’s one of those ‘tradition’ things that some places have. Like saying all second-graders need to lick the flagpole in winter or something like that, right?

“Alright, ya guys wanna go now?” Suzi asks. The doors are freed up again, so we can leave at any time. I should probably go somewhere quiet to patch myself up like they showed me before.

I nod, and make to leave, but Marina grabs my arm, blood soaking into her white sleeve. I look back at her curiously, and she’s rattling her necklace again. Her expression is stern, though. Disappointed, even.

“You didn’t try to get close at all,” Marina scolds me. “I expected better.”

“…I was scared,” I admit, feeling too ashamed to look her in the eyes. “It’s… You were really scary.”

Marina tugs on my arm, forcing me to turn to look at her. “Things out there,” she says, making a sweeping gesture with her other arm, “they’re a lot scarier than me.” Her face softens into a pout of concern. “You can’t always run away from them.”

I understand that. I get that. But that doesn’t make it any easier to cope. “How do you deal with it?” I ask her.

Marina shrugs, telling me plainly, “they’re just prey.”

That’s not the kind of answer I was hoping for. My shoulders sag while I murmur, “I’m not really much of a ‘predator’, though.” I can scarcely picture myself fighting things without feeling a bit… Uncomfortable about it.

Marina lets go of my arm, then places her hand on my shoulder, “It’s okay,” she reassures me. “Sometimes, when you smell blood in the water,” she says in a far off voice, rattling her necklace again, “you just go for it.”

I stare at her, turning the phrase over and over in my head. ‘When you smell blood in the water, just go for it’? “You mean… Sometimes you have to go crazy?” I venture.

Nod. Well, this confirms my fear that Eversors are all a little mad. Might have to ask Fuckface for insanity lessons or something.

“Even so… I’m not very good at melee,” I admit. My last opponent lost by a bunch of factors acting in my favor. I don’t want to have to rely on dumb luck.

Marina smiles again, quietly asking, “Do you want… help?”

I’m kind of struck dumb. I wasn’t really expecting her to volunteer help. It’s not like we’re the best of friends or anything. “I… I don’t know,” I stammer, “I don’t want to be a bother…”

Marina has both hands on my shoulders now, and stares at me intently. “Then…” she starts, lips curling into a playful grin, “bring snacks.”

…Hee. I nod back.

Somebody grabs me by the scruff of the collar and hauls me away. “Alright, alright, time’s a-wastin’,” Suzi grumbles, handing back my soul gem. Not sure what’s eating her, though I guess I do have to get ready for whatever else Kai has lined up for today. I wave goodbye to Marina, and she waves back, springing back into the fishbowl with a splash. It was kind of cool.

After we’re out of the look at the box of snacks - don’t look at the letters – and then remember something important. “Miss Suzi?” I call to the person dragging me around.

Suzi lets me go and moves back into my field of vision. “Just call me Suzi~,” she says with a giggle, “or big sis~.” And then winks at me.

“Miss Suzi.” I repeat sternly. “Could you pass along a message to… whoever’s supposed to get it?”

Wringing her hands again, Suzi explains, “Wellllll, I can sure try.” Leaning in uncomfortably close, she asks me, “what’s the message?” I want to back away to a more comfortable distance, but I really need to get this out of the way.

Taking a deep breath, I tell Suzi, “I’d like to get… help.” I gesture toward the box and the words on it, saying “I need some kind of help controlling the Vanus trance.”

Suzi’s frowning at me in confusion. “But you’re an Eversor now, hun,” she reminds me. “Why’s this so important all of a sudden?”

I hang my head a bit in shame. “If I don’t... Jael says I’m fired.”

“I’ll pass that along to the Warmaster,” Suzi promises, putting her hands on my shoulders and squeezing a little. “I think she’s been plannin’ for this sorta thing. Just sit tight.”

“Thanks,” I reply with a slight smile.

Letting go – wait, I just let her touch me – Suzi giggles, “ihihihi, no problem. Ya ever need anythin’, remember that I’m alwaaaays watchin’~.”

…Goddammit, Suzi.

Omake: Distracted[edit]

"The Seeker of Wisdom returns from her trials at last! And while you are the same person as when we last met, you are clearly so very different."


"Why have you cut down the most bountiful trees in your garden?"

"...The haircut?"

"That is what I said, yes."

"Er... That's beeeecaaaaaaausssse... I wanted to show how... Show how SERIOUS I am about... You know, shedding this... Uh, SNAKE SKIN! Yeah! The SNAKE SKIN of my past mistakes! So, ah, I MOLTED!"

"Very good, Truth-Seeker! That is exactly what I would have done, were I you and you me."

"Y-yeah... CHANGING things. Different things... Soft, gentle things..."

"And yet your emotions are stormy and turbulent. Did I not tell you to calm your mind?"

"I... I got distracted."


"VERY distracted."

"I see that. I see it as clear as I see why insects like sugar water."

"Yes, for VERY distracting things happened. They were exCITING distractions at first, but then just... They led to things that I can't get out of my mind."

"I see. How terribly disappointing, Truth-Seeker."

"Oh, I'm, uh... I, uh..."

"I am disappointed in myself. After all, it is not the fault of the rain that the lake is dry if the storm itself is weak."

"Right. The rain's not my fault. Or the storm. I knew that."

"We shall have to take a different approach tomorrow, o Seeker of Enlightenment. For me, this day shall be marked as a failure."

"That's... Ah... That's too bad?"

"Quite. For now you may spread your wings and fly back to the nest, baby bird. You may have a new coat of feathers to keep you warm, but you still haven't learned to hunt."

"...Warm, huh?"

"That means return to your cave and await the embrace of your mother bear, cub."

"Sure, embracing..."

"I said make like a tree and leave, Seeker of Truth!"

"Leave? Oh. Oh! OH! Right! Leave! I'll... Do that! Yes! See you next time, then! I won't let you go- I MEAN DOWN! I WON'T LET YOU DOWN!"

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus Magical Ascetic Valentina Tenko II: The Shoutening[edit]

For the first time since I’ve arrived here, the rays of the sun wake me. A light STRICTLY INFERIOR to the INFERNO that BURNS within me, however! For now that Heather Crunch has opened her eyes, the RADIANCE of my SOUL ITSELF shall OUTSHINE said sun’s light!

I stretch a few times before LEAPING out of bed. And then… I POSE against the backdrop of the rising sun!

Hold it…

Hold iiiiiit…


I am just not feeling it this morning. Ugh, it’s too damn quiet! I’m actually starting to -miss- those noisy maids.


Were it only so simple to do so, and yet I am POISONED with thoughts about HER. The faint, fruity fragrance of her shampoo; the gentle sounds of her breathing; the curve of her back as I held her… How could such a slight, slender body feel so warm and soft? Was it her? Was it the silky fabrics she wore? Or was it how her arms draped around me, before slowly caressing my back and wrapping me in a tight embrace?

…Dammit, it’s worse than I’d thought. I hope that some breakfast will give my thoughts focus towards IMPORTANT matters.

I move along to the kitchen and seat myself. And then unseat myself when I realize I have to make my own breakfast once again. Which is ABSOLUTELY fine, since they didn’t do it right anyway.

That means the usual spread: meat, pancakes, meat, hash browns, meat, orange slices, meat, baked beans, meat, eggs, meat, milk, meat, sausage, and meat! A feast that is ALMOST WORTHY of me! If I could just get the hash browns and pancakes to stop tasting so floury, then TRULY it would be the Heather Crunch of breakfasts! As it stands, however, it is SORELY LACKING in that regard!

Nakajima did good hash browns and pancakes. I should ask- No, no, NO! I am NOT thinking about this again!

As it turns out, breakfast is NOT enough to alleviate oneself of unwanted thoughts. Nor is a comprehensive workout. Or a shower – the latter actually WORSENED things because of the lingering smell of Nakajima’s shampoo.

But I will NOT allow myself to fail the Soul Temperer’s trials again! Once is one time too many as it is! And to PROVE to her that I am taking her lessons to heart, I shall undergo her tutelage WITHOUT invoking my transformation! I may have failed the meditation, but I shall still… Whatever it is she said!

Even though it means wearing the only outfit the Nakajimas prepared. And now, standing in front of the bathroom’s full-length mirror, I can see the costume in its entirety.

There are the polished black leather dress shoes, with a little black bow done up near the tongue. The inside of them was actually quilted; I’m amazed they were able to make shoes like this in the time allotted. The pure white socks are NOT as glamorous as my favorite stockings, but they fit like a glove.

The black dress itself is… black. Except for the collar, which is white. Its sleeves are short and puffy, only reaching up to the elbows, and the skirt is knee-length. The apron frills at the shoulder belts and at the bottom. It was somewhat of a challenge to tie the waist belts, but the perfect ribbon they form resting on my hips is testament to my skill! I didn’t even –need- your help with THAT, NAKAJIMA!

Speaking of bows, the blue ribbon over my chest looks like it’s missing something. On a whim, I brush my fingers across my soul gem, causing it to jump in a spark of light onto the ribbon, and reform as a gilded brooch. HA! I HAVE IMPROVED UPON YOUR ORIGINAL ENSEMBLE, NAKAJIMA!

And of course, the little frilled hair band to complete the look.

I twirl, do a curtsey, and pose for the mirror, concluding that I ROCK the maid outfit. WEEP AT YOUR FORSAKEN OPPORTUNITY TO GAZE UPON MY SPLENDOR, NAKAJIMA!


Kicking down the sliding door, I announce to the room at large, "SOUL TEMPERER! I HAVE ARRIVED!" For NOW Heather Crunch graces this humblest of halls with her MAJESTIC MAGNIFICENCE!

Standing with her back to me, Soul Temperer Valentina Tenko muses aloud, "the Seeker of Wisdom returns to pursue atonement.” She glances over her shoulder to address me directly, inquiring, “and yet, are you really here at-" The Soul Temperer trails off, facing me directly with her eyes wide and her jaw dropped.

I stare at her with bemusement."What?" I KNOW I'm a sight to behold, but your reaction is SEVERELY delayed, Soul Temperer. You should have shown such reverence LAST TIME!

Tenko brings her hand up to her cheek, her face flush and a trail of drool leaking from her mouth. That's... Not the reaction I was hoping for. I wanted AWE, not this. "I see the leopard has changed its shorts!" she exclaims, lips twitching into a smile that make me feel VERY, VERY UNCOMFORTABLE! AND I REALLY DON'T THINK THAT'S HOW THE EXPRESSION GOES!

"Yyyyes," I cautiously reply, though I remain UNDAUNTED! "I TOLD you I was serious about... you know..." I push up my sleeves, then shout, "CLEANING UP MY ACT!" while wearing the cheekiest grin I can manage.

This brings the Soul Temperer to her senses, and she is INCREDULOUS. "Perhaps you are, perhaps you are not," she muses, arms behind her back as she walks towards me. "It remains to be seen, and talk itself is cheap." Her eerie leering returns when she gets close enough. "Also the clothes are displeasingly conservative," she observes, causing me to pull the skirt down lower. "The neckline and hem are too high. Could you-"

"NO!" I adamantly refuse! "FOCUS!" Admiration is fine, but your slimy stare is sending sickening shivers down my spine and making my skin crawl! SO STOP IT!

FINALLY the Soul Temperer seems to be taking things SERIOUSLY again. "Very well, then," she announces with a brief cough. "On to the task at hand."

Now that the Soul Temperer has focused on her duties once more, there will be NO FURTHER DISTRACTIONS from my goal! THAT’S RIGHT, NAKAJIMA! YOUR STRANGLEHOLD ON MY THOUGHTS ENDS HERE! WAIL AND GNASH YOUR TEETH ALL YOU LIKE, IT WILL DO YOU –NO GOOD WHATSOEVER-! YOU CAN LOOK AS PITIFUL AND HELPLESS AS YOU LIKE… AS, AS FRAIL AND DEFENSELESS AS A PUPPY SOMEBODY JUST KICKED… SHE’S the one who told me to keep holding her, dammit, it wasn’t –my- fault things were so awkward!

"Are you clear on your objective for today?" The Soul Temperer abruptly asks of me. Was… Was she talking to me just now? I didn’t hear a thing she said.

"It was something about peaches, wasn't it?" I hazard. The Soul Temperer frowns and shakes her head.

"That was merely one strand of the caterpillar's cocoon," she... explains? Does that mean that I was partially right? "Were you not listening?"

"I was in contemplation of things!" I tell her - it's not exactly a lie - then hastily shout, "VERY IMPORTANT THINGS!"

"And still you seem unsatisfied," she observes, her stare stern and concerned.

"I, uh, haven't reached an answer yet," I say, but then BOLDLY PROCLAIM, "But I will! I SWEAR it!" I EMPHASIZE THIS by POUNDING my chest with my arm - which unfortunately draws her lurid gaze again.

"-Now- you're showing the fire I knew you had inside you!" she says to my bosom, and then gives me the eye contact she should have made from the beginning, her eyes burning with zeal. "Come, Seeker of Truth, shed your cocoon and emerge as the radiant butterfly once more!"


The Soul Temperer smiles sadly. "That is truly a pity, but not what I asked you to do,” she insists. She reaches to her side and unsheathes her blade, a gout of flame erupting from the scabbard. “As before, Seeker of Enlightenment - show me your heart!"

HA! GLADLY!" I bellow with great enthusiasm! A clash again an equal! Like I could turn down such an opportunity!

"While I did specify that you should not engage your powers, it is necessary to do so now,” the Soul Temperer explains, looking sadly at me – or my body. I can’t tell. "You are wound up too tight and liable to break.” Walking away from me and motioning for me to follow, she makes a grandiose gesture towards the sky. “Until we cross this fjord in the river of your life, Truth-Seeker, we shall also cross blades!"

Her metaphor doesn’t work, but it doesn’t matter! "BRING IT ON, SOUL TEMPERERRRR!" I roar, hand clasped over my shining red soul gem! An EXPLOSION of light engulfs me, as I am clothed in my mighty garments once more! I CHASE after the Soul Temperer, jacket BILLOWING, ribbons TRAILING, mind and body FILLED WITH PURPOSE! Yes, truly THIS is what I am GRATEFUL for, Miss Marigold! THIS is what my roses symbolize! A chance for ATONEMENT and BETTERMENT of myself, and NOT some chance meeting with a red-haired rival with KISSABLE LIPS and GREAT LEGS-

…You know, I don’t –need- the ribbon and roses to emphasize my greatness! Thus, I remove the offending object and stick it in my inventory, before catching up with the Soul Temperer. She seems curious about the lack of flowers, but tactfully says nothing for once, leading me outside to a small clearing.

Driving her blade into the ground, the Soul Temperer instructs me to stand close. Immediately, the earth surrounding us breaks away from the ground as it begins to float, carrying us with it. “I need to assess your spirit as we fly, Seeker of Truth,” she says with complete seriousness, her hand suddenly squeezing my ass.

…I’m not convinced, and smack her hand away.

“Please, Truth-Seeker, this is important,” she insists. I GLARE at her in response, and she returns my glare with equal intensity. Then, slowly, she reaches around and squeezes again.

“Welcome, Seeker of Enlightenment, to the Valley of Eight Million Gods!”

The Soul Temperer proclaims this after we set down in a large clearing. I take a few steps away from her, finally afforded the opportunity to do so. ‘Spirit assessment’; what nonsense!

“I see no gods,” I point out to her. Indeed, nothing here resembles any sort of god. There are scars of battle, such as scorch marks, dead clumps of plants, craters, and broken, rusted weapons scattered here and there. I can almost SMELL the blood and sweat shed through countless skirmishes. Nevertheless, there are no gods here.

The Soul Temperer grins at me, blade removed from the ground. Pointing it at me, she inquires, “Have you seen the face that looks back at you from the water’s edge?”

I cannot help but smile at that. “HA! Flattery won’t save you, you know!” I warn her! At LEAST she acknowledges that my GREATNESS is COMPARABLE to divinity!

“I wasn’t counting on it!” she assures me! “Do not fall upon me like a light shower, Seeker of Wisdom, but come at me with the force of a mighty typhoon!” Even I can understand that!

“TO ME, EVERSWORD!” I cry out, my voice ECHOING through this desolate place! WILLING my MIGHTY WEAPON into existence, my Eversword pieces itself together in my hand as I feel its handle in my grip!


"Your blade shines a gold more brilliant than the sun, Truth-Seeker!" lauds the Soul Temperer, already poised for battle! Sure enough, the Eversword glows a deep yellow today! Not blue, nor red, but GOLD! Or perhaps more of an amber color-



“Then come, Seeker of Truth!” the Soul Temperer reminds me, bringing my focus back to IMPORTANT things! “Prove that the fire inside you is not merely a transient, flickering ember!”

Letting loose a howl WORTHY of the Sixth Officio, I grip my blade and charge her!

The Soul Temperer of the Seventh manages to BLOCK my attack with her own blade, the FORCE of the blow kicking up dust and dirt. I quickly spin about and hit her with ANOTHER slash, but AGAIN she parries the strike. However, I am DRIVING her back with the strength and ferocity of my attacks, and have YET to show any opening for her to use her weapon to attack! She seems to sense this as well, and disengages from me, leaping back a few feet. Before I can make another strike, she mightily stomps the ground, and a pillar of earth ERUPTS beneath my feet, LAUNCHING me further back!

After I come to a stop, a BARRAGE of BOULDERS ASSAILS me from what USED to be that earthen pillar! BUT THIS WILL NOT EVEN SLOW THE CRUNCH TRAIN! I POWER THROUGH AND CHARGE DOWN THE SOUL TEMPERER, POISED TO STRIKE! She has RAISED a GREAT WALL OF STONE between us, BUT THAT IS NOT ENOUGH! “STONE-CLEAVING STRIKE!” I SHOUT, AND DEMOLISH THE WALL WITH A SLASH FROM MY BLADE! Pressing onward towards my opponent, SPRINTING over the ruined remnants of rock, I fail to find her.

A SPIKE of STONE STABS at me from below, DETACHING from the ground as it HURLS me back! The Soul Temperer now occupies my previous position, and is poised to prepare another powerful assault! I can SEE her sword starting to simmer as FIRES fan forth from it!

I REMAIN UNDAUNTED! I rush in, sword at the ready, as it GROWS BIGGER AND BIGGER! The Soul Temperer sends a TIDAL WAVE of FIRE at me, but NOT EVEN THE FIRES OF THE DEEPEST HELLS BURN HOTTER THAN MY WINNING SPIRT! Compared to that, these blazing flames are LUKEWARM AT BEST! WHIRLING around, I make a GREAT SWEEPING ATTACK with my blade! Through the flames, I see the hazy outline of the Soul Temperer STRUCK by my giant Eversword, UNABLE to erect any defense in time! It sends her TUMBLING over the ground for a CONSIDERABLE distance before braking herself with her blade. Standing up and dusting herself off, she seems mostly unharmed. TRULY A WORTHY OPPONENT!

“Truth-Seeker!” she calls out to me, her voice reverberating across this barren battlefield! “I am certain that I told you to not toy with me! Is that the best you can do?”

“HA!” I proclaim, thumping my chest, “I have not yet BEGUN to fight!” Indeed, THAT was merely a WARM-UP! A PRELUDE to a PROPER CONFRONTATION!

Pointing my blade at her, I exclaim, “Enough with the banter! NOW we clash for REAL!” and rush back into the fray!


You’re exaggerating, an annoying voice in the back of my head states. THAT VOICE SHOULD SHUT UP!

Hah! Nakajima is really missing out -- Stop thinking about that!

Omake: Prepare Yourself[edit]

"Hi, Marina! Wasn't expecting to see you around the Officio."

"Eleanor... your lunch doesn't have any meat?"

"I don't really like meat."

"May want to keep that to yourself... some people here won't like hearing you say that."

"Dunno how anybody can stand it. 's really not got any taste."

"Consider giving it another try. You may simply have cooked it wrong."

"I'll think about it. You didn't come all this way just to criticize my lunch, right?"

"One other thing... get ready tonight."

"Ready for what?"

"For staying up late, and for live fire training."

"What, like... being set on fire?"

"Shot at. With guns."



"But... but... but... -how-?"


"How can I possibly be ready for fu- for being shot at? I just... how? It's... fuck... er, sorry. I'm just... that just really scares me."

"...I can give you some tips."

"There are tips?"


"...Are they even going to do any good?"


"...You sure?"


"...Please tell me, then."

"One condition."


"I'd like half of your dessert."

"...Hehehe... okay, it's a deal."

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch II[edit]

Here we stand amidst a sea of fire, the Soul Temperer and I. Hills have crumbled in our clash. Trees have become ash and timber. CHASMS have opened, both by my blows and by her own power. The heat has grown so intense that bits of rubble have begun to -melt-. She has been battered, bruised, and bloodied, yet still she stands tall. Panting, perhaps, but still going. Meanwhile, I myself have not a SINGLE scratch to show for her efforts.

…So why am I so tired? It's just barely sunset, and already I am feeling fatigued from the fight. I’m leaning against my Eversword for support after a scant few hours of heated combat!

"Is this all that you are capable of, Truth-Seeker?" the Soul Temperer scoffs, sheathing her weapon. The flames around us die, and the Valley of Eight Million Gods grows dark. "A scuffle until the sun's rays die down? Need you the light of the heavens to guide your sword, rather than your own inner light?"

"HA!" I shout, breathing heavily and wiping the sweat from my brow. "I barely felt your attacks!"

"Then do you intend to simply stand there and weather my blows, o crumbling mountain?" the Soul Temperer sneers, not showing any trace of a smile. "You are in no shape to fight back."

Gritting my teeth, I pull my Eversword out and shakily approach my opponent. Even ignoring its weight doesn't make me feel any lighter, and I end up using it as a crutch. Still, I INSIST, "I can still fight!"

She refuses to believe me. "Walk toward me under your own power, Seeker of Enlightenment," she retorts, arms folded, "and I will believe you."

"Nngh..." I groan, pulling my blade out and immediately stumbling. The bitter taste of ash fills my mouth as I fall.

"It is said more can be learned from failure than victory," the Soul Temperer explains, pulling me up until we’re nose to nose. “Come; let us sift for knowledge in the sands of battle, back at the temple.”

…Get your hands off my butt.

There is something calming about this room. It’s not the large, deep fountain bubbling away at the center. It’s not the arrangement of sand, rocks, and plants in the corner. And it’s definitely not the ‘bed’ of spikes that the Soul Temperer is sitting on the edge of.

No, it’s the swords that line the walls. SWORDS! Blades from all over the world, each hung up as a trophy of BATTLE! Some in better shape than others, but ALL of them lovingly preserved! It reminds me of home, and makes me feel somewhat less anxious.

“Now then, Seeker of Truth,” begins the Soul Temperer, “let us unravel the thread of the quilt that smothers you. What do you believe is the problem?”

“…I’ve been having strange thoughts since I’ve arrived here,” I inform her, hands curling into fists and cheeks burning in shame. “They distract me, and LEECH away at my strength and conviction!”

“It sounds like an influence from a malevolent spirit,” the Soul Temperer observes.

“Yes, a curse,” I muse. “One that FILLS my mind with doubt and-“I shudder in displeasure, the word leaving a bitter taste in my mouth “-lust.”

The Soul Temperer leans forward, getting uncomfortably close. “And these thoughts of lust,” she inquires, “toward whom are they being directed?”

“A sadistic, sociopathic DEMON!” I snarl, roaring the accursed name: “NAKAJIMAAAA!”

“Oh.” The Soul Temperer falls back, disappointed. She takes a moment to speak again, asking, “Which one?”

“Er… The incessantly cheery one,” I clarify. “Amber.”

“The Child of Chaos,” she murmurs.

I nod in agreement, though the Soul Temperer says no more. I speak again, my voice quiet as my face grows hotter, “…things happened the other day and now she keeps invading my mind, making me wonder if I should have let her leave when she did.” I gaze imploringly at the Soul Temperer, beseeching her, “How do I lift this despicable curse?”

The Soul Temperer smiles, and patronizingly pats me on the head. “Seeker of Enlightenment, you are not cursed,” she declares. “You are merely ill.”’


The Soul Temperer …giggles, for some reason, and then explains my malady to me clearly: “You are lovesick.”

“…-WHAT-?” I scream, my body all but bursting into flames from a sudden rush of heat.

“What you are suffering from is infatuation,” she continues, folding her hands over her chest. “It is the budding flower that, if nurtured, blossoms into love.”

“WHY?!” I implore her. “HOW?!!” My hands instinctively fly to cover my face and hide my shame. No no no, this is not happening. This CANNOT be happening!

“Love finds a way,” the Soul Temperer insists. “It is, after all, the strongest force in the universe; a fundamental truth, more important than any science or magic!”

“I just…” I try to make words, but my tongue’s tied. I struggle against it, whispering, “ME? And HER?” There’s no way…

Yet it makes so much sense. It explains -everything-.

“Yes, Seeker of Wisdom!” the Soul Temperer cheers, adding, “And by the look on your face, you have reached your epiphany of love much sooner than most!”

…I can’t help but laugh at all of this.

The Soul Temperer is rightly confused at this. But before she can make any concerned inquiry, I issue my proclamation.

“I get it,” I tell her earnestly. “I finally get it!” My face splits into a wide grin. “Yes, it’s love!” I exclaim.

All the times that I’ve been drawn to admiring her form… The feelings of wanting to protect her… The giddiness her presence filled me with… That desire to continue holding her, if just to be near her…

I should have recognized something so familiar right away.

“So you accept it, then, Seeker of Enlightenment?” the Soul Temperer asks.

“HELL! NO!” I scream at her and stomp my foot, the heat of embarrassment fanning into flames of rage. Hated memories begin to boil at the back of my mind, invited by that DISGUSTING, CONTEMPTIBLE word!

The force of my words drives the Soul Temperer back! “I-I don’t understand,” she meekly replies – the GALL OF HER! She is, for reasons I JUST CANNOT FATHOM, actually -BAFFLED- by my response, when I’M the one who can’t believe this absurdity!

“Then LET ME explain it to you CLEARLY” I hiss, leaning in close enough that my breath makes her flinch with every vitriolic syllable uttered. “LOVE is not a FLOWER… It is a WEED!” I scream! “A PESTILENCE! A BLIGHT upon one’s soul!”

“Your emotions are as turbulent as the stormy seas!” exclaims the ASTONISHINGLY MISGUIDED SOUL TEMPERER! “What is it that-“ I silence her by covering her mouth. I can’t even bear to LOOK at such IGNORANCE! HOW CAN ANYBODY DEFEND IT?!

“LOVE is a WEAKNESS!” I proclaim, storming away towards her little zen garden, hands twitching. “LOVE BLINDS YOU to the truth! LOVE makes you see things that NEVER EVEN EXISTED!”

“Truth-Seeker, please,” that annoying girl screeches, “you must listen to your heart and-“


I toss the broken heap in front of me and think of THAT memory, where I saw ‘love’ for all that it was! And prepare to do to it what I did to that boy's most treasured possessions!


I pull my leg back!


And I kick!


When the mass bursts to kindling upon the ceiling, rattling the blades along the walls, it fills me with a small measure of satisfaction. It wasn’t as satisfying as the actual deed was, but it’s enough to calm me a little, and bury those memories again.

…I’d forgotten how tired I was, though. As the righteous indignation fades, weariness comes crashing back down on me once more.

Looking at the shocked expression of the Soul Temperer, I reiterate my position. “I did not come all the way out here to be strung along by some girl,” I tell her, adding, “A girl, who, I might add, has tried to humiliate, poison, and murder me.”

Finally finding her voice, the Soul Temperer queries, “questionable partners aside, is that really what you believe, Truth-Seeker?”

Striding back over, my words and movements the EPITOME of calmness, I -carefully- explain to her, “I came out here for self-betterment, and –not- to fall back into disgusting old habits.”

“Be that as it may,” she retorts, “why are you running away from love, rather than confronting it head on?”

…I don’t have an answer for that. Why –am- I running away from it?

Love gave birth to someone like you after all, a voice rings out in my mind. I ignore it.

“What you described is all true,” the Soul Temperer continues. “Love can be abused and exploited.” She heaves a heavy sigh and then smiles. “But when it isn’t-”

“No,” I interrupt, frowning again. “Keep your juvenile delusions of romance, but don’t ever drag me into them.”

“You only have your own experiences to fall back on,” the Soul Temperer chides me. “You won’t listen to the words of others, and yet you insist that your way is the only right way.”

“I’m NOT wrong, though!” I tell her, stamping my foot. “I know I’m not!”

The Soul Temperer frowns at me. “Isn’t that attitude why you’re here, o foolish Seeker of Wisdom?” she asks.


“The frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean," she continues. "You should take in different perspectives on a subject."

"What, just... just go ask people what they think love is?" I inquire incredulously.

The Soul Temperer nods her head. "Yes. That is your assignment for tonight,” she informs me. “Gather the definition of 'love' from many different people, and challenge your own frame of reference." She smirks at me in an irritating manner. "Surely this isn't too much for you, is it?"

"...No. I'll do it," I say with a resigned sigh.

It seems good enough for her, and her smile softens. "Good," she says, pointing towards the hallway. "Now go, Seeker of Wisdom. You are not welcome back here until tomorrow."

"What? Why?"

"You have gained an oppressive aura, Truth-Seeker," she warns, moving in disgustingly close. "It is disrupting the-"

I shove her away. "Forget I asked,” I grumble, slouching forward from exhaustion. “I don’t even care anymore."

The Soul Temperer grabs me by the shoulder, pulling me upright. “Then at least let me take you to the gates myself,” she insists.

I lean against her and just nod vaguely as she guides me out of the room and through the hall. My footsteps are uneven and uncertain, a stark contrast to the sure strides of the Soul Temperer. Her hand is moving south again, but I just feel too worn down to even protest at this point, the voice in my head cackling at my weakness.

Before I know it, we’re standing outside the entrance, and the Soul Temperer releases me. I stumble a bit before regaining my footing, walking forward. Before I head out, she gives me a reminder: “Remember to draw on your own light to guide you, and not simply that of your soul gem.”

"Yeah, yeah…” I mumble, “I'll have my answers to this… conundrum by tomorrow."

“Farewell, Seeker of Enlightenment," calls the distant voice of the Soul Temperer, followed by the sound of the heavy gates slamming shut behind me.

…Well, THAT was a bit much, wasn’t it? Everybody here must be ill or something. Still, the Soul Temperer raised a good point: I need some outside perspective on things.

The light of the moon and the stars provides just enough illumination for me to not trip over my own feet on the slog back to town. There are storm clouds gathering on the horizon, though, so it’ll probably start raining later on. Hope there isn’t any lightning. I hate lightning.

Well, thunder, anyway. Hate thunder. Hate thunderstorms. I should have checked the weather when I left, but a certain someone made me forget to do so. Dammit, Nakajima.

…AAAAGH! ENOUGH MOPING AROUND! I am NOT going to let something as frivolous as THIS get the better of me! For though the sun may have called it quits for the day, I’M NOT GOING DOWN SO EASILY!

That’s one reason he cheated—OH, HUSH, YOU!

I continue the long trek back to my temporary residence, retrieving my cell phone from my inventory. Once I have it in my hand, my magical costume begins flaking away until only the finely tailored uniform I wore this morning remains. With the protection and stamina afforded by my costume gone, the pain and exhaustion attempt to overwhelm me again. BUT I AM STRONGER! SO! MUCH! STRONGER! Even if EVERYTHING conspires to stop me, I WILL OVERCOME IT!


HA! I’m so good I surprise myself!

NOW that I am once more properly FIRED UP, it’s time to deal with the task at hand! My meandering steps become a PURPOSEFUL gait, my bearing and expression of SUPREME CONFIDENCE! I POWER on the phone and UNdo the screen lock before I swipe my finger to bring up the voice commands. The INSTANT it indicates it is listening, I call out the FIRST and most RELIABLE NAME in my list of contacts!


The phone rings once. Twice. Three times. And soon enough I hear a pre-recorded message: “Yoooo! This is Kyoko Sakura; I'm probably asleep or eating right now! Leave a message after the beep, and have a MAXIMUM day!"


Well, I should have expected that.

BUT! It’s NOT ENOUGH to douse my BURNING RESOLVE! I take a deep breath and holler, “KYOKOOOO! THIS is HEATHER CRUNCH! HOW HAVE YOU BEEN? The reason I call is as part of the training I mentioned before. For the Soul Temperer has asked me to reach out and acquire OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVES on something!”

I sigh a little and lower my voice, scratching at the back of my head in embarrassment. “Which is love,” I state clearly. “She wants me to get a bunch of people to tell me what love is supposed to mean to them. It’s RIDICULOUS, isn’t it?” Saying it out loud, it actually –does- sound silly. I let out a hearty chuckle before wrapping up my call, “but your assistance and input is -still- greatly appreciated! CALL ME BACK WHEN YOU CAN!” I almost hang up, but FIRST A REMINDER: “AND STOP FORGETTING YOUR PHONE!”

And THEN I end the call.

Well, that wasn’t so bad. Who’s next? A name springs to mind, thanks to recent events, and I speak into my phone once more.


THIS time someone actually answers, a certain groggy girl grumbling, “Yeah?”

“COOLDOWWWN!” I bellow, eliciting a scream from the other end.

“OH MY FUCKING GOD-“ she shouts. HA! YOU shouldn’t be so surprised, Cooldown! Not even your MINIONS were able to keep me down!

“YES!” I interrupt – it feels GOOD to be able to do it for a change – and inform her, “I seek your OPINION on a GRAVE-“

“My opinion is you can fuck off into one and die,” she interrupts me and ends the call.

…Now that was just uncalled for.

They hate you, murmurs that annoying voice that should stuff it.

Other than those two, all my contacts are at the Sixth. Pretty much just the Rank Leaders and the Warmaster – the Equerry simply REFUSES to give me her number, in spite of possible EMERGENCIES! WELL FINE, MORKAI! It’s YOUR loss, NOT MINE!

How did Slam’s number end up here, though? Probably not very tactful to call so soon after what happened.

AT ANY RATE! “BLUEBELL!” I yell into my device, which pages the Vindicare Rank Leader.

“G’day, you’ve reached the one and only Bel Contra! Leave a message at the tone and I’ll get back to you whenever!” Voicemail again.

“BLUEBELL! THIS is HEATHER CRUNCH! I am calling as part of a task set upon me by the Soul Temperer of the Seventh: to inquire the meaning of love from you and others! Call me back by tomorrow!” Beep.

Call the next number…

“Ahoy! Kai Cress here! I’m a little busy right now, so leave yer message at th’ tone! AND DON’T DAWDLE ABOUT IT!” Voicemail AGAIN.

"CREEEESS!" “THIS IS HEATHER CRUNCH! I am inquiring on behalf of the Soul Temperer as to the meaning of love! Yes, it sounds silly, but I’m serious! Call me back soon!” Beep.

Next number…

“You’ve reached Madge, a.k.a. Miss Shine. You have probably called me while I’m in the middle of doing something important, so leave your name, number, and message at the tone, and I’ll respond when I can. Unless this is Crazy Crunch calling, in which case don’t bother wasting my time.” What was THAT about? Miss Shine?

“Er, MADGE! I need your definition of what ‘love’ is supposed to be! It’s an assignment and NOT a waste of your time! CALL ME SOON!” Beep.


“You’ve reached the Warmaster’s office. Leave your contact information after the tone.” I’m starting to wonder if something happened.

“WARMASTER! The Soul Temperer won’t allow me in until I have other peoples’ definitions of what love is supposed to be, and nobody else is answering! CALL ME!” Beep.

…What now?

A long nap back at my lodgings only brings more dreams of –her-. This is becoming a serious hindrance to my productivity. I can’t just keep sniffing her pillow for that strawberry smell and expect to get anything done! Also, it’s disgusting! What is –wrong- with me?

And why can’t I stop hugging it?

You’re alone, that horrid voice sneers. You’re completely and utterly alone, and you can’t stand it.

“I’m not alone,” I mumble aloud, clutching the pillow tighter. “I have friends and allies.”

They don’t want anything to do with you. Don’t you get it? After you showed your true colors, they wanted to get rid of you, and you gave them the perfect excuse to do so.

I take out my cell phone and power it back on. It says I have no new messages. And nothing I can find points to any sort of emergency back at the Ninth or the Sixth at this time.

They’re busy celebrating. Celebrating that you’re out of their hair for good.

I shake my head and go through my contacts again. Starting with Kyoko again, I get the same voicemail message as before. I try calling it again, and then a third time, just to make sure. On the fourth attempt, I decide to leave another message.

“KYOKO!” I holler into the mouthpiece, “I –NEED- YOU TO RETURN MY CALLS! THAT IS ALL!” Then I disconnect.

‘Sayakaaaaa, Hothead’s buggin’ me again!’ that irritating voice says, imitating my friend’s voice. ‘Think I should tell her to stop callin’ me?’

There’s no way. Kyoko isn’t like that at all. She’s my friend. I REFUSE to believe that she could be so callous.

You have no friends, it insists.

I try Cooldown again, and this time it informs me that my number is blocked. This causes that horrid voice to laugh. But I still have options. I still have friends. People I can talk to. People who acknowledge I exist and have worth.

Except you don’t.

…Except I don’t.

I drop the accursed pillow and go through the list again and again and again and again and again. I urge all my contacts to call me back about my inquiry. Or about what’s going on. Or anything at all.

“MADGE! This is GRAVELY important! CALL ME BACK!”

‘Look, Crazy Crunch tried calling me again. She may have trapped herself in another broom closet.’

“CRESS! As Rank Leader I ORDER you to answer this call!”

‘Fifty pieces of eight say she be blubberin’ about bein’ marooned right about now!’


‘Eh, give her a couple minutes to burn out first… Heh, I wish I could see her face when she does.’


‘It took longer than I would have liked, but she is no longer our problem.’


‘…Good riddance.’

NO! I can’t accept this! I WON’T accept this! I’m not alone here! Heather Crunch is not alone! I’ll prove it! I’ll prove that I’m not by myself!

I pocket the phone and force the door open. And I start running. Scrambling toward the far-off monastery gates and clawing at the air. That voice laughs incessantly during my dash, spurring me to move faster.

It takes far too long for me to reach my destination. Far, far too long. The gate remains closed, and looms over me like a giant.

I rattle the gates and push against them, urging them to open. They don’t give an inch. “SOUL TEMPERER! SPIRITUAL LIEGE!” I yell, “LET ME BACK IN!” My eyes sting as I wipe away the rain. It’s definitely the rain.

“SOMEBODY LET ME IN!” I wail, pounding on this damnable thing in my way, wishing it would just disappear. I keep hitting it and hitting it until my fists grow numb. And I get nothing for my efforts.

They don't want anything to do with you, the voice tells me. They ALL hate you.

“Say something…” I whimper, looking for somebody to refute that. Or even acknowledge that.

But nobody answers.

I turn back to go to my lodgings, and it begins to rain. For real this time. Just a light drizzle, but it feels too icy for a summer rain. Or maybe it's just me.

I trudge home, my enthusiasm and energy gone. It takes all my willpower just to put one foot in front of the other and not collapse on the ground. So I don't have the strength or resolve to fight back the tears streaming out of my eyes.

...Maybe those annoying maids came back. Yeah, I bet they were playing a prank on me. They made me dress up in clothes of their own choosing, and then hid somewhere under the pretense of leaving. The entire time, they've been intercepting my calls and... And created an illusion of the Seventh Officio. One that I couldn't get into. This whole time they've been watching me doubt myself, and giggling about it. It's excessive, but I can't put it past them.

I'm shivering by the time I get back, but I can't bring myself to care. My uniform has gotten heavy with rain, and my eyes still sting with tears. But I'm okay. It was a funny joke, and I'm in on it. I shouldn't be mad.

"Nakajima?" I call out, wringing out the maid dress she and her sister made. "I know you're here. I figured out your trick. It was..." I throw my hands up and chuckle, "well, you got me. You got me good."

"You can stop hiding now," I insist, trying to smooth out the wrinkles. Make it presentable so they see how good it looks. "It's okay, I'm not angry at you. Really."

"Nakajima?" I cry out. Still no answer.

"Come on out," I plead, forcing my mouth into a grin and choking out a laugh. "See? I'm smiling. I'm not upset. I'm not upset at all."

I plod over toward the room they were staying in and slowly slide the door open. "Hah! Found you!" I exclaim/grunt to the empty room.

So obviously she's back in my room. Maybe they even set an ambush. Hehehe. I'll humor them.

"Here I am!" I snivel, walking into my empty room.

...It can't be empty.

Yet I cannot deny the room is empty. No Nakajimas. No Soul Temperer. No Spiritual Liege. Nobody from the Sixth, the Seventh, the Eighth, or the Ninth. There's nobody here but me.

...It could be a Callidus illusion. It could be a hologram. It could be camouflage.

...Or it could be that they really did leave. And with that realization, the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, all the fight goes out of me for good.

Nobody wants to be anywhere near a train that has no brakes, that awful voice taunts me. You're a disaster in motion, and everybody else has already bailed out.

...Stop it.

I pull off the drenched uniform and clumsily change into my nightgown. Even with that weight lifted off me, though, everything feels far too heavy. I fumble for the light switch, the room going dark. My legs finally give out on me and I fall onto the mattress. And slowly I crawl toward that pillow that still has her scent on it. And wrap myself around it, burying my face in it. The blankets are right there, but I lack the strength to pull them up. So I clutch the pillow tighter and try to keep warm. My whole body is trembling at this point, though I can't tell if it's from the cold, or from the sobs I can't hold down. The only other sound is the patter of raindrops. No giggling, no yelling, no anything to indicate somebody else is here.

It's just me.

...I hate love. I absolutely hate it. It's horrible and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

...But I think I hate being hated by everything even more. I hate having people I thought were my friends suddenly ignore me. I hate the idea that I've been abandoned. I hate the idea that I'm all alone. I hate that I even consider these things possible.

...And yet, even a thing like that is possible for Heather Crunch.

...Somebody, anybody, tell me what you think of that.

Omake: Hit Me[edit]

"Hold your fire! Squad Manticore, stand at attention and await further instructions! ...Hey, kid, you going to be okay?"


"I mean, you're a Vanus and all that, and most of the others have already given up. I'm not going to hold it against you if you quit here. "


"Geez, you really want that extra scratch, huh?"


"Well, it does suck to be poor, so good luck to you, kid."


"Alright then! Squad Manticore, open fire! ...Ah, and down she goes. Guess she needed most of her face after all. You two, haul her off to the Infirmary, pronto."

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Sawbones Tanis Nagi[edit]

The last thing I remember is a burning pain. Like the blood gushing out of my bullet wounds was lava. It made my knees knock with how much it hurt. Then I saw them aim for my head…

I can hear somebody humming something nearby. I don’t recognize the tune. More importantly, I don’t recognize the voice doing the humming.

My eyes open slowly, and I end up staring at an equally unfamiliar ceiling. Propping myself up – I still have my mechanical arm on, I guess – I find myself still in a bed, though it’s definitely not my bed. The room itself is painted white, and smells like someone scrubbed it with bleach. A hospital room?

The humming’s cut off by a quiet gasp off to my right. “Oh, you’re awake!” someone squeaks in distress. I look to the source of the voice and see that my attending physician… is probably about the same age as I am. She looks pretty young, anyway. Short red hair, deep tan, clutching a clipboard to her chest like it’s a life preserver. She looks only marginally less nervous that I would if I was trying to do her job.

“Um, Eleanor, right?” she asks, about as audible as a loud whisper. I slowly nod my head. The doctor… surgeon… whatever she is, smiles sheepishly. “How are you feeling?” she asks next.

Rubbing at my head, I knock my cap off-center, confirming I still have a head. “Feel like I didn’t just get my face blown off,” I murmur.

“Good. That’s a good thing,” she assures me, relaxing just a little. “Is there any pain?”

I shake my head just as I remember something important. “Excuse-“

“Dizzin-“ the doctor starts, then flushes slightly after she interrupts me. I guess she’s waiting for me to speak first.

“…Did I get the prize?” I ask hopefully. Miss Bel promised a straight-up cash bonus to the last people standing. I could have left after the first volley, too.

The girl shrinks back, not even looking me in the eye anymore. Maybe I should have been a bit quieter. “Um, what’s this about a prize?” she asks, appearing completely clueless as to what I’m talking about. She probably just expected to ask her questions and be on her way, not get hounded with questions directed at her. She looks pretty uncomfortable, and I don’t like pressing her. But I gotta know.

“The prize for holding out during the live firing exercises?” I clarify, though it still doesn’t seem like she knows what I’m talking about. “The one Miss Bel said she’d give out?” I inquire, a touch of desperation in my voice. Please say that I got it. Please.

But the girl droops her head, clutching her clipboard tighter. “I’m afraid I didn’t hear any mention of a prize,” she tells me, her nervous smile turning to a frown.

…Fuck. I fall back against my pillow, my optimism gone. In spite of Marina’s advice, I couldn’t stand with a bunch of actual Eversors. And here I honestly thought I could manage.

“Is… is something the matter?” the doctor timidly asks while leaning over me, sounding a little concerned. “Are you dizzy? Nauseous?” Did she get taller? Well, whatever. Does it really even matter?

“…Yeah,” I grumble, feeling very drained now as I think back over the last week or so. “I’m sick of trying and failing. I’m sick of trying and just barely scraping by. And I’m sick of trying and then being screwed over by things I can’t control.” I turn around so I can bury my face in my pillow, my voice muffled. “Trying sucks.”

I really thought things were getting better lately. And when Miss Bel told me I was doing well, I actually felt a bit –proud-. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.

Fuck. I was going to buy an oven, and baking supplies, with that money. I was really, really looking forward to cooking again.

That candy shop looks less and less likely every day.

After a pause, the doctor speaks again. “I’m really sorry about that,” she apologizes. “But are you, um, are you fine otherwise? Your health, I mean.”

“Just peachy,” I murmur. Dunno if she heard me. I can hear her jotting something down, so she probably did.

“Eleanor?” the doctor says my name again. “Please turn over.”

“Whatever,” I grunt, flipping back over. She sets the clipboard on a nearby chair and starts tucking my sheets back in. And smoothing them out. And then untucking them and tucking them back in. I guess she’s fixated on getting it right?

“Actually,” I start, remembering something important, “what time is it? How long was I out for?” The doctor is muttering something to herself while fussing with the sheets. Did she not hear me? “Excuse me, hello?” I say, trying to get her attention. Goddammit, if it’s not one thing…

Okay, no, it’s not fair to get mad at the help when she’s just doing job. Even if she’s doing it to an obsessive degree. My failings aren’t her fault. So I wait for her to finish tidying up or whatever she’s doing. The doctor is actually beaming once she’s done.

“Excuse me?” I speak up again, getting her attention. “Could you tell me what time it is? And when I can go?”

“Oh!” she exclaims, face falling while frantically looking for something. She hurries over to grab her clipboard and clutches it close to her chest again. As if just remembering my question, she checks her watch before informing me, “it’s currently two in the morning. You’ll be released tomorrow morning at six.”

I just nod. Odd girl.

And back to smiling, but still holding that clipboard pretty hard. “Alright then,” she answers, consulting said clipboard again. “Do you need anything else while I’m here?”

I start to form a sarcastic response, but with it being this late…

“Could I get a phone?” I ask. “I need to call someone.”

The doctor nods/bows slightly and then shuffles over to a nearby nightstand. Nudging it over, she reluctantly lets go of the clipboard long enough to hand me the receiver. I make to reach over and dial the number, but I can’t quite reach it from where I’m at. Stupid short arms. Stupid short, underdeveloped body.

“Would you like me to dial the number for you?” interrupts the doctor, trying to look helpful in between her fidgeting.

“Yes, please,” I tell her, and recite Checkers’ number from memory. Once she’s put it in, the girl’s back to hugging her clipboard, and I’m nervously listening to the phone ringing. Please be there, please be there, please be-

“Leave a message or… whatever, I’ll get to you later,” her tired voice grumbles, followed by a tone. Fuck, I got voicemail. I guess it’s pretty late over there. Or early. Or something. Time zones are confusing.

Taking a deep breath, and trying to ignore the sudden rush of anxiety, I squeak, “uh, hi Checkers! It’s Eleanor. I mean Papers. I mean… I’m okay, I’m calling to say I’m okay and, um… I’m sorry for not calling back sooner. I just woke up and everything.” Goddammit, why am I so nervous about leaving a message? Is it because I’m not by myself for once? The doctor doesn’t seem to care, so I take another deep breath and continue, “So if you were worried about me, you can, you know, stop doing that.” I think that’s everything. “Okay, bye!” I call out, and the doctor ends the call for me.

I hand the receiver back to her and tell her, “Thank you, uhh...”

Oh, right, I don’t have her name. And even if I could see her nametag behind the clipboard, I sure as hell couldn’t read it.

The girl’s face tinges with embarrassment while she hangs up the phone. “Oh, my name?” she asks, and I nod patiently. She smiles a little, moving her clipboard up until it’s resting against her chin. “Tanis,” she murmurs. “It’s Tanis.”

“Tanis? Thank you… Tanis,” I finish lamely, trying to smile. Tanis? Well, that’s an unusual name. Okay, probably no more unusual than Kai, Belinda, or Madge is, but those are pretty strange, too. Whatever, she’s nice enough, if a bit weird.

She shakes her head. “Just doing my job,” she insists, and then checks her clipboard. “Well, if you need to reach somebody, just press this button right here,” she explains, indicating a button on the bed’s rails. I nod back in understanding.

“And…” she draws out, going down her clipboard again. “Yes, I believe that’s everything!” she exclaims with a small grin. Or what passes for exclaiming with her quiet voice. Maybe she’s happy she got this stressful job over with – at least that’s how I’d feel in her position. “So, uh, I’ll be going now. Have a nice night, Eleanor,” Tanis says, offering a sympathetic smile. “Hope things improve for you soon.”

I sit up and wave goodbye, but she’s already leaving. As her awkward gait makes toward the light switch, though, I see something trailing beneath her surgical gown and a ways behind her: a tail. A friggin’ dark brown snake tail, about as long as she is tall. She’s not walking around, she’s –slithering-.

I cover my mouth to muffle my surprise, but it doesn’t seem like it did any good. Tanis freezes up for an instant, then her shoulders droop with a big sigh before she shuts off the lights. Before I can apologize, she hurries out the door and shuts it behind her.

I slump back into the bed and look up at the darkness. Way to be an insensitive little piece of shit, Eleanor. You could have actually made a friend and you blew it. Just add that to the big list of things you fucked up.

…What am I even going to –do- now? I can’t see myself –not- fucking up training tomorrow, and Suzi says that options for my Vanus trance are ‘being explored’. Which sounds a lot like ‘you’re shit outta luck’ to me.

For real this time, I think that tomorrow I’m going to tell the Warmaster that I just can’t hack it. I’m sure she’ll be real disappointed, but better to disappoint her now than further down the line, after she and everyone else have invested even more of their time and energy into helping me. For all the good it did. I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but it’s not this insanity. I’m just not crazy enough for it. I’m not strong enough for it, either. Really, if I’m not doing deskwork, then what am I good for at this point?

…Maybe I should just drop dead and save people the trouble-

A commotion down the hall puts my thoughts on hold.

“Step aside, freak,” orders a shrill voice. A haughty, angry voice I’ve come to know and dread. I hear someone – I think it’s Tanis – scream, followed by the cringe-inducing sound of bones snapping, and a heavy thud as a body slams into a nearby wall. My brain tells me to crawl under the sheets and hide, but it also tells me it won’t do any good at all.

Slow, deliberate footsteps draw closer and closer, heavily hitting the ground and echoing with an unnatural, metallic clang. They grow louder and louder, drowning out the sound of my terrified heart beat, until they stop right outside my room. There’s another loud, metallic clang as something impacts the door, and it simply falls off its hinges. Behind it, a figure stands in the hallway, their silhouette framed against the bright lights. And behind their translucent wings, I can make out Tanis’ broken, bloodied form slumped over against the wall, unmoving.

“Eleanor,” Miss Schulz states with eerie serenity as the air around her crackles with electricity, “this time I –will- kill you.”


Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Hanzer "Milly" Schulz[edit]

For someone who seems so eager to kill, Milly takes her sweet time advancing toward me. Each step carries that heavy, metallic clank I heard outside, as she draws closer and closer. While her face isn’t illuminated, I imagine she has an ugly, shit-eating grin right about now. Or a predatory smile. She probably is very pleased with how she’s found me.

Even thought I’m under the covers, I’m shivering. Every other time it felt like I was about to die, there was -something- there to mitigate the fear. Usually somebody was standing by for when things went to shit. But there’s nobody here to save me now. Tanis is fucking dead, and I’m completely alone with this psycho bitch, who I only beat last time due to a fluke.

Milly just stops at the foot of my bed and stands there, staring straight at me. Or I think she is, at least. I bring the covers up to my face, both of my hands clenching the sheet like it’s supposed to do a damn thing against her while she’s on a warpath.

“…Why?” I whimper. “Why are you doing this? I already said sorry-”

“Why?” Milly interrupts, her voice loud but still calm. “You really don’t understand why I’m angry?” I shake my head, and she actually sighs, setting one hand on her hips. “I’m angry because you took away my last vestiges of joy, you little miscreant.” She stabs her finger at me accusingly, growling, “and then you humiliated me, rather than accepting your just punishment. You denied me my deserved catharsis.”

Does she mean the garden? And the match she herself rigged so she could fight me? “I… I really don’t understand,“ I explain, adding an emphatic, “sorry.”

Milly slowly brings up her arms in front of her, the air sparking as her maces manifest in her hands. “Then die in ignorance,” she coldly orders.

I tear off the sheet and throw it at her as I fall out of the bed. I don’t wait for her reaction; I’m already getting my footing back and sprinting out the doorway as her maces destroy the bed in a deafening crash of metal on metal. I stop briefly to apologize to Tanis’s corpse (or hopefully just unconscious body) for getting her dragged into all this, before racing down the empty halls (where is everyone?!). I can see signs on the walls with arrows pointing to various locations, but I can’t tell what any of them mean. I need to find the exit. Gotta find somebody who can stop her-

“You’re not getting away this time, Eleanor!” screeches Milly from somewhere behind me, compelling me to run even faster. Her thunderous steps sound a lot quicker than the ones I remember from her last fight, but looking over my shoulder to check really isn’t going to help me in any way here.

Coming up on a sharp corner, I get an idea and will a spear into my power fist’s grip. I’ve never done this before, so I don’t know if this will help me at all, but my instincts are screaming at me to move as fast as I possibly can. As soon as I reach the bend, I jam the spear point into the ground, embedding it in the floor up to its handle. Like swinging around a pole on the playground, I let my momentum spin me around and launch myself from the spear without losing speed-

And slam into the wall hard enough for it to hurt like hell and make it crack. Fuck, this was a bad idea-

Something crashes into the wall next to me with tremendous force and a snarl of pain. Dust and bits of concrete explode from the impact site as if a bomb just went off, shrapnel flying down the way I just came. I don’t pause to gape at how narrowly I avoided annihilation; I throw myself from the wall and take off running again.

Soon Milly’s screams of rage resume, followed by the metal clanking sounds gaining on me. Holy fucking shit, what –is- she?

“Somebody HELP!” I scream, though my tormentor’s sounds of pursuit mostly drown it out. I barrel through a set of doors, and it’s another fucking hallway. This place is a maze. Which way is out?! A row of closed doors leads to the far end of the hall, and all of them look pretty much identical. There’s a set of stairs heading down at the end; probably not the way out, but I can’t just keep running straight ahead. I don’t know how, or why, but I think Milly is catching up to me.

Hauling ass over the railing, I drop down the flight of stairs to the level below. My hat falls off and flops down the steps, so I just leave it behind and dash off. Behind me, there’s another crashing sound as the railing tumbles down the stairs and clatters to the ground. Milly’s terrifying gait resumes shortly after that; I bought myself a few seconds, but she’s going to catch me at this rate. I’m going as fast as I can, willing myself to go faster, and it’s not doing a fucking thing!

Coming up on an intersection, I get another idea. And while my brain is screaming it’s reckless and stupid, my body is already performing the motions. I run toward the closest wall and jump at it, flat boots slipping on the surface from a lack of friction. I don’t know how they got so dusty, but this ‘kick off the wall’ stunt just ends with me once again slamming my face into the wall, rattling one of my teeth loose. Throwing myself off the wall yet again, I spit it out and try to ignore the salty sting of blood in my mouth. I awkwardly stumble back and try to pick up speed again, my pacing thrown off by vertigo. Then, I become terribly aware of some things that stop me cold at the worst possible time:

Milly is roaring a shrill, wordless battle cry. The clanking footsteps are slowing down. And they’re –right next to me-.

I spin around and bring up my metal arm to block, just as a spiked mace smashes into it like the wrath of a hateful god.

I don’t just give up ground from the blow; the strike flings my body back, making it spin in midair and skip across the ground and walls. Each bounce brings agony as my bones fracture from the impact. I want to close my eyes until it’s over, until my vision shows something other than a tornado of whiteness. WHY THE FUCK WON’T MY BODY LISTEN TO ME?!

I crash into some kind of machine, plastic shards and bits of twisted metal raining down around me. I blink a few times, trying to make my world stop spinning. I can’t even summon the strength to stand or move; everything feels like it broke all at once.

A familiar shuffling sound makes my breath stop. Something white flutters into the edge of my vision, time seeming to slow down as the horrible thing descends. Scrabbling at the floor, I flip over and crawl away as fast as I fucking can. I keep my eyes to the ground, my heart drumming in panic. I bump into the corner of what might be a receptionist’s counter – I don’t care what it is. I don’t fucking CARE! I am NOT going to die from a fucking Vanus trance!

The booming sound of Milly’s slow, stomping footsteps gives my cowardice strength I didn’t know it had. Everything throbs, stings, burns, or aches, but, after falling down a couple times, I get back on my feet. I’m power limping down another corridor, looking desperately for some place to hide. All the doors are shut, though, and even my panicked brain remembers that an open door is suspicious as hell.

...I stagger towards a door at the end of an intersection and try to push it open, but it doesn’t budge. The handle won’t turn at first, but my robotic arm tears it out. With that bitch drawing closer, I throw the door open enough to make it slam against the wall. That brings her running.

I go around the corner and hobble through even more of the glaring white labyrinth.

Even over my heavy breathing, I can still hear Milly’s hateful screams. It’s starting to sound far away now, but not far enough for me to feel safe. Not when explosions and gunfire punctuate them. I hoped for a second that it meant security arrived to deal with her, but her angry shouting and cacophonic running resumes shortly afterwards. Everything is starting to take its toll on my body, but I keep moving. Any doors I try to open are locked up tight.

Fuck this. Fuck all of this.

I tear open the closest door I can reach, and toss the handle inside the room. Then do the same for another door nearby. And a third one a ways down the hall.

Okay, now… What was I going to do? I’m starting to get dizzy again, and I feel like I want to throw up, but I was going to do something. It’s… it’s something that I can’t remember the name of thanks to this lightheaded feeling, but it’s some kind of plan… starts with an ‘o’ maybe?

Well, whatever, the word’s not important right now. I tear open one more door between the last two, and then duck inside. Crawling through the dark, I bump my head into something metallic – fuck, fuck… it’s… it’s just a headache, nothing huge, keep going – and feel my way around it. I think that it’s another hospital bed. Those are things that you can hide behind, right?

At the sound of one of the rooms being ransacked – fuck, I thought I had more time – I move behind the bed-thing and look back. The light coming from the hallway is easy to see, and distressingly not obscured by anything but a few thin bars. If she turned on the lights, she’d see me right away. Gotta find somewhere else, something-

The destructive commotion is closer this time, and Milly sounds even angrier this time. I want to stop, but I keep looking for cover.

By now, her clanking is right outside this room. I drop behind what I hope is a nightstand just as she hurls the door open.

I can’t see shit from where I’m facing, though even with the blood pumping in my ears, Milly’s sounds of approach ring clear. I grab my knees and hug them as close as I can, curling up into the tiniest ball possible, and hope to anything I can hope to that this nightmare would end soon. Or at least end painlessly.

Milly’s erratic footfalls echo through the place. There’s a flash of blue light before a thunderclap erupts somewhere far too close to me. The stink of ozone fills the air as a jagged bolt of lightning dances across the wall I’m facing.

Fuck, I could have kept moving instead of hiding where she could find me. Maybe I’m too fucking tired for moving, but I still could have at least tried. Now she has me cornered and is going to kill me really fucking slowly. Why? Why the fuck have I been so FUCKING STUPID today? Why the fuck was I so stupid as to fight back during the Eversor examination? I could have just let her pummel me and gone back to business as usual until Checkers bailed me out somehow.

A shrill grunt of effort behind me indicates that she just lifted something up. She rips that ‘something’ apart with metallic squealing and hurls it at the ceiling. I hear it crash, and the sound of bits of… whatever the ceiling is made of, I hear that fall down and break on the ground.

I don’t hear the metal thing fall down.

I curl up even tighter, pressing my eyes into my knees until I start seeing colors. My leg is starting to fall asleep because my metal hand is gripping it so hard. This is it. This is how I die: curled up in a ball, far away from home, after struggling hard… and accomplishing absolutely nothing. Tears of indignation and shame well up in my eyes, mixing with the cold sweat dripping down my face.

I know I deserve bad things. I know that, but… but this is just too much.

Checkers… Suzi… Russ… Jael… Crunch…

Somebody please help. I don’t want to die like this…

…Milly’s plodding, metallic footsteps move away from me, and back into the hallway. The pace picks up as they run toward the last room I opened. I swallow hard, the metallic tang of blood reminding me just why I’m hiding from her this time, and lift my head up to rest it on my knees. I try to breathe in and wait for the spots and blobs of color to go away.

…Oh. I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath until just now. I let it out with a gasp as chaos breaks out in the next room. Milly is smashing stuff, electrocuting things, and shooting everything from the sound of things. She lets out a long, frustrated scream after the din dies down – I haven’t heard her use words in quite some time. Does she even remember how to do that?

Finally, FINALLY, Milly’s warpath heads away from me; her sounds of indiscriminate destruction fade out as she stalks the halls again, not even running at this point. Maybe she’s tired. Or maybe she just wants to draw it out. I don’t know, and I don’t fucking care.

First things first: After I catch my breath, I quietly limp to an unopened room and break the handle as gently as I can. This time, after I go in, I shut the door behind me and feel around for a light switch. My shaking hand finds something promising and tries to flip it, but it’s not moving… oh, it’s a button. I press it, and find myself in a room that is pretty much identical to the one I woke up in. Now, if it’s the same kind of room, with the same kind of bed, that means they have an emergency call button thing. I stumble over to the bed and fight the instinct to lie down and rest. It’s late as fuck, and I’m tired as fuck, but I have to do these things.

I push the button, and a little light comes on. I... I don’t know what to do next, but I hope that this means somebody’s coming to help. I hope they can deal with Milly better than me or Tanis could.

…Fuck… Tanis is dead because of me…

I mull this over while going to the sink. Before now, before –this-, whenever I was at my absolute worst, I could take solace in one thing. I could remind myself that at least nobody’s –dead- because of me. And now I can’t even fucking do that.

…I grab a cup and fill it with water, and take a big sip. As tempting as it is to drink, I swish it around in my mouth before spitting into the sink. And I keep doing so until the water is no longer stained red, so that can I drink it up without choking like a moron. Yeah, it hurts to drink water on an empty stomach, but everything hurts anyway. What difference is it going to make? And I’m going to need a lot of fluids anyway, for all the crying I’m doing.

…Jesus Christ… you’re crying like a little bitch again. Grow the fuck up, Eleanor. No wonder everyone treats you like a kid. You can’t even stop yourself from crying anymore.

I finally have a chance to look myself over and see what kind of damage I let Milly do to me. There weren’t as many broken bones or sprains as I had thought there were, but holy fuck… she put a spike-shaped dent in the battle arm. Crunch spent her own savings on it, and the people at the Second seemed so proud of it when they finished, talking about how strong and durable it was… and I’ve somehow gone and ruined it. Fuck me.

I remove the bits of clothing covering the sore parts and break out the first aid kit. It shows that I have no fucking idea what I’m doing when I’ve finished attempting to patch myself up. The bandages don’t feel like they’ve been put on right, and I’m completely sure I forgot to do something important, but it’d probably be a waste of good medical supplies. They should be saved for somebody who needs them. I leave the kit out before putting my costume back on.

My heart’s not pounding like a jackhammer anymore, and my breathing’s gone back to normal. I did what I could with my injuries, drank some water, called for help…

…So what now? What do I do? Hell, what the fuck –can- I do? Saying sorry isn’t going to bring someone back to life. Even capturing Milly isn’t going to fix this.

It’s my fault. It’s my fucking fault. Because I didn’t let Milly vent her anger in that duel, when there weren’t any important things at stake-

No, before that. It’s because I let my own anger get the better of me and trashed something she cared about. I destroyed something she worked hard at, just because I was having a bad day. Sure, she was mean to me… and everything was awful… but that’s no excuse to hurt someone and break their things in a fucking temper tantrum.

And now, in spite of everyone’s help, this is all I’ve managed to do. I just… I just make everything worse for people. Even Crunch didn’t deserve the kind of guilt that my inability to defend myself brought her. Even if it was shortsighted… she really thought she was doing the right thing. And if I wasn’t so fucking weak, it might have worked.

…I don’t even care that I’m crying right now. The only one who can see it is me, and if my day getting worse means I’ll finally be out of everyone’s hair…

I will the blue gemstone around my neck to appear in my hand, and take a long, hard look at it. The soul gem’s pretty, azure blue color is only slightly tainted by corruption. I run my metal hand over the smooth, polished surface, and make a fist. If I could just break this thing, then all this shit would be over. I mean, people might be sad. But they’d get over it, I’m sure.

…Really, it’d be doing them a favor.

…It’s the nicest thing I can do for them.

…The gem reappears around my worthless neck as I glare angrily at the awful person in the mirror. You goddamn coward. You selfish piece of shit. You should have broken the goddamn thing already. You could have –helped- people.

I splash some cold water on my face and wipe off some of the snot with a paper towel. I guess all I can do is sit tight until somebody shows up. IF somebody shows up, that is.

I study my reflection one last time, for what good it will do me, and frown even harder. Something feels off, but I don’t know what it is. It’s just me though. And all the self-deprecation aside, there’s nothing unusual to look at – it’s the same curly lavender hair, same amber eyes, same childlike complexion, same soul gem-

The soul gem in the mirror is black.

I tear out my soul gem in shock. It’s black. It’s fucking black. It’s turned black and it’s starting to crack. How? Why? Whywhywhywhywhy? HOW? NO! I don’t want to hurt these people! I DON’T WANT TO BE A WITCH!

I try to put the gem back. Put it back and everything will be okay. But it’s not okay. My soul gem just shattered, its gilding left completely hollow.

I immediately clutch my head in agony as sharp points puncture my skull from the inside. Bits of metal force their way through my skin, the buzz of corruption drowning out my thoughts. Blackness drips out from the metal pen nubs, the horrible, nauseating smell of ink becoming my world. I cry, and my tears become ink. My nose leaks ink. My mouth fills with the bitter poison that is ink, spilling from my lips like drool as I start to scream. The same scream that my witch form acknowledged me with.

“NO!” I cry out, and smash the mirror into pieces.

...Like waking from a bad dream, my awareness returns. The pain from before is gone, and the air just smells like antiseptic. There’s no buzzing in my head or anything, and… yes, my gem is still the same color it was before.

My heart’s beating like crazy again, though. Sounds like-

“FOUND YOU!” screeches Milly triumphantly from the doorway, making me jump in surprise. Oh god, my outburst just fucked me over in the worst way.

Whatever happened to Milly, it hit her bad. Her normally braided hair is in wild disarray, and the part of her outfit that covers her stomach shredded and burnt. She doesn’t look like a magical girl anymore. With the crazed, hateful look in her eyes and tight-lipped smile, she looks like a monster. A monster that’s come here to tear me apart.

An uncharacteristic giggle forces its way out of her lips as she shambles over. “I’m going to wash away the disgraces you dealt me,” she murmurs, voice carrying a slight singsong quality to it. “I’ll wash them away with your –blood-, Eleanor.”

I take a step forward and bring up my arms in a show of surrender. “Please-“

“SHUT UP!” she barks, grabbing my normal arm and yanking me over. I stumble forward and bang my head against her stomach. There’s some kind of metal plating there, concealed beneath her skin. “Do you see now what you made me do?” she snarls, pulling her face close. “I had to sacrifice parts of my own body for these augmentations; parts that were perfectly serviceable, but not strong enough on their own.” Milly narrows her eyes at me. “You made me compromise my own beauty for the power to crush fools like you.”

I shake my head at her accusation. “How is that my fault?” I ask her. I mean, I blame myself for a lot of things, but you did this to yourself.

“And, unlike the pitiful little heap of junk those fanatical zealots tossed together for you,” she continues, ignoring me completely, “-my- augmetics were created by the Mechanicus of the Fourth Officio.”


Milly giggles oddly again. “You really don’t know anything, do you?” she taunts, releasing my arm. “They make the most cutting-edge machinery of any Officio. Of any organization. This is only fitting for one such as me.” The tight-lipped smile returns as she looms over me, asking, “Do you understand what that means?”

I shake my head and slowly back away, hoping to distract her with more conversation. But she isn’t having any of that, and grabs me by the wrist. I struggle against it, tugging until my boots slip on the ground, but I can’t budge an inch. Now my arm’s sore, which is probably the least worrying thing.

“It means new legs! New arms! Toxin filters! Automatic weaponry!” she exclaims, crushing my toes with her foot stomp and making me scream in agony. Worse pain joins already horrible pain, as she starts squeezing my flesh and bone arm in her grip. I try to pry it off with my robotic arm, but it won’t budge! Why won’t it move?! Is it because it’s made of metal now?

“IT MEANS I AM STRONGER THAN YOU!” Milly snarls, and with cruel irony and a crueler smile, rips out my normal arm with a loud pop. I crumple to the ground, unable to stand.

“IT MEANS I AM FASTER THAN YOU!” she declares, kicking my shin until it snaps with a loud crunch. I’m starting to lose awareness of anything but the pain.

“IT MEANS I AM BETTER THAN YOU!” she screams, grabbing my body by the waist. She hurls me back at the wall. My body hits with a loud splat, and my insides paint the walls.

…I can’t feel anything anymore. I think everything just broke.

“DO YOU SEE, ELEANOR?” Milly asks, dashing over with heavy footsteps. “THE BEST AUGMETICS IN THE WORLD ARE –MINE-! AND YOU! ARE! NOTHING!”

…I can’t see her anymore, and my head refuses to turn. Then everything goes dark, and Milly’s bragging muffles to the point that I can’t understand it. The only good thing to come of this is that I can’t feel how much everything hurts now, but it’s starting to get cold…

…This can’t be how it ends. I can’t accept it. It’s not just unfair. It’s… it’s stupid. That… that bitch is blaming me for her own bad decisions. And I have to die because of it?

…Fuck… I don’t want to die…

…I don’t want to die…





…I don’t know how long it is before the world comes rushing back to me. I’m staring at a puddle of blood between my legs that hasn’t even dried yet… can I move? Yeah, I can move. I can turn my head and see the signs of my recent mutilation all over the wall.

…What the fuck? Wasn’t I just dying? While my blood and guts still decorate the walls, somehow I’m okay. I’m not even hurting anymore. I’m not even –tired- anymore. How did this happen? Didn’t my arm get ripped off? What the fuck?

I can see Milly sprawled on the ground, her wings laying flat. Her teeth are clenched, her eyes are shut, and she’s groaning in pain. There’s a double-headed axe buried in her spine; it’s surrounded by several wounds of similar shape. Somebody got in a few sneak attacks on her. Next to Milly is a pile of something translucent and brown, covered in blood. It kind of looks like... skin.

“I told you,” murmurs a determined, if quiet voice, “visiting hours are over.”

She looks… completely uninjured. She’s in much better shape than I thought she was before. As in, she’s alive, moving, and breathing. And she’s shed the surgeon’s gown for what can generously be called a bandeau, and a bow around her neck.

I groan a little as I pick myself up, and Tanis looks over at me. Her expression falls into nervous concern. “Are you okay?” she asks. “Can you walk?”

Taking a few steps forward, I nod dumbfounded.

Tanis smiles again. “Then, uh, we should probably run,” she informs me, removing her axe from Milly’s back. I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, Milly has other plans. Already back on her feet, she brandishes her maces at Tanis. “I don’t know how you’re still alive, freakshow,” Milly growls at her, hefting her weapons, “but I won’t let you interfere again!” Tanis has enough time to turn around just to see Milly swing down to split her skull.

...With Milly distracted, I could make a break for it. I mean, Tanis came back from certain death before, and I’m pretty sure she brought me back from the brink as well. So she’ll be fine. I keep telling myself that as time seemingly slows to a crawl, Milly’s mace heading straight for the crown of Tanis’ head.

…Fuck. I’m going to die if I fight here. I’m actually going to die. I don’t have my soul gem safely tucked away in a little box, it’s still right here with me… maybe Milly would stop hurting people if she got to kill me?



Fuck that.

Fuck all of this bullshit.

But most of all, fuck you, Milly.

I spring forward and bring my metal fist back. Milly isn’t quick enough with her strike; not slowing down at all, I punch at her mace head and deflect the attack. The weapon hits the ground heavily and embeds itself in the floor with a crash. My body is trembling in sheer terror as I pull Tanis back. Both Milly and Tanis gape at me, Milly more in shock, while Tanis is in awe.

I can’t believe I just did that… no, no I can believe I just did that. I know why I did that. I don’t give a fuck what happens to me, but Fuckerfly can’t drag other people into her meltdowns. Tanis was just taking care of me because it was her job.

“Milly,” I growl through clenched teeth, making her lip twitch in displeasure at the name, “even if I wronged you…”

Making a fist, I will a large spear into existence in my metal hand, which forces my fingers apart as it appears. I grasp it, lower it, and point it at Fuckerfly in challenge.

“…that’s no excuse for you to hurt other people!” I exclaim with indignation.

Fuckerfly scoffs at me, ripping her weapon out of the ground. “Do you earnestly believe that you can win, you worm?” she sneers.

I shake my head. “No,” I answer with brutal honesty, “but I’m gonna try anyway.”

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam and Magical Sawbones Tanis Nagi versus Magical Hanzer “Milly” Schulz[edit]

…I wasn’t kidding when I said I didn’t think I was going to win this. Fuckerfly’s an actual Eversor, and presumably she got the full training package. She’s already proven that she is now stronger and faster than I am; if she’s not lying, then ink poisoning won’t work on her again. This is a relief, since it was pretty horrific, but it would have made stopping her a lot easier. I also can’t do what Checkers told me and aim for the legs and joints, because Fuckerfly’s part robot now, apparently. Fuck.

I take a couple steps back before charging right at Fuckerfly, gripping the pen spear as tightly as I can. Fuckerfly rushes away from Tanis to meet me head on, letting out a war cry that drowns out the clanking sounds of her movements. She doesn’t even try to avoid the attack, and it runs her right through the chest, emerging through the other side with a wet, meaty noise. She cringes before her expression shifts into a sneer. “Are you scared yet?” she taunts.

I nod earnestly and let go and bring up my arms to block. I’m just in time to let my robot arm take the full brunt of her mace strikes, and stagger back. Fuckerfly tosses her maces up, then breaks the spear running her through before she catches them again. Fucking showoff.

I bring my arms up to defend against another attack, which knocks my fist into my jaw. The coppery taste of blood fills my mouth, and I spit at Fuckerfly’s face. This just pisses her off –more- and she presses her attack, my joints protesting as each block threatens to rip them out. My legs are trembling in fear as I get forced back, and my ears starting to ring from the loud clanging. Even my robot arm’s starting to feel numb, and that shouldn’t happen! She’s like a boss that can kill you in one or two hits!

…I can’t let terror stop me, though. Gotta suck it up and fight back.

There’s a meaty, crunching noise from behind Fuckerfly – while we were distracted, Tanis snuck up behind her and axed her in the back. This proves enough distraction for me to run back and charge Fuckerfly again, punching her in the stomach. It’s semi-ineffectual, as that area is plated with armor. However, she gets blown back by the force of the attack and crashes into the bed that I was hiding behind before, which buys us some time.

“Let’s make a break for it,” I suggest to Tanis, getting her attention. Clutching her bloodstained axe like a security blanket, she nods as we both return to the headache-inducing hallway. “Uh, can you lead?” I ask her. “I don’t know which way is out.”

Uh oh, the clanking sound is starting up again, which means Fuckerfly’s back on her feet. With some reluctance, Tanis grabs me by the arm and pulls me along, slithering as fast as she can. Which is fast, but not as fast as I can run, and definitely not as fast as Fuckerfly can chase us. Risking a glance back, I see her emerge, sliding on the floor from poor traction as she rounds the corner. Something black is poking out of her stomach.

“EAT THIS, YOU LITTLE SHITS!” she roars, and the sound of gunfire that I heard earlier returns. It turns out that black thing is a machine gun, and it’s shooting at us, bullets whizzing by and thunking against the walls. Who the fuck installs a machine gun in their stomach?

My left leg is suddenly filled with an intense, burning and familiar pain as a bullet lodges itself in my thigh, and my right leg shortly follows after. I’m almost knocked to my knees bow how agonizing it is, but Tanis pulls me around a corner before I can fall over. I end up with my back against the wall, my breaths coming out erratically from my body telling me to pass out.

“Hold on, I-I can treat that,” Tanis frets. Milly doesn’t give her the chance, though, appearing around the corner before Tanis can do anything about it.

Marina said that you can either tough out a bullet wound, or dull the pain with intense emotion. Toughing it out didn’t work during the exercises, and I –need- to do something while Milly’s drawing out her attack to scare us.

So I get mad.

I think back to what I said earlier about trying, about not being good enough, and I let indignation be my anesthesia. The white-hot agony is reduced to a dull, stinging feeling, still painful, but something I can actually work around. Fuckerfly’s threat of violence is ruined by me springing back to my feet and connecting my fist with her face; I knock her into a nearby wall.

“Can you flank her?” I whisper to Tanis through clenched teeth, not wanting to risk running away while Fuckerfly can still catch us. The snake girl makes a small affirmative noise as I make another spear, and we charge down Fuckerfly again. The pain spikes with each step, but I gotta back up Tanis.

Milly growls, picking herself up off the ground and running up to meet the both of us head on. “You destroyed my memorial garden for my family, Eleanor! You ruined everything!” she asserts, “You –deserve- this! Now just give-!”

“SHUT UP!” I interrupt her, letting her deflect my spear attack. “Yes, I did something awful!” I jump back a ways to lure Fuckerfly towards me, and she takes that bait. “But that doesn’t excuse you at all!” I yell at her.

“I feel horrible and very sorry for what I did!” I insist, my spear snapped by a combined attack from her maces. “But I don’t feel bad for protecting people caught up in your hissy fit!”

”I –want- to make it up to you somehow!” I shout emphatically, Tanis delivering a sickening blow to Fuckerfly’s back. I follow up with punches to her face, words punctuating each hit. “BUT NOT! LIKE! THIS! I! DON’T! DESERVE! THIS! CRAP!” Finally, I hit Fuckerfly in the chest, cracking her ribs with a disgusting sound. “-NOBODY- DOES!”

Somehow this isn’t enough to make her stop, and she shoots me point blank. Pain comes back to me as my gut is shredded apart by bullets, and I stagger backwards in shock. I make a new spear at the last second, propping myself up with it like a cane as I try not to watch my insides gush out. Fuckerfly takes another one from behind, and whirls around to deal with Tanis, knocking the axe out of her hands and… well, her wings obscure what she’s doing, but I recognize the sound of somebody being literally beaten to a pulp. I’d throw up if I still had a stomach.

The inviting embrace of unconsciousness is there waiting for me, but I can’t. I can’t just leave Tanis to die for getting involved in my shit. So I find more things to get angry about, more things to focus on besides being disemboweled with bullets lodged in my legs.

I’m sick of people getting hurt for being around me. I’m sick of being outdone every time I try to compete in something. I’m sick of being scared by everything that happens around here. I’m sick of almost being killed every time I get in a fight.

The almost certainly fatal condition feels like a minor discomfort. Nausea, maybe, which is good enough for me. Wrapping myself around the spear as its tip embeds itself in the ground, I open my metal fist. Another pen spear forms, and I cock my arm back.

Please work this time, I silently pray as I hurl the spear at Fuckerfly, nearly stumbling over from the exertion.

Before the spear runs Fuckerfly through her chest and pins her to the wall, before she lets out her screams of pain and rage, I make another one. Once Fuckerfly starts struggling, I throw another spear at her chest. A third one follows immediately as her cries turn to gurgles. That should hold her for a bit. I don’t have any delusion that it’s enough to keep her down, but I have to keep Tanis from dying here, even though I’m probably screwed.

My rage and adrenaline are spent, so the pain returns in full force, like white hot metal and the unique sensation of having no stomach. I fall to my knees and start to retch, forcing myself to check the condition of the snake girl-

Wait, where’d she go?

Someone grabs me by the shoulders and pulls me behind a corner. There’s a sudden, sharp pain in my neck, and the tickle of something else. I can’t turn around to see what’s going on, but the pain from the injuries is… fading is the best I can describe it as. I can even see the skin around my stomach reforming, though the costume that covered it stays torn in that area.

Finally I’m released, everything looking good as new, if a little pink. I spin around to find Tanis vomiting up blood and her insides spilling out, among other signs of things being broken. Fuck, even her posture’s lopsided. Don’t you smile at me, dammit! This isn’t funny!

Now there’s something moving around beneath her skin. Like it’s scratching at the surface, trying to claw its way out. I… I don’t know what to make of it, but it’s not as distracting as the thunking of Fuckface’s feet advancing on us again. I have to try and hold her off until help arrives or something. Fuck, I don’t know, but I’m not just going to leave her here.

Fuckerfly rounds the corner in time for me to make another spear and lunge at her. She catches it with her hands, and I let her keep it. I make a new one and go on the offensive, forcing Fuckerfly to fall back. The fighting has managed to take its toll on her, Eversor regeneration or not. I can see that the freshest wounds aren’t closing yet, leaving holes that show off her ink-covered heart and lungs. She’s breathing pretty heavily, and even her robotic parts are dripping with sweat. I can’t believe it, but she’s wearing down.

I’m in better shape, at least, but that could change very quickly if Fuckerfly decides to start shooting again. She suddenly starts grinning, and I back the fuck off. This turns out to be the right choice, as she starts cackling while the machine gun thing keeps shooting. Diving behind the corner, I only get shot twice in the right shoulder thanks to my foresight.

What else is there to get mad about… I’m sick of being unable to read things without triggering a trance. I’m sick of only surviving due to dumb luck. And I’m really sick of Fuckerfly antagonizing me. The anger once again eases the pain of the gunshot wound, making it bearable for the time being.

Alright… alright… I can’t go after her head on again. Without Tanis supporting me, I need to get behind her somehow and finish this. I spend way too long thinking about it before I run down the hallway and turn left, sliding a little thanks to the lack of friction. I scramble forward, rush to the end of the hall, and turn left again, Fuckerfly’s heavy footsteps moving towards where I was before. I keep going and turn left a third time and find she has her back to me.

I make one more spear, and dash toward her as fast as I can, for what I hope is the last attack. Fuckerfly hears me coming, but she’s not quick enough enough; as soon as I get close, I change my stance: feet open, shoulders back, body crouched low, spear forward. And then I spring at her, spearing her in the chest yet again, and keep going. Yelling the entire time as I tackle Fuckerfly into a wall with a loud crash, and pin her there yet again. I feel her ribs and spine crunch under my shoulder, and she coughs blood and ink onto my face in response.

Her normally prim and proper brown hair is wild and matted with viscera and ink. Her white costume is stained red and black. The gun barrel is bent at a weird angle. And she’s… she’s actually starting to cry a bit.

…She looks really pitiful right now.

Once again I’m aware of the wound in my shoulder, burning like molten metal under my skin. I can’t stay mad like this. I just can’t. For fuck’s sake even she doesn’t deserve this shit.

…It’s not going to work. What I’m going to do isn’t going to work. It’s just going to earn me derision from Miss Schulz. She’s just going to scream curses at me, or try and attack again, or something. But even so, it doesn’t feel right to leave it at this.

“…I’m really sorry about all this, Miss Schulz,” I murmur, staring at my boots in shame. “I, I don’t want to die after all, but if, um…” I wipe at my eyes with my sleeve – a part that isn’t covered in something - before I continue, “if we run into each other again later, and you’re still mad…” Sucking it up, I stare her straight in the eyes, meeting her hateful glare with no such animosity left in me. “if there’s anything I can do to make you feel better, or make things up to you somehow, then I’ll do it if I can. I mean it. Just… just stop involving other people to get to me. Please.”

Miss Schulz lets her face relax and looks at me with incredulity. Like she’s actually considering what I told her just now. However, it turns into a scowl right after, and she starts struggling against the spear. Darn.

I think I’ve done enough, so I leave her there, walking back to where I think I saw Tanis earlier. Hope she’s alright.

Tanis is standing by another bloody pile of brown stuff, apparently dusting herself off or something. “Eleanor!” she says, looking completely unharmed again. “Did, did you get her?”

I nod, relieved to see her okay. “Yeah,” I tell her, “I don’t think-“

And I’m interrupted by the erratic clanking of a certain someone coming towards us at speed.

“Oh, come on!” I groan at Miss Schulz as she comes into view, maces ready. “Do we –have- to keep fighting?”

“That won’t be necessary,” a stern voice informs me.

A wisp of smoke appears out of thin air in the direction of the mysterious voice, causing Miss Schulz to slow to a stop in curiosity. Swiftly, it expands into the shape of a tall woman in a vest and skirt, with her back to me and one hand on her hip. Her half-cape and shoulder length black hair billow out behind her as if blown by a gust of wind. Her other arm rests at her side, both arms covered in black tattoos that give a distinctly snake-like feel.

I don’t know why I’m scrutinizing her like this. I know who this is.

Miss Madge clears her throat, seemingly ignoring me for now. “Lady Muck,” she taunted, Miss Schulz going red in the face, “your performance was embarrassing. Have the dignity to bow out.”

“Fuck off, Madge!” Miss Schulz snarls, stomping forward with loud clanking sounds. “This doesn’t concern you!”

“But all of this –does- concern me,” Miss Madge insists, her silvery voice clear in spite of the cacophony Miss Schulz’s walking created. “See, the only reason you even made it this far is that I wanted to test Miss Slam, the Warmaster allowed it, and Miss Berry is indisposed at the moment.” She glances over her shoulder at me, a small grin on her face. “I really didn’t believe you would do as well as you did. Congrats, kid.”

I probably shouldn’t have blurted out the first thing that came to mind: “…You let other people get hurt for some stupid test about me?” I grumbled, then covered my mouth in embarrassment.

“I believed the risks were acceptable,” Miss Madge responds, drumming her fingers against her thigh. She glances over at Tanis and asks her, “do you have any objections, Miss Nagi?”

“Oh, no. I mean, I don’t,” Tanis stammers, clutching her axe to her chest. “I don’t have any objections.”

This seems to satisfy Miss Madge, who turns back to Miss Schulz. The berserker pounces at Miss Madge, but the Callidus Rank Leader turns to smoke the instant Miss Schulz reaches her, flowing around her assailant and reforming directly behind her.

Miss Schulz has a faraway look in her eyes for an instant, then looks at her arms and starts screaming hysterically. Miss Madge calmly strides right past her as Miss Schulz begins clawing at her arms and legs, skin flaking off and metal screeching against metal. The girl falls over, grabbing her right wing and ripping it out with an agonized scream. After much groaning from the artificial enhancements, she even manages to tear her right arm and leg off, tossing them away and thrashing on the ground as she attempts to remove all her limbs.

The horror of the situation finally sinks in fully, and I yell imploringly at Miss Madge, “Stop that!” She quirks her eyebrow at me, but doesn’t stop smiling or drumming her fingers on her thigh. “Please, don’t torture her any more,” I plead, balling my hands into fists. “I know what it’s like to have a bad day that drags on for a long time, and I want to make it up to her somehow!”

Miss Madge doesn’t really do anything for an agonizingly long amount of time. Miss Schulz’s spastic motions seem to increase in intensity, and I wonder if she’s doing the opposite of what I asked out of pure spite. Gradually, though, he screams turn to whimpering and she seems to tire out, taking big, heaving breaths. “Out of the goodness of my heart,” Miss Madge informs me, still looking smugly confident, “I’ll ignore the fact that you told me what to do.” Turning her head back to face Miss Schulz, she asks her, “well? Do you have anything to say in response, Miss Muck?”

Miss Schulz tries to pull herself up to a sitting position, but the struggle proves pointless with just one arm and leg. Finally, she gives up and asks me, in a very small voice, “Why?”

I smile slightly at her. “Because it’s horrible to kick someone when they’re down,” I answer. “Even if you don’t like them, even if you hate them, even if they’ve done awful things to you…” I have to pause to wipe at my eyes a bit before I finish, “that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help them when they really need it.”

Miss Schulz looks incredulous. “You don’t really think that, do you?” she asks.

“Yeah. I… I haven’t been following that as well as I should,” I say with no small measure of shame - a bunch of really bad days isn’t a good enough excuse for me to be mean to people. I got a lot to make up for. “But it’s what I’m gonna try to do from now on.” That makes her go silent.

“If that’s all, then,” Miss Madge says, “Miss Schulz will be confined to the Silent Room until Monday.” She looks back to me, looking very pleased with herself. “I’ll give you your performance evaluation tomorrow. Think of whatever questions you might have for me. For now, go get some rest.” She starts to turn to Tanis, but stops, her half-cape swishing around. “Oh, and a word of advice,” she adds, “tell your boss about this. I believe she’d like to hear it.”

I nod along, still trying to process the fact that I’m getting a performance evaluation for not getting killed. Miss Madge orders, “Miss Nagi, please tend to Miss Slam’s injury before you escort her to her quarters. You are both dismissed.”

Tanis moves up and signals for me to follow her. I’m more than a little relieved to be out of here.

…I’m not sure why, but I’m cautiously optimistic about things. Maybe they’ll turn around for real this time. I hope so.

No, things are going to get better this time. I’m going to make sure of it.

Omake: New Messages[edit]

“Here we are.”


“Thanks for what?”

“For saving me. I mean, even if you think that it’s your fault… you didn’t just, you know… run away and leave me behind.”

“Really, I should be the one thanking you for saving me back there. And getting those bullets out... that's a bit beyond me.”

“I guess we both saved each other?”

“Hee, I guess we did."


"Well, I'm going to go check to see if Checkers called back yet before I get a little bit of sleep. Goodnight, Tanis. It was nice meeting you.”

“Yeah. S-see you later, Eleanor.”



"What the fuck?"


“Hey. Hope you’re doing okay over there, kid. Don't get yourself in too deep, Papers.”

"Checkers must've been worried after all."



"The hell? How did Crunch get my number?"





“Whoever this is, I… I, I just need somebody to talk to. Anybody. Call me back.“



[incoherent, slurred sobbing]

"...I think I can put off sleeping for a little bit longer."

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch and Magical Ascetic Valentina Tenko[edit]

A loud voice snaps me out of my torpor. It’s coming from my cell, informing me that I have a phone call. I flip the display open to see that it’s coming from the number listed for Kyoko, and shows a picture of her grinning. Hesitantly, as if I can’t believe what I’m seeing, I take the call.

“Kyoko?” I ask.

“Yo, Hothead!” rings Kyoko’s cheery voice, “why’d ya leave me eight messages of you blubberin’?”

“I was worried,” I confess, slightly embarrassed by how I reacted. “I thought everybody suddenly wanted nothing to do with me.”

Kyoko just laughs at this. “Nah, I just couldn’t find my phone again,” she admits sheepishly. “Turns out I left it in the fridge this time.”

“HAH!” I laugh in return, my spirits rising in relief. “YOU should tie it to a string or something, Kyokoooo!” I scold her!

“Yeah, Sayaka really chewed me out when she found out about it,” she mutters, then returns to cheerful form. “Anyway,” she asks, “about that, uh, ‘love’ question training whatchamahoosit?”

“Oh, right!” I exclaim, having forgotten all about that.

“If I had to describe it, it’s like a potluck dinner.” Kyoko informs me, sounding slightly embarrassed. “’cuz everybody’s gotta chip in and bring somethin’ to the table, an’ sometimes people get greedy and don’t share with ya.” She then hastily adds, “but even then it’s really good and totally worth it!”

“Got it!” I tell her, committing her answer to memory. “You have my UTMOST GRATITUDE!”

“Hey, no problemo. Ya gonna be okay?” she inquires.

“ABSOLUTELY!” I declare! “For, even if the rest of the world has forsaken me, I-“

“YOU HAVE A PHONE CALL!” my phone screams, startling me. Kyoko’s face is switched out for the smirking portrait of Madge, indicating just who’s calling.

“-am getting a call from Madge,” I finish lamely.

“Yeah, better not keep Her Majesty waitin’,” Kyoko answers sympathetically, then initiates her goodbyes. “So long, Hothead! And have a MAXIMUM day!”

“FAREWELL, KYOKOOOO!” I respond, adding, “AND GIVE MY REGARDS TO STRINGBEEEAN!” before she hangs up.

I take the next call, and proceed to get a tongue-lashing from Madge. She tells me not to be a drama queen just because everybody’s too busy to talk. After a bit more dialogue between us, she then gives her response: love is something you have to invest time in. And then hangs up as soon as I tell her I got it.

However, I soon get another call, this time from Cress. She also chides me for my behavior, and gives an answer: love is a treasure more valuable than any other. Oddly sappy for her, but okay. Bluebell calls next, asking what the hell is happening, and saying love needs to be stoked but gives light and warmth (that’s just fire, though…). After her, the Warmaster tells me to suck it up, and says it comes in the most unlikely places – that love can bloom even on the battlefield. I am mortified, but no longer despairing.

And then Slam calls. She earnestly asks me if everything is alright, and keeps asking if anything is still bothering me. The more she asks, the closer to a lie my affirmations become, as I start to feel guilt for my lack of faith in these people, and for involving Slam in the first place. She doesn’t have an answer for the Soul Temperer’s assignment, but she promises to get Cooldown to call me back. Sure enough, minutes later, Cooldown begrudgingly calls back, says I’m not blocked, and tells me that love is like a greasy meal: delicious, bad for you, and something you’ll keep coming back for.

…I should have known that if they wanted me gone, they wouldn’t have been passive aggressive about it. But I didn’t have faith in them and believed that they had abandoned me. Just thinking about how weak my trust in them was makes me cringe from humiliation.

I haven’t been this disappointed with myself since I spectacularly failed to cheer up Miss Valnikov. Finishing my call, I head into the kitchen and pour myself some cereal, not really in the mood to cook anything. It tastes like wheat gravel, but I eat it all before I move on to exercising.

My confidence is shaken, though, and so my energy isn’t coming back either. It takes a tremendous amount of effort just to perform the bare minimum one hundred push-ups, crunches, and squats. I think I’ll have to save the running for later. For now I’ll just get cleaned up.

Next I step into the bathroom and start the shower. Stripping off the nightgown and underwear, I step in and work the shampoo into a lather. Then I scrub down my body and rinse everything off, and get out to brush my teeth and dry my hair. Looking at my face in the mirror, my eyes look dull, as though the fire in them was extinguished, and my face is stuck in a frown. On a whim, I press my fingers against the corners of my mouth and drag it up into a smile. My eyes spark a little in response, but I’m still bothered by what happened, so it doesn’t stick. I mean, I’m in a better mood than I was a few hours ago, but it’s soured by the doubts I had in the people I confided in.

There’s no point in lingering around. With that stuff done, I find myself drawn back to putting on the outfit they made for me. It’s relevant to what the Soul Temperer said I should do – go around without transforming all the time. Unfortunately the maid uniform is wrinkled and wet from being wrung out last night. It feels cold and clammy against my skin, so I try to dry it off with the hair dryer. It helps a little, at least, but it’s still severely wrinkled.

…I don’t want to go back to sleep, but I can’t do much else until I’m supposed to meet with the Soul Temperer. So I examine and take apart the beam katana I won off of Nakajima.

Once I’ve put everything back together, I flick the switch. The beam katana hums and projects a stable green blade of energy. I wave it slightly to test it, and see that its shape remains consistent. I seem to have reassembled it correctly.

There’s no receiver at the end to give it a definite size, which is why that massive attack she did was even possible after she switched off the limiters. This one wasn’t designed to sustain a blade of such size for more than a few seconds. In fact, there was a failsafe designed to power it off after it reached a certain temperature to keep it from exploding or destroying the motherboard. It still would scorch an ordinary person’s hands until they were charred black, but it’s better than being perforated with white-hot shrapnel.

And from what I can tell, she made it herself. A stylized drawing of her face was on the motherboard, anyway. I have to hand it to Nakajima, this is one of the most well made beam katanas I’ve ever come across. I power it off and put it back into my inventory.

This sort of thing usually makes me happy. To take a weapon apart, see how it works, how it was made, and then put it back together. Whenever I felt depressed, this always cheered me up. However, this time, after everything is fitted back together, I am still troubled. I feel better, yes, but I can’t quite get over how I let myself think that all my comrades had betrayed me. And, more than I’d like to admit, that fear of crushing, suffocating loneliness still hangs over me. Like this is just a dream, and I’ll wake up to find myself isolated from everyone I ever knew.

…I’m sincerely starting to miss Nakajima. This issue may be worse than I had originally been led to believe. Or it may be sheer desperation. Neither possibility is good. I have to do –something- about this, but I can’t just call everyone up again so soon.

I’ll just go see the Soul Temperer and see if we can start early today.

My return to the Seventh Officio building is depressingly uneventful, so I had nothing to occupy myself with other than my own thoughts. Thoughts where that voice of self-loathing kept giving its unwanted opinion on things. After a while I shut it out by pointing out it was wrong about me being abandoned, and stopped listening to what it had to say. Again, I feel better than I did, but it’s nowhere near my usual vigor and energy.

To my relief, the gates of the Seventh are open to me now. The monastery itself has its doors open as well, as though welcoming me back. Heading in and through the building, the utter silence is oppressive enough to put me on edge. I go towards where I’m very sure I remember the Soul Temperer’s room being and throw the door open, not wanting to linger out here any longer.

I was right on the money. The rows and rows of swords lining the wall confirm it. And there she is, in the center of the room, but she’s not really reacting to my arrival. She’s sitting in front of a small table with some incense sticks burning, and she has her eyes closed, as if she’s sleeping. I walk over and wave my hand in front of her face – nothing. Is that what meditation is like? If that’s the case, I wasn’t even –close- to this state the other day. And if I were surrounded by weapons while meditating, I would probably just have dreams I couldn’t share with anyone.

…Okay, this persistent pessimism is pissing me off.

I lean in close to the Soul Temperer, close enough to smell peaches, and take a deep breath. “Soul Temperer!” I shout in her ear, attempting to rouse her and take my mind off my inadequacies.

The Soul Temperer shivers slightly and makes a small noise before opening her eyes, her formerly blank expression curling into a smile. “Have I reached heaven?” she asks me. “Am I dreaming?”

“I understand that I am a sight to behold,” I answer her, trying to look confident, “but no. I just came in early today.”

The Soul Temperer smiles slightly wider, rubbing her eyes. “Same thing, then,” she says.

“Speak plainly!” I order her. I don’t have the patience for her parables!

“Is there a particular reason you have graced me with your presence so early today, Truth-Seeker?” Tenko inquires, studying me with an eye of appraisal. “You have a look of someone who has tried to move mountains.”

“Hah! I was told a long time ago never to try that again,” I confess, reminded of my failed attempts to make a Mount Heatherest. “But I digress. For now the –real- training of the day can begin!”

“Hold, Truth-Seeker” the Soul Temperer tells me, her smile vanishing. “The blight surrounding your soul has not abated. It has merely changed its form.”

“But I did what I was told to do!” I argue, stamping my foot in irritation.

“And that is what we will focus on later,” she says, pointing to the ground. “Right now, however, you will sit.”

Perhaps she had something in mind. For now, I did as she asked and sat on the ground, my legs crossed and back straight. The Soul Temperer’s gaze lingers on my legs, but otherwise she seems serious.

“So,” she begins, “the avalanche comes forth with the throw of a single stone.”


“What is it that is troubling you this time, Seeker of Wisdom?” she clarifies.

I take a deep breath that comes out as a sigh. “Doubt,” I respond. “I called everyone I knew to answer your question. All but one of them didn’t pick up, and the one that did hung up immediately.” The Soul Temperer nodded along in understanding, bringing her hands up to rest her chin on them, so I continued. “I called them many times and nobody answered, and I started to despair. I began listening to that wicked voice of self-loathing that insisted it was my fault they weren’t calling.” Hanging my head, I murmur, “All of them called back earlier. They were concerned, even the kid that I’d gotten hurt.”

I look the Soul Temperer in the eyes as I get to the crux of the issue, even though my shame makes me want to turn away. “I had –doubts- in other people,” I explain, spitting out the words as though they were poison. “I –doubted- people I should have trusted. I thought they had –abandoned- me here.” Letting out a sigh, I murmur, “and I’m angry at –myself- for not trusting them, not thinking better of them.”

The Soul Temperer drinks this in with an impassive look on her face the entire time. I thought she wanted me to keep talking, but she spoke up first. “I see,” she says, leaning forward and resting her arms on the table. “Was this perhaps related to you banging on the gates last night?”


“My apologies, Truth-Seeker,” the Soul Temperer apologizes with a bitter smile. “I had believed it was necessary at the time, but perhaps that was just the Black Templar in me talking, though.

“-You- were a Black Templar?!” I shout in genuine surprise. She really didn’t seem the type. They were so… uptight.

“It is not something I think back on fondly, nor do I enjoy talking about it,” she admitted, staring ahead at the empty space behind me. “I have remade myself since then as penance, though even that may not be enough for what I’ve done. The point is, we have all made mistakes.”

I shake my head. “I know that.” I tell her. “And yet,” I sigh again, bringing up my knees and hugging them. “Sometimes I wonder if that voice has a point. If I’m not only less great than I like to think I am, but also that I am actually an outright horrible, selfish person. That all the insults flung at me are true. That I’m wrong –all the time-.” Burying my face in my knees, my voice sounds muffled because I almost don’t want her to hear me when I say, “and that worries me.”

The Soul Temperer pauses for some time. And then…

“Once upon a time,” she began, “all the animals were called to a banquet.”

I lift my head up to ask her what she’s doing, but she continues before I have the chance. “Each animal group had to bring something to eat that could be shared with the others. The agile monkeys had picked bananas. The cunning wolves had harvested potatoes. And the proud lions were to bring grapes. However, the lions were very territorial, and could not tolerate the presence of other animals in their land. So when the laughing hyenas passed through, the lions chased them for days and days until they were gone. And in the process, the lions had let their grapes rot, and then trampled them underfoot. Too proud to arrive with nothing to show, the lions had to make do with the rotten fruit. So they gathered it in bowls of stone and presented it at the banquet.”

I raise an eyebrow at her. Why would the wolves have potatoes? And why do the lions have grapes? This story makes no sense! But before I can voice this, the Soul Temperer continues, “the other animals laughed at the lions, especially the hyenas, whose mocking laughter rose above the others. And yet, when the animals tasted what the lions had brought, they discovered something miraculous: the rotten grapes had turned to delicious wine.” The Soul Temperer stop speaking and looks at me expectantly.

…I was about to point out the inconsistencies, but she seems to be waiting for me to provide the moral of that fable. Hmm…

“You can mess up,” I venture, “but… it can still turn out okay?”

She nods once. “Even the greatest of kings were fallible,” the Soul Temperer explains, “and yet they are still remembered as the greatest of kings. Why do you suppose that is?”

Another question? “Because of the fact,” I start slowly, trying to put the answer in my head into words, “that they were still great?”

She nods again. “And so, what does that say about you?” she asks me.

Taking a little bit of time to piece everything together in my head, I speak with a bit more confidence this time. “Just because I have made mistakes, doesn’t mean I’m not great, right?” I questioned.

The Soul Temperer smiles warmly and places her hands on my shoulders.

“If that voice says things that make you think less of yourself,” she orders, “you tell it to be silent. Because you –are- great, Seeker of Enlightenment.” The Soul Temperer squeezes my shoulders slightly and says, “you are every bit as great as you say you are. And you should never, ever let anyone convince you otherwise. Not even yourself.”

…That is the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.

The Soul Temperer draws back and stands up, motioning for me to do the same. “Now,” she asks, “what does the caterpillar want to become when she emerges from her cocoon?”

It takes me some time to get my voice back. Long enough to process what she said and understand it fully. “I… I WANT TO BECOME A BETTER PERSON!” I speak with conviction, standing tall again. “And I’ve come to realize I can’t accomplish that entirely on my own.” Curling my fingers into fists, I beseech her, “Can you help me, Soul Temperer?”

“It would be my pleasure,” the Soul Temperer responds. “As a duckling stays close to its mother, so too must you follow behind me, Truth-Seeker.” With that rather odd comparison, she heads out, beckoning me to follow after her.

I gladly oblige, feeling pumped up. “LET’S GET TO IT, THEN!” I shout, urging her to move FASTER! “ONWARD TO -GLORY-, SOUL TEMPERER!”

Omake: My Treat[edit]

"Eleanor, you're too early."

"I know, I'm sorry. I came early to-"

"You're not getting overtime pay for that."

"That's not why I'm here. I needed to tell you something."

"You saw something suspicious, didn't you?"

"Er, no. Nothing about Callidus spies."

"Shhh! They might be listening!"

"Sorry! Madge wanted me to tell you something."

"Well if Miss Shine says it's important, it probably is. What've you got- I mean what is it?"

"I, uh, fought Miss Schulz again last night."

"Milly Moneybags?"

"Yeah, her. She said something about having the 'best augmetics in the world' and really scared the crap out of me."

"And you won?!"

"I had some help, but yeah, I won-"

"The triumph of hard work and determination over those who would try to buy their success?!"

"I guess-"

"Tell me about it at lunch. It's my treat."


"There was something I wanted to give you, anyway. Silly of me to forget it until now."


"Anyhoodles! We'll talk then. And don't think you can slack off today!"


Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus Magical Ascetic Valentina Tenko III: It Takes Two to Tenko[edit]

Once more, the Soul Temperer leads me outside the Officio. Rather than transporting me to the Valley of Eight Million Gods (sans ME, HAHA!), she leads me back to the waterfall cave, where I TRIUMPHED over those nefarious Nakajimas after they interrupted my meditation! I sidestep the waterfall at the last second, though. While she has been VERY helpful today, I am NOT getting drenched and wringing my clothes out in front of the Soul Temperer! I do NOT need her LURIDLY LEWD GAZE LEERING at my body -again-!

SPEAKING OF, she has her sword unsheathed and is using it as a torch to illuminate our passage. And she somehow appears to be completely dry as well. “So, Truth-Seeker,” she begins, as we follow the stream deeper into the cave, “what did you learn about love?”

“I have acquired no fewer than SIX different interpretations!” I declare with no small amount of pride. “FIRST! Love is SUPPOSEDLY like a potluck dinner, where everybody IS SUPPOSED TO pitch in, and where SOME may take more than their fair share from others, but is APPARENTLY worth the effort.”


“TWO!” I continue, not feeling even the most INSIGNIFICANT IOTA OF EMBARASSMENT about the current topic, “It is something one must INVEST in. THREE! It is a treasure GREATER IN VALUE than ANY OTHER treasures. FOUR! You have to feed it like a FIRE for it to comfort you with LIGHT and WARMTH.” Not that I need any warmth besides the BLAZING FLAMES OF MY WINNING SPIRIT! “FIVE! ‘Love may even bloom on the battlefield’-“

“Yesss!” the Soul Temperer abruptly hisses, punching at the air as though triumphant. Her sudden excitement briefly crashes my train of thought. BUT THE CRUNCH BRAIN IS SOON BACK ON TRACK!

“And the sixth is that it’s like fast food: unhealthy, but it tastes good, so you’ll keep wanting more,” I finish, folding my arms over my chest.

The Soul Temperer nods her head in satisfaction. “Much like the spider, you have opened all eight of your eyes,” she cryptically tells me. Does this have something to do with Berry? “So, Seeker of Enlightenment,” she continues, “What do you see with your eyes full of love?”

“About what I just said?” I ask.

“Indeed,” she replies, suddenly coming to a stop. The Soul Temperer looks at me from over her shoulder, and asks, “What did you learn from them?”

I clear my throat and keep my voice calm and steady, speaking with NO embarrassment when I tell her, “The testimonies I gathered demonstrate that a lot of -other people- seem perfectly content with it.”

“And so?”

...I hope it’s too dark for her to see how red my face is right now. “It is POSSIBLY not as heinous as I had originally envisioned,” I admit begrudgingly.

A slight smile forming on her lips, the Soul Temperer speaks once more. “So will you allow yourself to pursue what your heart desires?”

“NOT WITH SOMEONE LIKE NAKAJIMAAAA!” I shout, my denial echoing through the caves. “I simply CANNOT allow it to happen!“ I stamp my foot as a FIRM SHOWING of how much I DISLIKE this DISCUSSION!

And yet her smile only –grows-! “If she is undesirable,” the Soul Temperer states, “perhaps you should hunt a new crocodile in the river of desire.”

I stare at her for few seconds, trying to process what she said. “What?” I ask her. Is this about Winters now?

“I said you should put your eggs in another basket.”

I shake my head at her. “Once again, I cannot grasp what it is that you are saying.”

The Soul Temperer sighs. “What I mean is,” she explains, speaking slowly and carefully, “have you tried falling in love with somebody else who is not a scoundrel?”

“I WOULD if I COULD!” I growl! I am EXCEEDINGLY UNCOMFORTABLE with this line of questioning! ”Can we discuss this –later-? I want to get to today’s TRAINING already!”

This seemingly snaps the Soul Temperer out of whatever possessed her, as she recalls why we are here. “Very well then.” The Soul Temperer turns around and marches on, leading us through the cavern where I fought with the Nakajimas the other day. It’s remarkably barren, showing no signs of the struggle that took place. “It is interesting that you mentioned trust earlier, Seeker of Enlightenment,” she explains, taking us through a tunnel and into a different, larger chamber. “Today’s trials are focused on cementing and reinforcing the ability to trust other people, such as myself.”

“I don’t know if I –should- be trusting you like that,” I reply, my voice full of SKEPTICISM and UNEASE.

“Your words wound me, Seeker of Enlightenment!” the Soul Temperer exclaims theatrically. “I only want what is best for your development.” She uses the flame from her blade to light a row of torches along the wall, and reveals… an empty room.

“I don’t see how GROPING me is ‘best for my development,’” I mutter. This seems to give her pause, and she lets her shoulders slump.

“…it isn’t,” she admits with a sad sigh, sheathing her weapon. “Though the oak tree has grown mighty from a small sapling, it cannot escape its roots.” The Soul Temperer turns around to face me, though her eyes are downcast as though she cannot bear to look at me. “Nor can it deny how it yearns for the light of the sun.” Clasping her hands together, she seemingly forces herself to look me in the eyes, an earnest, hopeful smile on her face. ”But please believe me when I say that I sincerely wish to help you grow into an even more resplendent soul.”

…Maybe it’s just the lighting, but getting a good look at her now, she kind of looks…

“VERY WELL!” I shout, pushing such thoughts from my mind as I grant her my pardon. “For your aid earlier, I shall extend to you the benefit of the doubt!“

The Soul Temperer’s expression brightens immediately. “You are as forgiving as you are radiant, Seeker of Enlightenment!” she exclaims, clasping my hands. “I shall not disappoint you!” And with that rejoicing and sudden invasion of space, she quickly releases me and draws her blade once more. She then stabs it into the ground.

I’m a little disoriented, but I’m –reasonably sure- the ground is actually shaking. The light from the torches flickers and dances as sections of the floor sink down. What it leaves behind is a long, winding platform of stone SURROUNDED by deep pitfalls!

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” she informs me as the SUDDEN SHIFTING of the earth ceases, prompting her to sheathe her weapon once more. “And your first step is to navigate myself to the end of this course unharmed.” The Soul Temperer removes a strip of black cloth from her inventory and covers her eyes with it, tying it at the back to use as a blindfold. “Please take good care of me,” she adds.

It takes me a moment to figure out what’s going on. This all happened rather quickly, and I’m still reeling from… things.

BUT NOTHING CAN STOP THE CRUNCH TRAIN! “HERE WE GO!” I shout, my voice booming through the cave! FIRMLY GRASPING the Soul Temperer’s shoulders, I PROPEL her forward onto the small walkway!

…Well, THAT particular trust building exercise was an outright DISASTER.

Not MY attempt at the navigation of the maze, mind. I ACED that in SPITE of its twists and turns! No, it was HER run where things went WRONG! I should have suspected as much when she REFUSED to take off the blindfold! I SCREAMED at her to stop, or to at LEAST put me down instead of carrying me like a newlywed, but SHE DID NOT LISTEN!

And her breasts kept smacking me in the face, too! I didn’t even realize she –had- breasts!

AND SO, after much apologizing from the Soul Temperer, we return to her room once more. There, she has us sit at the table again. “For this next exercise,” she says, “I shall tell you two truths about myself, and one falsehood.” She gives a small smile. “You must guess which one is false.”

In spite of what happened earlier, I’m inclined to give her another chance. My mood from before has improved yet again. Maybe it’s because of this room. I rather like sitting in this room; seeing weapons on the walls pleases my sense of aesthetics.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the Soul Temperer herself.

“VERY WELL!” I concede. “Let us begin!”

Humming a little to herself before she speaks, the Soul Temperer starts us off: “I meditate for at least half an hour every day. I like girls like you who show great spirit. I eat my meat well-done.”

I snort. “OBVIOUSLY it’s the last one!” I declare. What kind of Eversor takes their meat well done?

“Correct, Truth-Seeker!” she says, beaming at me. “Now you tell me two truths and one lie about yourself.”

Oh, is that how this works? HMM… After a moment of musing, I present my statement to her: “I’ve never fought using an axe or a pole-arm. My favorite songs are STIRRING and HEROIC! And, uh… I, too, like my meat well done.“

“It is the last one that is untrue,” she answers with certainty.


“Now I’ll go again,” the Soul Temperer says, resting her elbows on the table. “I enjoy light reading and ballroom dancing. Black is my favorite color. I am extremely proficient at making dishes from fruit.”

I have to THINK about this one. She -seems- like she’d enjoy doing the first, and does appear to have some affinity for fruit. “Is it the second one?” I query.

“Right again, Seeker of Wisdom,” she praises me, which makes me smile. It almost –feels- like I am closer to understanding her. “It’s your turn again.”

“I have fled from battles with witches before,” I begin. “I have no fewer than TWENTY different subscriptions to magazines and journals on armaments, armor, and warfare. And I have an authentic M1 Garand automatic rifle.”

“I have to say that it’s the first one,” the Soul Temperer astutely answers.

“CORRECT! I have NEVER run from a battle against a witch!” I boast, puffing up with pride!

“How brave!” she cheers, resting her chin on her hands. “Now then, I’ve never gone on a real date before, though I wouldn’t mind trying one. I spent a long time wandering alone in exile. And I don’t put out on the first date.”

That’s more personal than I expected her to tell me. And it’s more difficult than the previous questions. I have no doubt that the last one is true – no offense intended – but for that to be true, then the first would have to be false, right? Then again, I was always stood up, so I don’t personally know. “The first one is false,” I tell her.

The Soul Temperer frowns. “Incorrect, Seeker of Enlightenment,” she explains. “It was the last one.”

Oh. Well. Okay then.

“My turn,” I say, BREAKING the sudden, awkward silence that set in. “I enjoy playing with robot action figures, watching sentai shows and reading about the history of war in my spare time. I am –naturally- bilingual. I have met with people from the First.”

“The first one?” she queries, uncertain.

“NAY! It is, in fact, the last one!” I shout in response.

“Truly? It is their loss,” the Soul Temperer responds. I acknowledge the TRUTHFULLNESS of such a statement by vigorously nodding.

“Let’s see,” she continues, leaning forward slightly. “I once replaced someone’s food with acrylic paints. I once spent a day in jail after being caught speeding on the way to an operation. My preferences include both domination –and- submission.”

“…I am hoping it is the last one,” I bluntly tell her, hoping she notices my discomfort.

“Also incorrect,” she replies, though she doesn’t look especially displeased. “I did pull such a stunt in the past, and I am very flexible, if you find that appealing in a partner.”

Okay, I’m getting seriously creeped out right now. “Uh, I never held the position of squad leader for very long. I always called my sword the Eversword. And I like having my personal boundaries RESPECTED.”

“It feels like the first one is the least worthy of you,” she says, failing to move back and give me room.

“And yet it’s INCORRECT,” I yell, sliding back a little. “I only named my weapon recently after a fit of inspiration.” And you’re NOT giving me my space at ALL, Soul Temperer!

“My turn,” she… purrs, her face coming closer and closer, and my face flushes redder and redder. “I have had hundreds of carnal conquests. I am afraid of getting what I want. And I really, -really- like you, Truth-Seeker.”

“FIRST!” I shout, as though putting EMPHASIS on it would FORCE it to be the ACTUAL TRUTH!

It FAILS TO WORK! “That is not correct. The second one is the lie.” She smiles a most SHAMEFUL smile before she gets RIGHT IN MY FACE, her hair brushing against my nose and hot breath tickling my cheek. “I might add that, through those hundreds of experiences, I have learned very much in the way of-”

I SCRAMBLE back away from her, my heart racing and my entire body on FIRE! “I WANT TO KEEP DOING THIS, THIS EXERCISE IS MAKING ME –EXTREMELY- UNCOMFORTABLE, AND I -DON’T- WANT TO KEEP DOING THIS!” I SCREAM at the possessed woman in an attempt to return her to her senses. I grab at my soul gem in warning that if she does NOT back off, I will FORCE her to stop this!

Her face falls flat as realization dawns. “…Oh,” she murmurs quietly. Finally, FINALLY she shows some sign of SHAME and REGRET for trying to RAVISH me!

I pick myself up and dust myself off. “I think that’s enough for today,” I state, wiping the sweat off my brow.

The Soul Temperer pouts and protests, “But I was going to tie your arm to mine for-“

“NO!” I exclaim, putting my foot down! “I won’t have any more of this until you get a hold of yourself!”

Moving away from the table, the Soul Temperer walks toward me and removes her hat. Clutching it to her chest, she prostrates herself on the ground. “A thousand pardons, Truth-Seeker,” she says. “Perhaps I was not ready to seek bonding activities from a book on marriage.”

I give the last sentence as much thought as I normally give to her parables. “Why did you think that would work?” I inquire in exasperation.

“It should have,” she insists, still prone on the ground. “And it would have, if I had the restraint of a squirrel preparing for winter.” She looks up at me, eyes shining with tears. “I was too eager.”

…I have to resist the urge to pat her on the head and tell her everything is okay. Instead, I tell her: “Very well, I magnanimously extend my forgiveness to you. We can train again some other time.”

This brings a smile back to her face. “Yes. Yes, we can try again,” she says, almost like she’s talking to herself. “I can be patient, now that there are no obstacles in my path.”

…After that cryptic response, I bid her farewell.

The first thing I do upon my departure is go into town. I have several ERRANDS to run, after all. And what better opportunity is there to do so than before actually running? This quaint little town had better be ready for the CRUNCH TRAIN’S ARRIVAL!

I head out to buy some new clothes and shoes. After I finish with that, I go off to the dry cleaners to drop off the maid uniform. And THEN I do my running. Even if I am in civilian form, I KNOW, with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY, that I can EFFORTLESSLY do it! Hell, I could do TWICE that much! I must PUSH myself EVEN FURTHER THAN THAT!

Fired up, I break into a sprint!

I realize that I must give the Soul Temperer credit; I DO feel more invigorated than I was this morning. For all her undesirable behavior today, she has still somehow managed to lift my spirits. Perhaps I was too harsh towards her.

…Okay, only a little bit too harsh. I had to draw the line SOMEWHERE, and that SOMEWHERE is between her face and mine.

And so, eventually, the day draws to a close, and night falls.


And BECAUSE I am doing so well, I manage to both finish my runs AND extol my virtues to the LESSER stars in the night sky!

Yes, I have been EXCEPTIONALLY PRODUCTIVE today, to make up for how LETHARGIC I was before! I even worked up a good sweat, too. NOT the unwanted sweat of discomfort, but the GLORIOUS sweat of EFFORT and HARD WORK! THE SWEAT OF CHAMPIONS!

THIS is how I return to my housing. NOT moping around because of loneliness! NOT dragging myself along because I’d been violated! No, I return CONFIDENT and VICTORIOUS! I have SEIZED THE DAY and then SUPLEXED IT INTO SUBMISSION!

I turn the key and throw open the door – going through the wall is sorely tempting, though – and finally, FINALLY have time to myself here without having to worry about DESPAIR or VOICES or what have you!

You’re not doing that well at all, said voice grumbles inside my mind. I IGNORE IIIIIIIT!

Now, I should make dinner. A GRAND dinner- no, a FEAST! A FEAST for the return of my INDOMITABLE SPIRIT! And I, Heather Crunch, shall assemble such a feast BY MY OWN TWO HANDS, as I can’t rely on someone else to do it like-

“H-heyyy, you’re back!”


Omake: Surprisingly Good[edit]

"So, I finally got a chance to look over your report."


"Don't talk with your mouth full, Eleanor."


"Just nod your head next time. Anyway! The reason you decided to work here is because, and I quote, '[you] wanted to open a candy shop'. Is that correct?"


"Am I right in assuming that you have no experience with management, finances, or the other responsibilities necessary for running a small business?"


"Good! I was about to get rid of these since I don't need them anymore, but I feel that even if they're a bit outdated, they should be a humong- I mean tremendous asset to you!"


"Ta-dah! I'm entrusting you with my old textbooks! They're not as good as work experience, but reading these should help prepare you for the real deal!"


"What's wrong?"

"Well, I have to be honest. Textbooks aren't something that I wanted."


"...but they sound like something that I needed. So... thanks. Thanks a lot for giving me these."

"Hmm. Don't thank me just yet. You still have to deal with that Vanus trance-"


"Don't interrupt me, please! You have to deal with that Vanus trance and actually work behind the counter!"


"Now then, you were saying?"

"I was told that something was being done about it. That the Warmaster was planning something to deal with that."

"Oh. Well, in that case, you're welcome!"


"I'll take that thanks now, Eleanor."


"Well! Now that your shift's up and your lunch is finished, you're dismissed for today."

"Thanks for that, too, by the way!"

"Goodbye, then!"


"Don't count on a free lunch in the future!

"I won't."

"And don't come in early like that again!"

"Got it."

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus Magical Guro Amber Nakajima[edit]

Heather guarded.png

So, I have found both Nakajima and Other Nakajima. I do not know where they were before now, but, currently, the both of them are in my living room and wearing their maid attire. Nakajima has now perched herself on the back of the sofa, and is tugging at her apron while staring intently at me. Other Nakajima is seated in an easy chair, her dull gaze boring into me.

Why is Nakajima back? What are they doing here? This isn’t something I was ready for. I am actually more uncomfortable now than I was with the Soul Temperer. And it is not simply from the lack of swords. The conversations about ‘love’, and the last incident with Nakajima, appear fresh in my mind once more, stirring unwanted emotions.

I can’t let this get to me. I’m better than this.

“So, uh,” Nakajima begins, returning me from my brief reverie, “you’re doing okay now?” I give a very small nod after a moment’s hesitation.

The smallest traces of a smile appear on her face, and she gestures towards the couch behind her. Beckoning me to sit in my living room, on my couch. Cautiously, I walk myself over. It’s not that I want to join them or anything like that, but rather I need to regain control here. I need to show that I am unafraid, that I am not going to let my feelings from before allow them to walk all over me. In spite of my nervous expression, I am resolute in my conviction. I must steel my will. If I let my guard down, then this devious maid would have me wrapped around her finger. Something that I cannot allow, for both my sake and everyone else’s.

I sit on the opposite end of the couch, erecting a pillow barrier between her and myself, and say nothing.

“Do you, like, need a hug or something?” Nakajima suddenly asks. I look incredulously at her – not believing she said something so ridiculous - so she clarifies: “Do you need a hug to make you feel not mopey?”

“No, I do -not- need a hug!” I exclaim insistently, standing up and knocking my pillow to the floor. “I am –fine-!” Somehow, this assertion brings much of her normal, coy smile back to her face, as though this played into her plans. I point a finger at her accusingly. “What’re YOU doing back here anyway?” I demand, wanting to know what she’s SCHEMING. “When you departed, there was a certain -finality- to it. Did you –somehow- change your mind?” Not that I care especially that she’s back! I’m more interested in –why-!

Heather annoyed.png

“Pfft, we never left,” Nakajima says. The shifty snake of a girl slides headfirst down onto the couch cushions, and then flops into a sitting position. “We were hiding. Like ninjas!” She emphasizes the ninjas part, somehow, by waving her hands.

“We were observing you remotely the entire time,” the Other Nakajima explains, viewing her sister’s antics with all the expressiveness of a shell-shocked eggshell. “It allowed us to keep an eye on you and find the perfect opportunity to strike.”

So I –was- right after all. It wasn’t just my desperation, but my INTUITION. They were still here! And they didn’t even show themselves when I called them out on it! I settle back onto the couch and regard Nakajima with ANGER! But this only makes her even MORE pleased!

“Yeah, we were gonna do stuff that would make you all frustrated and angry,” Nakajima jeers, “like, make some of your stuff disappear and make all the pictures crooked. Then replace your toothpaste with glue, cut off your hot water, switch your underwear out with stuff that’s too small…”

“You FIEND!” I yell at her, pointing EVEN HARDER! And ONCE AGAIN, she derives AMUSEMENT from my display! As though she is FEEDING on my SPIRIT! A –TRUE- SUCCUBUS!

But then she stops laughing at me, and takes on a sullen expression.

“Then you shut yourself in your room and got real quiet,” she says in a small, quiet tone of voice that makes it hard to hold on to my anger. “And then you started acting weird and creepy, making calls and crying and running out into the rain.” Nakajima’s not even looking at me anymore – she’s staring off into space, clutching one of the couch cushions. “You got all sad and desperate and... and it wasn’t fun anymore,” she finishes.

“For what reason would you even DO that in the FIRST place?” I ask of her, genuinely curious. “Why did you go through ALL this trouble?”

“Because you made me feel thiiiiiings, Crunchy!” she confesses. “I don’t like feeling thiiiiiings! So I –had- to get revenge for that, y’know?” I nod at this in an almost-understanding way. I cannot –approve- of it, but I get it. Her making me feel “things”, as she put them, certainly vexes –me-.

“Like any extradimensional creature of darkness,” the other Nakajima dully quips, drawing a glare from Nakajima, ”the notion of love confuses and infuriates her.”

“Oh, screw you, Jade!” a VERY upset, red-faced Nakajima yells. This is followed by a muffled thump as she throws her cushion at Other Nakajima and it hits her in the face. THEN a thud as the chair tips back and hits the floor. Other Nakajima looks MILDLY ANNOYED by this.

Heather tasteofaliar.png

“But why wait until now to return?” I inquire inquisitively, grabbing Nakajima’s attention again as her sister rights the easy chair. “Why didn’t you appear sooner?”

“It wasn’t a good time?” Nakajima admits, UNABLE to look me straight in the eyes. “All that pleading and crying made us feel awkward as heck.”

“She felt ashamed,” elaborates other Nakajima.

“She felt ashamed?” I ask, and she nods at me. “-You- felt ashamed?” I inquire –incredulously- of Nakajima.

“Is that what it was?” she asks, seemingly confused. “Because I totally thought it was heartburn.”

…I don’t have any response to something like that. So I ignore it, grabbing the pillow off the floor and fluffing it, while Other Nakajima reseats herself. Before I can put it back where it was, though, something silky brushes my lap. Peering down, I find Nakajima resting her head there, her face scrunched up in irritation. I return the look.

“Okay, you’re still being way too sulky and quiet,” Nakajima remarks dryly. "Can you, like, act like you again?” she requests, sitting upright to better gesticulate. “Yell out something silly or loud! Get hot-blooded and do something stupid! I mean for chrissakes, you got so sad yesterday it stopped being funny and just…” Nakajima leans too close to me, slumping forward slightly. “Just… gawd, are you really, really sure you don’t need a hug or something?" she asks, still looking irritated.

“I said no hugs!” I insist.

Nakajima doesn’t move, other than giving a dismissive wave of her hand. "Fine, fine, I don’t care,” she grumbles. “Just… just stop doing this thing you're doing. I don't like it.”

Heather pout.png

I snort, and put the pillow back where it was – between her and myself. “What, being remorseful? Reflecting on things?” I growl.

“Yes, whatever! Cut this sobby stuff out! I hate seeing you doing this!” she yells. “It’s not cute!”

I don’t let my surprise register on my face. The way she put it, it actually almost sounds like she’s concerned. Or maybe it’s just self-interest. It HAS TO BE the latter; she’s upset that her favorite toy isn’t working the way she wants it to anymore. Somebody so EVIL could not POSSIBLY be concerned about ME.

She probably noticed my sour look after I came to that realization. “What’s got your panties in a knot anyway?” she asks, trying to pull away the pillow. I hold it fast until she stops.

Hmph. So she wants to play that game? Fine, then. I’ll humor her. If only to make her leave me alone.

"Did you ever try to help somebody,” I ask her, “sincerely WANT to help somebody... And then you end up just making things even worse?" Because that’s how things went with Slam and Miss Valnikov.

"Not even once," Nakajima immediately answers, shrugging. "I don't... like... help people? I guess? It's not really my thing." She doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, though.

Heather irritated.png

"Okay…” I say, realizing this might be trickier than I thought. “You have friends, right?” I ask Nakajima, getting a nod from her. “Suppose you did something that hurt them."

"I probably wouldn't let them find out it was me,” she states with casual indifference. “Is that not an option here?" I shake my head at her, and she starts shouting, "Jade! Jade, have you ever tried to help someone and made it worse?"

The Other Nakajima sinks into her chair and takes a deep breath. When she speaks, it is in the quiet, defeated tone of one who has lost all hope: "You mean by passively enabling someone's sociopathy in helping them achieve their goals in hopes that maybe they'll eventually start to understand basic human empathy, and slowly sinking into a pit of despair as I come to realize that not only are they as ignorant as they've ever been, but I've also probably helped them murder and break dozens of people by being complicit?"

"Um, maybe?” Nakajima replies, oblivious to her sister’s intent. “I was thinking more, like, ran over their dog, or something?"

"How was that helping them?" Other Nakajima asks in the same tone of voice.

"Maybe the dog was barking a lot," she suggests. Other Nakajima looks like she needs a stiff drink or ten, and buries her face in her hands.

I remember my first encounter with Nakajima, and feeling certain that she was evil. I also thought she could still be redeemed and work toward noble causes. But after hearing Other Nakajima’s testimony, and Nakajima’s callous response, I’m beginning to seriously doubt any reform is possible.

"Alright,” I start out again, trying to draw the conversation away from how terrible Nakajima is, “suppose you did something to somebody-” again, Slam and Miss Valnikov come to mind ”-and then your friends all got mad at you for it.”

Nakajima shrugs again. “They’ll deal,” she states matter-of-factly.

“This… might be a dry well, Miss Crunch,” Other Nakajima murmurs through her hands, drawing an odd look from Nakajima.

Heather tsundere.png

“NOT DONE TALKING!” I shout, getting the attention of both of them again. I don’t even know why I’m still talking to her. "You tried to do something to make them stop being upset at you, but you managed to screw that up, too, and make even –more- people upset." That brings the Spiritual Liege and Miss Marigold to mind.

Nakajima appears ready to say something, but I cut her off. "Then you tried a different tactic, one that REQUIRED their help,” I continue, as I picture the Soul Temperer’s face of sad disappointment, ”but then they wouldn’t speak with you."

Without even a pause, Nakajima answers: "Um...maybe they should recognize that I gave enough of a fish to try and make things better, even though I'm hypothetically a colossal screw-up. Maybe they're the jerks.” Nakajima backs off (finally) and lays back. “Nobody's perfect, y'know? People screw up, and sometimes you just try your best to fix it, and it's not good enough, but if people pretend you didn't even try, then they're the A-holes."

She’s absolutely not concerned. And it’s NOT the case anyway! "Except they did NOT abandon me!” I shout back, growing more incensed at her OBVIOUS false sympathy. “I merely allowed myself to BELIEVE that they did! And now I'm even MORE upset because I did not have FAITH in them! I SHOULD have KNOWN better, and yet I ALLOWED myself to BELIEVE that EVERYBODY I cared about, EVERYBODY I was friends with, had COMPLETELY ABANDONED ME!”

I point at the bewildered Nakajima yet again. “And YET, ALL OF THEM, YOURSELF INCLUDED, proved that in SPITE of their irritation, they have NOT left me alone,” I scream angrily. “I am NOT upset with them, Nakajima! I am not even upset with YOU! I am upset with MYSELF! THAT is what ‘HAS MY PANTIES IN A KNOT’."

…That may have been harsher than I intended.

Even so, it appears to be working. Nakajima has sat up and is staring at me with silent contemplation. Yes, think on that, why don’t you, Nakajima? Don’t have anything clever to say to that? Nope, she springs to her feet now, no doubt departing for real this time. Good. That’s good.

I already feel better for having gotten all of that off my chest. I’d actually thank her if she weren’t so irredeemably, unfathomably-

“Then... You should stop?" she says out of the blue.

Heather ohshit.png

…There’s nothing significant behind what she’s saying, I’m sure. But just for the sake of erasing any doubt, I tell Nakajima, “Explain.”

Nakajima stands over me, forcing me to sit upright, so as not to appear weak. "Stop being upset with yourself," she orders. "Make like a Canuck princess and just let it goooo." She wiggles her fingers to emphasize this, as though that explained anything at all. "You were feeling bad and you misunderstood the people around you?”

I could just not respond any further… but I nod back at her, and she shrugs. “Whatever,” Nakajima says, launching into her lecture. “I get that way too. You doubted them, that's okay, because sometimes friends are jerks that doubt each other." Making wide gestures, she continues, "you hold yourself up to this bonkers standard like you have to be better than everyone else ~in word and deed~-“ now she’s acting like she’s crying “-and then when you mess that up you get all weird and sad."

She has a point. She actually has a point. Amber freaking Nakajima is giving sensible advice!

“You’re not perfect,” Nakajima explains to me, “if you were perfect, you’d never have become a magical girl.”

And that is also true. Why the hell was I still beating myself up for being fallible? Was I just looking for somebody to vent at?

And why was she so persistent?

Then it clicks. “You really –were- worried?” I ask her, slightly awed.

Nakajima cants her head, looking upon me with BEWILDERMENT, as though I had asked an EXCEEDINGLY OBVIOUS question. “Yes?”

“You were worried about –me-?” I ask again, just to make sure.

“Uh, duh!” Nakajima exclaims as though this were perfectly normal. “I think I already said that!”

Heather quicktorecognizelewdness.png

I feel my cheeks glowing slightly at her response. The only SENSIBLE thing to do is hide half my face behind the pillow, and then inquire, “Why?”

Nakajima giggles. “Because you’re fun, Crunchy!” she chirps, beaming at me. “I like the fun you, and I want that you back!”

This entire time, she has actually been trying to make me feel better. She could have been bitter about me ruining her prank, but instead she tried to lift me out of my slump. Even though I kept trying to push her away, she still sought to bring me back to one hundred percent.

She might be beyond redemption, but I rather like her enough that I think it’s still worth trying.

“Hey, what are you smiling like that for?” Nakajima asks of me, getting in my face yet again. I wasn’t even aware that I’d been smiling, and yet there it is.

“Ah, it's nothing~,” I say, adding a tilde to my voice for extra –mysteriousness-.

This, predictably, upsets Nakajima. “Jade!” she shouts, “Crunchy’s acting weird again!”

“I thought you liked when she acted weird,” the other Nakajima, Other Nakajima, remarks, to Nakajima’s exasperation.

“This is a totally different kind of weird!” she exclaims. Then she hastily adds, “And oh my gawd I do not!”

Heather outrageous.png

“NAKAJIMAAAA!” I bellow, my SPIRIT RESTORED and my COMMANDING CHARISMA drawing the full attention of BOTH Nakajimas! “In SPITE of your NOTICEABLE NEFARIOUSNESS, I ONCE AGAIN grant you and your sister the PRIVILEGE of sharing this domicile with myself!”

Nakajima throws her hands in the air and CHEERS, “Wooo! No consequences!” Other Nakajima does a less enthusiastic gesture, and deadpans a SIMILAR burst of exuberance. I, of course, outdo BOTH of them in enthusiasm!

“FURTHERMORE,” I continue, smiling wide, “I express some measure of GRATITUDE for ROUSING ME from my stupor!” However, I do have to STERNLY REMIND HER, “even if it was PARTLY YOUR FAULT!”

“Wooo! Still no consequences even when directly involved in causing chaos!” Nakajima cheers AGAIN, followed once more by Other Nakajima doing the same with little vigor.

“And as for OTHER NAKAJIMAAAA!” I shout to grab the other sister’s attention. This surprises her, as though she did not EXPECT to be sighted by THE CRUNCH TRAIN! “Remind me sometime in the next few days to find an EXTREMELY POTENT ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE for you,” I order her, offering a sympathetic smile, “because it sounds like you need one BADLY!”

This makes the corners of her mouth move, forming the tiniest of smiles. “Thank you very much, Miss Crunch,” says Other Nakajima, bowing slightly. “That is most generous of you.”

“I didn’t know you drank,” Nakajima says to her sister, scratching at the back of her head.

“ANYWAY,” I yell to distract her from probing her sister and creating an AWKWARD SITUATION, “that is all taken care of and DEALT WITH! Evening activities may NOW RESUME!” Which means I can go make that FEAST I wanted earlier! I might even share it with them!

”Soooo,” Nakajima asks me, batting her eyes, “do you still need that hug~?”

"Yes,” I state with a smile. Nakajima grins and draws closer, and I realize what I just said.

“WAIT, I mean NO!” I exclaim, but she does not CEASE coming near me! “I mean I'M FINE!” I reiterate, and YET she KEEPS GOING! “DAMMIT, NAKAJIMAAA, stay OUT of my PERSONAL SPACE!" I order her!

"My apologies," Other Nakajima apologizes, falling into that –silly- routine again, and making Nakajima LAUGH!

...Me, give me strength.

“Hee, I was just teasing anywayyyy,” Nakajima tells me, GIGGLING at my missteps in this CONVERSATIONAL TANGO! GRRRRR!

“You should KNOW BETTER by now!” I warn her, as OTHER NAKAJIMA disappears into the kitchen.

“That’s why I keep doing it,” insists Nakajima, leaning in WAY too close and getting a much-deserved SHOVE BACK! “You’re cute when you’re mad, you know~.” As if that justified ANYTHING!

“I am –NOT- CUTE!” I huff, my goodwill EVAPORATING like FRESHLY FALLEN RAIN! “I hope you’re HAPPY, NAKAJIMAAAAS! With THAT and EVERYTHING ELSE you’ve done, you’ve gotten me TOO RESTLESS for sleep.” And it isn’t that I LACK for things to do that upsets me, but rather it’s the PRINCIPLE of the thing. “TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, NAKAJIMAAAA!” I order her!

Heather hotblood.png

This, SOMEHOW, causes her to smile widely, as though she just thought of something EXCITING and NEFARIOUS. “Well,” she begins, “we could go to my room and-“

I stop her right there with a stern glare. “Are you REALLY about to suggest something PROMISCUOUS?” I question. She should KNOW the answer to such queries by now! Truly, TRULY she is no better than the Soul Temperer at having RESTRAINT of her LIBIDO!

And then she has the gall to look CONFUSED, and POUTS CU- EVILLY, stating, “actually, I was gonna say we could watch Tonosaman, bu-“


The LAST thing that I expected to do today was sit on Nakajima’s bed, IN HER ROOM, and marathon a tokusatsu show with her and her sister. And YET, HERE we are, IN our pajamas, EATING popcorn, and WATCHING an entire series she has saved on her hard drive. Perhaps MOST shocking is that Nakajima hastily AGREED to respect personal boundaries, and hasn’t tried to touch me at all!

Heather smile.png

Then again, maybe she’s simply too enthralled with the program.

“Ugh, I don’t like how they keep shoehorning in this love triangle stuff,” Nakajima remarks as the scene cuts away from the latest plans of the Evil Magistrate, to Onnasaman thinking about Tonosaman. “Like, can they do something other than obsess over the main character?”

“Agreed,” I say through a mouthful of popcorn. “The WHOLE SHOW feels like it’s LOSING its focus since THEY were introduced.” It’s not that they weren’t amusing at first, but now they show up in EVERY OTHER SCENE!

After giving me a dirty look, Other Nakajima states, “I think the contrast between Himesaman and Onnasaman is interesting.” Grabbing the bucket OUT of my hands, she sifts through it and idly ponders aloud, “I wonder if they’ll ever interact.”

Nakajima blows a raspberry in response to that. “Interesting, shmintersting, who cares about them?! I’m here for Tonosaman!” she asserts.

“Hear, hear!” I cheer in agreement. And, speak of the devil, the –actual- star of the show comes back on screen, just now confronting the villain of the week in their CLIMACTIC BATTLE!

“Love is stupid, anyway,” Nakajima says after a while, yawning quietly.

“Love IS stupid,” I agree. This gets me another look from Other Nakajima, but I’m focused on the aftermath of the fight, where the Evil Magistrate vows to exact REVENGE on Tonosaman!

In SPITE of its aforementioned flaws, it still managed to be an enjoyable episode.

Something gently presses against my arm and shoulder. I look over and find, to my dismay, if not to my surprise, Nakajima leaning against me!

“Na-“ I begin to exclaim, a blush INVOLUNTARILY spreading to my cheeks. However, the words fail me when I notice she has her eyes closed. She’s already nodded off!

I was kind of a jerk earlier, anyway, so…

Heather warmsmile.png

“…never mind,” I murmur, deciding not to push the issue. It’s probably too much effort to move her.

Besides, she feels… well, warm. Her head’s resting on my shoulder, and it’s close enough that I can smell her shampoo again.

And the pleasant look on her sleeping face makes me smile…

…JUST this once, it’s okay. JUST this one time.

Magical Torturer Suzi Berry[edit]

“What the hell, you can’t do this to me!“

I gotta laugh at the audacity of my prisoner. She’s actin’ all tough when she’s done up in chains in my little Spider Room. Must be at that age where taboos like stickin’ it to authority are so appealin’. Problem is that right now, I’m the authority she’s gotta deal with. So here I’m just standin’ over her and grinnin’. More than once I catch her stealin’ a few nervous glances at my unopened leather port full of toys, which I left off to the side.

“Accordin’ to yer contract, hon? Legally, I can,” I say, makin’ my voice extra sickly sweet while I wring my hands out. Katherine here is wearin’ the defiant face of someone who’s guilty as hell and doesn’t want to fess up about it. Somethin’ I know all too well. “Now, even fer charity fraud, which drags our good name through the mud, Suzi would forgive ya and let ya go.” I assure her, which is true – ya start actin’ like a person, and I’ll start treatin’ ya like one again. The brunette starts to sweat when I reach out and gently stroke her hair out of her eyes, makin’ her quiver. “But, see,” I tell her with a sad smile, “when I asked where the rest of the money was, ya went an’ lied to me.” She keeps sayin’ it’s with her folks. She’s like a kitten tryin’ to eat the kitty litter: adorable in how stupid she’s bein’.

And she’s still haughty about it, too. Actually tries to bite my hand. “Fuck you, you crazy cum junkie!” she snarls at me while I busy my other hand, “I don’t have to listen to-”

“Actually, ya really do,” I tell her after shovin’ a wad of webbin’ in her mouth to shut her up. Now she’s proper nervous. “I already caught ya lyin’ when ya said ya weren’t involved. That puts ya at strike three. Yes, three.” I say to clear up the confusion crossing her pretty face. “The first strike was stealin’ a kid’s lunch a few months back.”

This gets an exquisite look of shock from the gagged girl. I smile in a way that is in no way reassurin’, waggin’ my finger at her. “Suzi knows about that, too, hon,” I scold her, the girl’s eyes trained on my finger. “Ya can’t hide anythin’ from me. And ya could’ve walked out the door by now if only yad just fessed up sooner.” And then I lean in reeeeal close, whisperin’ into her ear and makin’ her flinch. “But ya didn’t, so that means I gotta punish ya.” I let her go and pull the gag from her mouth, gigglin’ a little at her heavy breathin’. “Well, I say ‘punish’, but really, ya oughta be thankin’ me fer doin’ this, since yer still a virgin~.”

Ahhh, good. She’s shrinkin’ back into her restraints instead of tuggin’ at them, as though she could escape me. She’s not terrified enough, though, because her shaky voice tells me, “it’s with my parents, I swear!”

I shake my head. “Ihihihi, at this point I gotta think that ya heard about my exploits and wanted in on the action.” There’s no helpin’ some people. I open up my bag of truth-gatherin’ instruments and pull somethin’ reverentially out of the side panel. “Really, all ya had to do was ask nicely.”

“I promise to be gentle, hon~,” I tell Katherine, who looks about ready to have an accident. After all, I am lickin’ the edge of the lovely little knife from my bag. The blade is faintly stained with the blood, sweat and tears of its old victims. Gives it has a sharp coppery taste. I repurpose the discarded gag as a blindfold, and let her wait it out a little. Now I get to the fun part, where I begin gently tracin’ the point down her forearm while she squirms. Leavin’ a little white line, and drawin’ a pitiful whimper from the obstinate young woman. “Gentle as an itsy, bitsy spider goin’ down the water spout~,” I say after leavin’ my first mark.

“And remember, the safe word is ‘cuckold’~.”

Annnnnd sent my report to the Warmaster: another successful interrogation by yers truly. That kitty was not so discretely enjoyin’ herself until I let my friends crawl over her. I gotta admit, there’s a certain kind of joy to be found in buildin’ them up to the brink, and then scarin’ it out of them. She fessed up soon after and confirmed my initial findings: she gave the money she stole from the fundraiser to her spineless little boy toy to hold onto. Really, she could have saved herself so much trouble if she’d just said so in the first place.

Ihihihi, he’s gonna have an interestin’ day, I’m sure. And an interestin’ talk with his girlfriend here.

As for Katherine, she’ll be picked up by someone else in a few, and probably have a disciplinary hearin’. Hopefully this time it’ll take. Breaks my poor little heart to have to do this to one of our own. But not so much that I feel bad about havin’ another bra for my throne~.

Checkin’ the time, I find that I… oh dear. I wasted a lot of it playin’ with that cat. I… guess I got a bit wrapped up in it.

Shoot. I was supposed to tell Her Majesty that she traumatized her girlfriend again, but now that her lunch break’s over, she won’t listen to anythin’ not concernin’ work. Unless she’s screwin’ with someone, or punishin’ someone, or punishin’ someone for screwin’ around. Like me, if I’m tellin’ her there’s a car show that weekend. She gave me a case of arachnophobia for wastin’ her time, sayin’ she already knew about it. Worst five minutes of my life in the last few years.

I make to start walkin’ up the stairs, and have a split-second realization that my shoes are tugging at each other just before I hit the ground in a roll, havin’ seen this nonsense enough.

I pick myself up and check my shoes. Somehow they got laced together. That’s the sort of thing Her Majesty would pull, but she’s supposed to be preparin’ for a meetin’ with Elly. She wouldn’t go out of her way to do somethin’ like this. Anyway, I undo the laces and tie them up right… and then they unravel and knot themselves together like before.

…The heck?

Okay, I don’t have time for this. I go through my transformation and start walkin’ up the stairs at a slow pace. There’s no laces on these things, so none of that juvenile nonsense is happening again. At least I’m not sneezin’ up live sea urchins like last night. That –hurt-.

I think somebody’s been screwin’ with me lately. And I got a few hunches about who it is, but right now they got me at a bad time.

Anyway, I put my arms behind my back and scrunch my face up in concentration. What to do, what to do… I can’t send my spider friends to pass anythin’ along, either, or she’ll ignore it. Last time I tried the Suzi Messaging Service to tell her somethin’ – that the Warmaster needed to see her – she stomped them out and told me that nothin’ was stoppin’ me from usin’ the phone like a normal person.

And she’s drivin’ her gal off to the airport in less than an hour. Umbrella girl won’t say anythin’ about it, knowin’ her. I promised I’d pass the message along, too.

Though really, what she needs is a harsh lecture to drive home that she needs to cut back on the drinks. If she can’t even do that much, she shouldn’t be in a relationship in the first place.

…Oh, that might the answer right there.

My sentries along Elly’s route relay along to me the kid got off the bus a few minutes ago. Apparently she was havin’ lunch with Jael. That’s somethin’ I’ll have to tease ‘em about later. Right now, though, I have more important things to impress upon her. Stridin’ past the walls of dead witch flesh and chitin, I get to the lobby just as she enters. I run over to her and call out “hey, Elly?”

The poor kid shivers, probably expectin’ more lovin’ly applied teasin’, and on any other day she’d be right. Still, she smiles at me, sayin’ “hey, Suzi.” Brief, polite, and with the quiet hope that I’d leave her alone. Not that it ever worked on me before, but it’s especially not gonna work today.

“How was work?” I ask her, followin’ along so she knows I’m not goin’ anywhere anytime soon. She just grunts in response, a bit of whinin’ in her voice, which makes me giggle. “Yer on yer way to see Madge, ain’tcha?”

Elly’s rather alarmed at my all-knowingness of what she’s doin’, askin’, “how do you know that?”

“Ihi-“ I start, then cough. “Well, that’s not important right now,” I reply. She looks upset. “No, really, I got a favor to ask,” I insist. “Depends on the favor,” says a wary Elly.

“I need ya to pass along an important message to her,” I tell her.

“Mm?” Looks like Elly’s not quite payin’ attention.

I take a deep breath and let it out with a sigh, which gets Elly’s attention. And then I start talkin’ proper: “Tell her to cut back on drinkin’, cause she got really hammered last night and started emotionally abusin’ her girlfriend again.” Yeah, ya probably didn’t need to hear somethin’ that heavy today, Elly. I can’t blame ya for stoppin’ cold and starin’ at me like I said someone died. “Her Majesty started callin’ her a crybaby, a scaredy cat, a slacker. Criticized her fer not applyin’ herself – well, criticized her much more harshly than usual,” I amend, weavin’ my tale so to best get her fired up. “Aki’s a sweet gal and too timid to confront her about it. She called me up early this mornin’, bawlin’ her eyes out and said she hadn’t even mentioned it to Her Majesty yet. Asked me to talk to her about it and…” I scratch the back of my head, tryin’ to play off how bad I messed up for draggin’ out my play time, and not talkin’ to Her Majesty on her lunch break. “I kinda screwed up there. So I need ya to do it fer me.”

Alright, Elly’s thinkin’ about it now. “Why me?” she asks after a pause. Good, good, she’s askin’ questions. That means I got her interested.

“She’s a full on watch-wearin’ dildo, Elly,” I explain to her while fightin’ the urge to fidget. “She’s not gonna listen to me give advice about her personal life if I haven’t booked an appointment with her.” I give Elly a sad smile. “Otherwise I wouldn’t force ya into this.”

“Can’t you do it when she’s, well, not busy?” Elly asks, then hastily adds, “I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to help, but…” Aww, shoot, she’s losin’ confidence. “This seems like something you’d do better at than me.”

“Her Majesty’s drivin’ Aki to the airport right after yer appointment,” I tell her, hopin’ she gets how urgent this is. “There’s not enough time fer me to lecture her before then.” I put my hands on her shoulders and look her dead in the eyes, explainin’, “I want ‘em to reconcile this before Aki has to fly out. And yer the only one who can make it happen.”

“If I try to argue with her about it, she’ll get mad at me, won’t she?” she asks me. Well, it sounds more like she’s just fishin’ for weak excuses at this point. I can already see it in her eyes – she’s resolvin’ to go through with it no matter what I say, she just needs a little more of a push. Means I don’t have to sugarcoat my answers.

“She will, yeah,” I say, makin’ her frown a bit more. “Even if she’s not pissed off, Her Majesty likes to intimidate people durin’ her one-on-one sessions. If ya feel on edge while talkin’ to her, that may be because of her power.” Though it could be because Her Madjesty is pretty intimidatin’ when she’s all business. “She’s scary - that’s pretty much Her Majesty’s thing – but she needs an intervention of some kind, and she needs to acknowledge that. I’m worried about her and what she might do if she doesn’t cut back a little on the booze.”

And there it is, that little spark of indignation in her eyes. Elly’s frown is less of a frown and more of a look of grim purpose. “So what should I do?” she asks me.

“Tell her to stop doin’ that, and make sure she gets it,” I tell her, smilin’ a little at her determination while she nods along with everythin’ I say. “Remind her of what happened whenever ya get the chance, and don't let her scare ya into shuttin’ up about it. And if that means ya gotta get mad and yell at her, then get mad. Whatever it takes to get through to her.”

“I’ll do it,” Elly says without even hesitatin’. Aww, they grow up so fast.

“I knew I could depend on ya~,” I tell her, pattin’ her on the shoulders before lettin’ her go. “I’m sure you’ll do fine.” She mumbles a cute little “’nks” at me for that.

“Anywayyyy,” I say, streeeetchin’ back as I stop suppressin’ my baser urges and get ready to go, “that’s enough invadin’ of yer personal space to sate me fer today, soooo-”

“Is she going to be alright?” Elly asks me out of the blue.

“You mean Aki?”

Elly nods at me, and I smile a reassurin’ smile while bouncin’ on the balls of my feet. “She’ll be fine” I tell her, “as long as the first thing Her Majesty does is give her a proper apology. She’s not too hard to please.” This seems to relieve her. “But Madge has to make an effort to stop bullyin’ her,” I remind Elly. She nods with a slight smile before settin’ her face back into adorable seriousness and marchin’ off to Her Majesty’s office.

“Bye, Elly~!” I call after her before headin’ on my merry way.

She’ll be okay. If she’s mad enough, she won’t back down. And if Elly can’t do it… well, we can ship her back home much sooner.

Now, what’s next on my itinerary for today? I was supposed to help Winters, but she said she didn’t need it. Pretty sure I was gonna have some fuuuun with my friends, though I know at least most of them said they couldn’t make it because of sudden illness. Does that leave anyone else? I take out my little pocketbook of appointments and see what I have penned down.

A little after I flip to today’s date, all my writin’ disappears. It just fades away like it’s evaporatin’. And then, as though an invisible pen were writin’ it up, fancy cursive letters fill the page. The new entries repeatin’ similar messages in each time slot. Spend time with Cosette Hesselius. Love Cosette Hesselius. Worship Cosette Hesselius. Feed grapes to Cosette Hesselius. Let Cosette Hesselius examine you. Submit to Cosette Hesselius. Belong to Cosette Hesselius. Don’t try to escape from Cosette Hesselius. On and on like that. I get the feelin’ she didn’t take the suggestion of stayin’ friends with benefits very well after all.

So she’s the culprit of my recent embuggerances after all. She did say she was into curses, voodoo and other spooky occult stuff. And she certainly had enough opportunities to get some hair. I’ll just have to straighten her out, then. No Vindicare is going to get the better of me. Besides, I’m just not ready to commit to any sort of relationship anyway.

Yeah. Still not ready for that. Just… I can’t do it, and I wish Cozy would understand that.

Omake: Not My Problem[edit]

"Stupid rock girl."

"Spiritual Liege."

"Why you here?"

"I have a problem, it hangs around my neck like an accursed albatross."

"It about stupid noisy girl, right?"

"Yes, actually. And she has a name-"

"You not even use name for her. How beta is dumb rock girl that she can't call girl by name?"

"What do you mean 'beta'?"

"You not alpha dog, you beta bitch! Letting stupid devil girl take woman from you and pretending you okay with that."

"I don't recall ever speaking about this to you. Or anyone."

"It written all over face! Stupid rock girl acting like lovey dovey teenager when she should know better! Stupid rock girl should be ashamed!"

"My Spiritual Liege, her soul blazes like the hottest sun, shines like the moon in the depths of blackest night!"

"Sure, whatever. She crazy and dumb, you crazy and dumb. It match made in heaven. What you want Xiaomei to do about it? This your problem, not Xiaomei's problem! Stop being beta bitch girl who bother Xiaomei!"


Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Killjoy “Madge"[edit]

Eleanor shocked2.png

It's right outside Madge's office, just when I'm about to knock on her door, that the reality of what I just agreed to hits me and cools my anger. I just promised to scold a superior for something they did to someone I don't know who was close to them. I'm prying into somebody's personal life and telling her what she should be doing when I don't even know anything about her. Other than what I've seen, at least. Though what I've seen does sort of align with what I heard. She was pretty impatient, like she had better things to do.

Still, though, what kind of utter bitch would ignore someone close to them when they're having an emergency, just because it's work hours?

The kind that gets a swanky red vest while I'm stuck in a slutty leotard. The kind that has a cool purple half-cape while I have to go with a hat that gets told it has a wonderful personality. The kind that has a tasteful black knee-length skirt while I'm forced into the bastard child of a set of garters and harem pants. Yeah, I'll be petty and jealous about it. Whatever it takes to get mad. Mad enough to go through with this crazy plan. Mad enough to scold somebody who outranks me and could make me tear off my own arm in terror. Mad enough that I won’t realize how stupid this is. Mad enough to ball up my fists.

Alright, now I’m ready.

I knock on the door a couple times and wait quietly, trembling with what I hope is indignation. I'm saving my words for when I have to say something, because I'd just end up growling while trying to announce that I'm here.

“Come in,” Madge’s voice rings out clearly from behind the door. It makes my stomach tie itself in knots. I’m dreading… something, but it’s not what I already know. It’s what I don’t know, because I have no fucking idea how this meeting is gonna go. And somehow, that’s more important to me than leaving with my mind intact.

I shakily uncurl my fist and grasp the knob. And turn it. And slowly open the door. A bead of sweat nearly reaches my eye after I poke my head in to make sure this is her office. Well, that’s what I tell myself. It was her voice, so of course it’s her office. I’m just trying to find a reason to not be in it because I’m suddenly six years old again, and I’m being escorted to the principal’s office because I bit someone. Except this time, there are no other teachers here, so I have to go it alone. And I think they'd do a lot worse than a spanking here.

What I find is that it’s white. There are white sheets over almost everything. Well, there's a window behind Madge's covered desk, but otherwise-

“I said come in,” repeats Madge patiently, which makes me jump when it… probably shouldn’t. Is this what Suzi meant by her power? Because I see her just sitting there at her desk, her hands hidden behind a divider, and smiling at me, and I’m anxious as hell. It’s every bit as reassuring as a visit to the principal, and it feels I’m in trouble.

Madge dynamic.png

Oh, great, she has glasses now, too. The principal had glasses. She looks a lot prettier than the principal did. Not even the tattoos take away from that. She's prettier than I'll ever be, probably.

...I'm getting distracted again. I have to do this before I forget what I came here to do.

I slowly walk in with my hands clutched over my chest. I probably look so timid it’s stupid. Her Majesty – oh, I get it now – orders, “Please be seated.” She glances toward a small leather chair in front of her desk when she says that.

So I obediently reach out to pull it back – I thought it’d screech on the wood floor, but it slides back quietly - and sit in it, sinking back into the creaky piece of furniture. Huh, look at that - it’s even got armrests. It’d be comfortable if it weren’t for the buttons poking me on the back. At least it’s better than the crappy plastic seats in the actual principal’s office, at least. Those made my butt fall asleep after sitting in them for a while.

…Right, this is not the time to get nostalgic.

My examination of the chair all done, I nervously look back at Madge. I think she finds it amusing, though it’s hard to tell with her smiling all the time.

“Hello,” she greets, her tone more professional than principal. Doesn’t stop the shivers traveling down my neck. I’m not supposed to get spooked every single time she talks, right? “Normally an Eversor evaluation like this would be up to Miss Cress or one of her subordinates, but I wanted to perform this one personally.” She slides her glasses down her nose with one finger before smugly stating, “or rather, I'm certain she's much too rowdy and frightening for someone as sensitive and delicate as you.”

Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence, you smug bitch. I mean, you’re probably right, but you could have put it nicer. I wish I could slump back into this chair even more right now until I sink into it completely.

“Going by your records,” she continues, and I hear the sound of paper shuffling behind the barrier, “I don’t believe you’ve been given an actual evaluation before now.” While glancing down at whatever files she has, she asks me, “do you understand what the purpose of this meeting is, Eleanor?”

Okay. This is it. Focus on being upset. Focus on – no, no, don’t grip the chair too hard or you’ll break it!

...God, this is hard. I’m gonna have some choice words for Suzi later.

I swallow loud enough for Madge to hear. And then take some deep breaths while she patiently waits. I might have done that too quickly, though – I’m feeling dizzy.

“For me-” I start slowly. Madge nods encouragingly. “To tell you,” I continue, and she stops nodding. It’s too late for me to stop now, though. Better see this train wreck all the way to the end. So I finish quickly, blurting out, “-to stop emotionally abusing your girlfriend!” Then I'm panting like I’d just got done running.

Madge’s glasses fall off with a gentle thud on whatever paper’s on her desk. That’s all she does though. No shock on her face from what I can tell. She is staring at me with no more intensity than she had before, and it creeps me out.

I can’t decide whether I wanna grab the armrests until they snap or twiddle my thumbs. Either way, this silence hurts.

“Suzi told me to tell you that,” I explain, because saying something like that out of the blue is bad. “Because Aki called her, and-“

“Fine, fine,” Madge interrupts, letting out a large sigh as she picks the glasses up off the table and slips them back on. “I recognize my failing and will be sure to correct it.” With a bright smile, she tries to steer the conversation away from this. “Right, let’s get back on track.”

Fuck that.

“No,” I tell her.

Clasping her hands up her chin, Madge glares at me without changing her expression. “What do you mean ‘no’?” she asks.

I fold my hands into my lap so I can ball them up without breaking anything. My arm rings dully as it bumps into the armrest, but it's just a distraction. “She said to be persistent,” I insist. “That it’s happened before.”

Her Majesty narrows her eyes at me in irritation. “That really is none of your business,” she tells me, her voice calm, if slightly annoyed.

“I'm making it my business," I growl, though coming from me it's not especially threatening, "because you drink too much and hurt people.”

“You’re being a brat,” she says. Something brushes against my leg and makes me jump in my seat, but looking down, there's nothing there. Something else scuttles at the edge of my vision. When I try to look at it, again, there’s nothing there.

I think she’s just fucking with me now, trying to make me let up and curl up into a ball. And I want to, but I want to do this more. So I keep pressing her, saying, “You yell insults at your girlfriend when you’re drunk.”

There’s nothing sincere about Madge’s smile at this point. It’s… well, its shadows and edges are sharper and darker than they should be. “Eleanor,” she tells me sternly, “you’re ruining what good will I might have toward you.”

It’s now that I become fully aware of how I haven’t stopped sweating since I got here. Though instead of it being the hot sweat that stings your eyes, it’s chilly and makes me shiver when it trickles down. To make things harder for me, my stomach is trying to knot itself in an attempt to make me throw up or something.

My mouth’s going dry, but I keep pressing her, saying, “You… you’re angry. And you're abusive..."

Something tells me I shouldn't finish that sentence. That if I do, bad things are gonna happen. It's... well it feels surreal, like I'm in a dream, and I just somehow -know- that the monster's going to come out to kill me if I open the door. And Her Majesty's looking as monstrous as possible without actually doing anything, her glare hard to meet, but impossible to look away from.

Something tells me I need to shut up.

"...when you drink," I tell her anyway. I nearly throw up in my mouth after finishing it, but I don't mind. I'm still alive, after all.

...Aren't I?

That's when the world goes dark. The office fades to black until there's just nothing there but Madge, the furniture, and me. Right now, nothing else exists. Everything's gone, and we're the only two people left. “And here I thought you were a ssssmart girl,” Madge hisses, her not-smile growing wider. My brain's in a fog, but I recognize that I just fucked up pretty bad. Because the something came out to kill me. I can't see it, but I know it's there. I can feel it, staring at me from everywhere at once. And if I open my mouth again... if I don't do exactly what this person says... if I don't take their words to heart... it'll do it. Not that I have anything to say. Not that I can talk. I don't even have a voice anymore. The monster took it, right? No, that's not what happened. The monster is my voice, and everything else is gone because I talked. Everything is fucking gone because I couldn't shut up, and it tore reality and everything I ever cared about apart, and it's all my fault. It's all my fucking fault and all I can do is silently cry about it or else it'll get me next. Maybe I should just let it, I fucking deserve it, I'm awful. I feel sick to my stomach by how much I fucked up everything. But I have to listen to what Madge says or else things will get even worse and that'll be my fault too.

Eleanor devastated2.png

A shuffling of papers shocks me out of the horror of what I've done, and I focus on Her Majesty with all that I can give. "Now then," she says, her voice echoing across the vast nothing surrounding us, “you’ve made real strides with your Eversor training since the beginning. You’ve done better than I anticipated, as I was certain you would give up by now." I listen closely. I have to. Things won't get better unless I listen. “However, I must warn you against using on rage and painkillers to overcome your injuries." She waves her pen in my face and makes me flinch. I'm sorry. I'll be good. Just bring everyone back. "Relying on pure emotion to overcome pain is not good for you in the long run. It's the easy way, and generally the most risky, and that’s not counting how it makes witching out happen more easily. Not unlike those painkillers, you can become addicted to it if you use it too frequently."

"Do you always want to be angry?" she asks me suddenly. Is it okay for me to speak? Yeah, the monster is in shackles for the moment, I can talk. I just have to answer her questions correctly or else everyone will be gone forever and it'd be all my fault.

With a hoarse whisper, I tell her, "no." She smiles more confidently, and I knew it was the right thing to say. I think it was, anyway. I thought I was supposed to say something else, though, right?

Eleanor tears2.png

"Then don't just rely on anger," she explains. "I understand how asking you to 'just tough it out' might sound harsh, but it is in the best interest of your own well-being to learn how to do just that." I nod eagerly. I won't screw up again. When everything comes back from the monster's gut, I'll do things right this time. I won't have everything disappear, so please let me do this right. “If you must rage, rage in moderation. It’s like alcohol. Have too much of it and you’ll do something retarded.”

Yeah, that's... wait...I was doing something important earlier, right? Something that made the consequences worth it? I don't get it, though. What could be worth everything being shredded apart? I can't remember; something about Madge's girlfriend? Isn't she gone with the rest of everything else unless I do this evaluation? I'm sorry, Miss Madge. I'm so fucking sorry, this is all my fault. Everything's gone unless I do this right and it's all my fault. Except it's not, is it? Isn't this a trick? Suzi warned me about her fucking with my head. This sluggish feeling... this is just a Callidus illusion, right? It has to be. I grab at my cheek and pinch as hard as I can with my mechanical fist. I will all of this to please, please be fake, the pain spiking and giving me some clarity as I nearly tear my mouth open. The monster can't take my voice if it is my voice. How did she get it in shackles? How can she fix things? That makes no sense! None of this makes sense! This isn't real, it's not real, it's not real! None of it's real!

The black space around us fractures and cracks until it silently shatters like glass. The office is here, the outside is here, and everything else is still here.

I pinched my cheek way too fucking hard, though. I can taste blood. But Checkers' trick actually worked. Sort of. I'm still on edge, and I'm breathing like I just survived a car wreck, but fuck all that. And fuck what she said about getting mad, because I am pissed she went as far as she did.

Eleanor angry2.png

"Well," Madge says, "you're just going out of your way to disappoint me today, aren't you?"

"You bitch!" I scream at her, getting an indifferent reaction. "What are you doing?! Is it so much fun to torment people that you can't just make a fucking appointment?! Do you just want to stay a bitch forever?!"

Madge takes off her glasses. She starts buffing them with a cloth and doesn't even look me in the eye when she's talking. "Miss Slam," she says smugly, "if I was tormenting you, I'd be giving a modicum of effort to do so." She gestures towards me. "You saw through a very simple illusion, one that was supposed to steer you towards doing the right thing, because I was trying not to leave you brain-dead and I'm still nursing a hangover," she says, voice full of disdain. "So don't get-"

"SHUT UP!" I yell, spitting up blood on the white sheets covering her desk. I can't tell if she's trying her illusions anymore - my cheek hurts and I'm too busy glaring at her to care about anything skulking around. Fuck you for making me think I broke everything!

Eleanor angryshout2.png

Madge just chuckles at me. "You" she says, pointing at me, "Are telling me" Then points at herself. "What to do?" Her smile twists into a condescending smirk. "You're telling your superior what to do? Do you have a death wish or something?"

I nod back at her, my voice shaking when I ask, "did... did she have a death wish, dating someone who-"

"Not your fucking business, kid," she cuts me off, flipping through the papers on her desk. "I already told you, I will do those things -after- we're done here. And at this rate, you being an annoying, uncooperative little shit is going on your file forever."

I swallow another mouthful of blood and snarl at her, throwing my hands up, "Fine! Fine! Go do that! Can I put 'treats girlfriend like shit' on yours?" Yeah, that was smart.

Her Majesty rubs her temples while probably writing down how I'm the bad guy here. "Why are you still doing this?" she asks tiredly.

I want to say that it's because Suzi told me to, so I can at least get off with a warning instead of being blacklisted from nice things forever. Or because she's being horrible. Rather than do that, I stare at my lap and fiddle with my fingers, murmuring, “It's because I’m a 'crybaby.' I’m a 'scaredy cat.' I’m a 'slacker.' And I 'don’t apply myself.' If I wasn’t so upset about this whole thing I wouldn't have bothered.” I'm starting to feel tired, too. Burnt out, even, as my body starts sagging. “But I feel like I still gotta do this, because if the person I trusted more than anyone else in the world started hurting me whenever-”

Something slams on the desk and makes me jump in my seat. “I did not hurt her, Eleanor," Madge says, not even shouting or anything. I look back at her and... She's the same as she was before. If not for that outburst, I probably wouldn't know I'd hit a sore spot. Unless this whole thing has been a sore spot for her from the start. Me meddling in other people's personal lives...

...I'm gonna hate myself for this, aren't I?

“Are you sure?” I press her. “Would she even tell you?”

Madge stares at me, not moving or blinking. I'm not as good at that, fidgety and nervous as I am, but I don't look away from her. “How is this,” I ask, gesturing toward myself, “more important than her?”

Still no response. She's probably sick of dealing with my shit. I think I crossed the line with that last bit anyway. I let my head slump and try willing the chair to hide me in its creaky embrace.

Shit. I think I fucked up.

“Carol?" Madge says suddenly. "Yeah, it’s Madge.” I glance up and see Her Majesty isn't paying attention to me anymore. She's got a headset on and is typing something into a computer. “I’ve decided to go through with it after all... ... ...Don’t ask... ...Yeah, I'll hold."

“And that's that," Madge says after what seems like forever. A forever full of calls and tick-tacking at a keyboard and appointments being switched around while I sat nervously, waiting for her to scold me as the pain in my cheek and taste of blood slowly goes away.

I still can't believe that worked.

She looks at me and grins. Like, actually grins instead of just fake-smiling. “Don't get me wrong, I’m more than a little pissed off at you, but you did well.”

“Thanks?” I squeak back. Does that mean I'm not going to get yelled at?

“And with all of that finished," Madge says while stretching back in her chair, "we’re about out of time." She looks at the stuff on her desk and starts scribbling something. "If nothing else, this has made your reckless courage all the more apparent. Any idiot can have no fear. They just don’t know what they’re afraid of. Something which is easily fixed.” Pointing her pen at me again, which makes me flinch, she tells me, “you, on the other hand, are afraid of a lot of things, but you don’t let that stop you when you’re blindly determined.”

“Sorry," I say reflexively.

“Don’t you dare apologize when I'm praising you," she scolds, making me try to sink into my chair again. "You’re not in trouble right now, even though you have every reason to be. We’ll just have to try this again tomorrow morning. I’ll send you the details later so you don't forget.”

Madge takes off her glasses and sets them on her desk. "A warning, though," she says, resting her chin on her palms. “Besides the aforementioned dangers of using anger to fuel you, you won’t always have a strong enough emotion to power through something terrible, so don’t become overly reliant on it.” I nod along with this. “Master the conventional approach to enduring as soon as possible, and use your anger sparingly. Keep it at a slow simmer instead of a roaring blaze.”

Eleanor smile2.png

“Understood!” I tell her. I guess I need to work on getting motivated.

That seems good enough for her. She sits back up, takes the glasses off her desk, and puts them in a little case. “Now, take these,” she explains. “And wait until you get back to your room before you use them unless you want them to melt.”

“Why would it melt?” I ask her, taking the box as she hands it to me. And what are they for?

“Because our Vindicare Rank Leader, Miss Contra is going to be more hands-on today,” Her Majesty answers mysteriously. “And now, our time is up." Gesturing towards the door, she tells me, "You are dismissed, Miss Slam."

Only now fully aware of how much I have sunken into this chair, I drag myself out of it and try not to look like I was just psychologically tortured for being nosy. “Good-bye, Your Majesty!” I say with a smile, heading for the door. “And good luck!”

She just chuckles before I shut the door behind me.

Omake: Route[edit]

"You promised, remember?"

"Tranquilizers aren't experiments, though. I already have a pretty good idea of what happens. She'll be out like a light for a few hours."

"Your logic is flawless, sister."

"Stop doing that thing!"

"I'm only affirming that you've successfully taken advantage of somebody who started to trust you."

"Well she's dumb for doing that anyway. Not that it matters since I'm on her route now."

"You can still end up getting a bad end if you don't treat this delicately."

"Delicate shmellicate, she's indestructible."

"You know what I-"

"Not listening! Now help me find my apron, I'm gonna prepare an awesome breakfast."

"What about the other woman?"

"Eurotrash girl? What about her?"


"I mean you can have her if, like, you're into that sort of thing, but Crunchy's all mine~."

"If you say so, sister. Here."

"No, no, not that aproooon! I want -that- aproooon!"

"This one? Aren't you moving things along too quickly?"

"Jade, Jade, Jade, when have I ever been wrong?"

"Are you seriously-"

"Don't answer that. Just know that I've got this one in the bag~."

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Pyromancer Belinda "Blue" Contra[edit]

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Miss Bel's class takes place out on the firing range again. Outside, in the scary, not-city parts of Australia. Full of stuff like poisonous spiders and drop bears. At night, with only a few people carrying flashlights. And with no sign of Miss Bel herself.

Maybe the wild animals are put off by how much this place smells like smoke and gunpowder. Or by all the craters and scorch marks left around. How can the Sixth hide something like this? Don't people notice all the explosions here?

Like the one that happened just now: a sudden fireball that appeared out of nowhere, briefly illuminated everything, and then dispersed on its own. Revealing an unscathed Vindicare Rank Leader inside of it, and making the almost-dozen novice Eversors, myself included, and the few other girls from other ranks nearly piss ourselves as we focus our flashlights on her. Yesterday she just showed up in some kind of military uniform. Now she has a cape and shit and appears in a burst of fire.

With a self-satisfied smile on her face, Miss Bel greets us. Loudly. "Goooooood evening, ladies, and welcome to the last leg of training for the day! For those of you that skipped out yesterday, I am the one and only Belinda Contra, a.k.a. Miss Blue, your Vindicare Rank Leader!" But I'm sure that everybody that was here last night is here now...

She holds out her hand, and an orb of fire the size of a basketball materializes in it with a 'whoosh.' "And I'm very hotly passionate about fire!" she exclaims. She holds it up and slants her arms at an angle, letting it roll down her shoulders to her other arm. "In fact, I like fire a lot more than I like any of you!" Then she catches it with her other hand and holds it up on the tip of her finger. All without breaking eye contact with us. "So do what I say, or I'll burn you to death, okay, kids♥?"

...The ball just turned into a heart shape.

All of us nod in unison.

"Fantastic!" Miss Bel... Miss Blue exclaims, clapping her hands together, the orb winking out of existence. "So!" she says suddenly, both of her hands ablaze while she starts gesticulating. "Tonight I'm going to teach you brats about regeneration, something any sparkly can do!"

Wait, seriously? Anybody? Apparently she guessed at what I was thinking, going on to explain, "Even a Vindicare or a Vanus can pull it off. It's just that Eversors have a better healing factor by design." She splits into the second-smuggest grin I've seen all day, adding, "Well, usually." I just blinked, and she suddenly has a knife in her hand, the fires having disappeared. I drop my flashlight, because it's literally in her hand. She just fucking stabbed herself in the hand. I heard the sound of it piercing her flesh, and it's run all the way through to the other side.

Waiting a few seconds, still grinning as if this isn't something completely messed up, Miss Blue yanks the knife out and stows it in her inventory. She holds up her hand for all of us to see - though I have to squint a little. And all that's there is a black mark. No blood, no wound, just a black thing. Soon that's gone, too.

She is absolutely showing off tonight.

"Anyway," Miss Blue continues while I fumble with the flashlight on the ground, "what nobody told you yet is that your healing ability can be trained and harnessed, until you can do it faster, with less magic spent, and without conscious effort." When I have it pointed back at her, her hands are burning again. "And from what I've found, the best way to train it is to inflict a lot of little injuries repeatedly over a short period of time..."

No. Please no. Please don't be what I think it is.

A large column of fire erupts behind her, drawing gasps from all of us trainees. "That's why we're following last night's live fire drills with tonight's live fire drills... with tonight's live fire drills! With actual, live fire!"

...Okay, no. No. I resolved I was going to try harder but this... just fuck this. Fuck this with a rake. If I ran now, there's no way any of them could catch me. If I could just make my legs move, I could be out of here and back in bed. I can handle being scolded or having my nightmares come after me, but fuck this. Fire -hurts-!

Miss Blue doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with this insanity, and keeps talking. "First I'm going to non-fatally burn you, and you lot will heal your burns using your regenerative ability. Then I'll ignite you again, and we repeat the whole process for about an hour." I look at the others for some voice of dissent or something. And it's not there. Holy shit, some of them actually look eager. What is wrong with these people?!

"Everybody ready?" No. "Good! Now let's start this off-" the psycho pyromaniac stretches her arms out in front of her and makes a finger gun gesture using both hands "-with a BANG!"

On 'BANG', Miss Blue makes a shooting motion with her finger gun and a small fireball is 'shot' from her hand at a random girl. It hits her and explodes, the girl screaming as she bursts into flames.

Then another girl is pegged with a fireball. And another. And another. Miss Blue kept going while everyone was distracted, still making that obnoxious gesture. The air fills with heat, smoke, and tortured screaming- well, okay, some of them are laughing. I move away from those people.

Then Miss Blue focuses her attention on me, and winks.

...I throw my hands up in surrender, but I'm not quick enough. The fireball impacts my chest and explodes.

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"FUCK!" I screech. Excruciating pain makes my body lock up completely as the flames spread. The costume I hate so much only acting as fuel for the blaze to cover almost every part of my body. Everything gets blurry from the heat, or from the lack of oxygen, the air full of the smell of burnt meat.

"Hey, do you hear that?" Miss Blue's voice snaps me out of staring at nothing. "The fire's saying you need to try harder! If you're still burning, you don't want it bad enough! Try not being on fire!"

What the FUCK kind of STUPID BULLSHIT SENTIMENT IS THAT?! I'd be ALL OVER NOT BEING ON FIRE RIGHT NOW IF IT WAS THAT EASY! I just want to scream at how FUCKING UNFAIR this whole FUCKING RETARDED exercise is! SO I FUCKING DO THAT! "FUCK YOU!" I roar at the pyromaniac! Everybody's staring at me but I DON'T FUCKING CARE right now, I'm sick of being DUMPED ON by these-

"There you go, then!" Miss Blue cheers, turning to everyone else before she says, "See that right there? You CAN stop being on fire through force of will, so don't give me any of that 'stop, drop, and roll' crap!"

What just happened? I'm not burning anymore? Everything still hurts like hell, but I don't see any remaining trace of a fire besides badly singed clothes. My anger cools in a flash - damn, I wasn't supposed to rely on anger - and I start to feel tired again.

Looking at it, the damage isn't even that severe. The skin's peeled in some spots, but it just looks like a bad sunburn.

"Good job, kid! Now focus on not being burned!" Miss Blue gives vague instructions and a thumbs up, then goes back to deal with everyone else. Leaving me here feeling even more exposed than usual in this getup. At least everyone else appears too busy to stare at me.

Okay. I got this far. I just have to give it my all and... Focus.

I tune out everything else, like the stink of burned hair and flesh, and the noises of girls screaming and laughing. Turning out everything other than the pain, which seems to be lessening - thank you painkillers, sorry Miss Madge. With my not-burned metal arm, I focus the flashlight on the tender, red thing that is my left arm. Then I focus my thoughts.

Focus on not being burned. Imagine what it used to look like. Try to remember what it was before.




Nothing's happening. Gotta try harder. Focus on not being burned... Send your magic to your arm... Imagine it mending...

It's not working... am I doing it wrong?

I keep trying, though I glance up every so often, seeing Miss Blue lighting other kids on fire again after they've healed their wounds. I'm falling behind.

Sometimes I catch Miss Blue looking in my direction. And each time she's smiling a little less.

An hour flies by, and soon the only ones left are Miss Blue and I after I insisted she stay behind. She's been entertaining herself by talking to a fireball in her hand. Me, I'm still trying to make my skin mend and stop being red. It's starting to hurt again.

Suddenly, she lets out a tremendous sigh of disappointment. "Okay, kid," she says, gesturing to me as the fire disappears and she pulls out a clipboard and pen, "I have important things I need to do, soooo I'm marking you down with an F before going back."

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"Please don't!" I beg her, trying to make my skin mend itself somehow. "I swear I can-"

"No, see, we're done here, kid," she interrupts, glaring at me disdainfully. "Everybody else has already tapped into their power and been sent home, and I've stayed behind for fifteen minutes watching you wince from first degree burns." After she jots down her notes, she starts walking back and motions for me to follow behind her.

"You have the weakest healing factor I've ever seen," she continues as I start my walk of shame back to the Officio behind her, flashlight trained on her the entire time. "It's like it's not even there. And that wasn't mentioned in your profile, but giving up sure is."

"But I was trying!" I insist, trying not to cry again. If I can't do this, then it means going back to paperwork and everything everybody did for me was meaningless! I have to do it!

"If you were trying, then you'd be healing!" Miss Blue suddenly shouts, sounding irritated. "But you didn't, so you failed! And I have to say, that was unbelievably disappointing! After what I'd seen you do, I was expecting good things from you, y'know?"

"I swear I was trying!" I tell her again, almost tugging at her cape so she'd turn around and look at me when she's writing me off like this. It can't end here. Not like this. Not after coming this far.

Miss Blue glances over her shoulder, and then lets out another loud, exasperated sigh. "Okay, okay," she says, "this is just a shot in the dark, but are you on any medication?"

"No," I answer her.

"Kind of a shocker, really," she says under her breath, and then asks, "Have you been taking any drugs?"

"No," I repeat, wishing it was so simple.

"Legal drugs?" she presses, "Analgesics?"

"Miss Madge told me to stop doing that this morning."

"Then it sucks to be you, because-"

I stop in my tracks as sadness washes over me like a sudden flood.

"I didn't," I confess. "I took some before I got here." Because the rest of the time before the last training exercise of the day (other than dinner) is always spent doing drills. So many goddamn drills. Run this course, climb this wall, crawl this trench, jump this gap, carry this weight, hit this target, navigate this maze, save this person, block this attack. I didn't think I'd be able to move my legs without taking one, considering how it went last night. Even though I was told not to do it.

I fucked up again because I couldn't listen to people.

"I'm sorry," I mumble, too ashamed to speak up or stop staring at my feet. "I didn't mean to-"

Eleanor tearysmile2.png

"Well, that'll do it, then." I jump as Miss Blue's voice comes from right next to me - when did she sneak up on me like that? "I'm not going to bore you with the science of it, but your healing ability is hampered when you use painkillers." She glares at me through the flashlight beam. "It says so right on the- Oh, right, untrained Vanus. Anyway, those are for emergency use only, like to stop someone from witching out due to severe pain."

"So I fucked up," I mumble.

She breaks into a smile and pats me on the shoulder, making me flinch a little. "To be honest I'm kind of glad that's probably all it is. I mean, were you using that last night, before the live fire exercises?"

I shake my head, and she breams wider. "Then you took getting shot at a lot better than most of the people there did," she exclaims. I try to correct her, but she interrupts me, saying, "Yeah, I could tell you had help and knew what you were doing, and that's fine! There's more to it than just knowing the trick." She clenches her fist, and her grip on my shoulder starts to hurt. "It takes willpower to keep going! Even if you weren't the best, I was actually pretty impressed you lasted as long as you did!" She finally lets go, and starts scratching at the back of her head. "And after you actually turned down getting out early... weeeell I like rooting for the underdog if you catch my drift."

But I only stopped trying because I got shot in the head and died.

"But yeah," Miss Blue continues, not reading my thoughts, "spite's a powerful motivator. Whether it's your peers or your instructor, do better than they think you can." Making a grand gesture towards me, she shouts encouragingly, "Believe in yourself, kid, because nobody else will!"

...That is the least inspirational thing I've heard in a while. I was doing it for the cash prize, anyway.

She sniggers and slaps me on the back, "I'm just messing with you," she teases.

...That hurt.

"I know you said you were in it for the money. I can respect that," she clarifies, and resumes walking back to the Officio building. "There's no consolation prizes, though. You either go big or go home."

"But I only stopped trying because I got shot in the head and died," I murmur. And yelp when a gout of fire erupts a few inches in front of me. I stumble back and fall down before the fire disappears, Miss Blue having put some distance between her and myself.

"You got a problem with how I run things?!" she shouts from up ahead.

"No!" I shout back in response, not like I have much of choice after that display. I have to jog to catch up with her, wincing every so often because of my injuries. Burns sucks.

Miss Blue snorts once I've gotten close again. "Yeah, that's what I thought," she says in satisfaction. "So you're not at the 'keep going after a head wound' level yet. You'll get there if you practice."

"Practice?" You can practice surviving getting shot in the head?

She nods, but doesn't elaborate. Instead, she orders, "For tonight, though, wait for the drugs to wear off and then try to heal your burns on your own."

"Okay," I mumble again. Really not looking forward to that.

"Come on, cheer up!" Miss Blue exclaims, not liking my tone. She turns to look at me again, grinning widely, as if she's really proud of something. "We're shooting guns tomorrow! You like guns, right?"

I shake my head. "Guns kinda scare me," I tell her. Guns in video games are one thing, but having that kind of power in your hands just... makes me feel like I'd do something I'd regret.

Miss Blue hisses through her teeth. "Oh, that sucks," she states. She looks at me with eyes full of pity for all of a moment, and then asserts, "Then you'd better get over it by tomorrow night, kid!" Yet again, she walks off, making a gesture over her shoulder. "And you still failed today, though if you're all better next time I see you, I'll stick a note by it."

"'nks," I tell her. For the last bit, anyway. For the rest... why the fuck does an Eversor need a gun?

"Don't sweat it, kid."

After that, the rest of the walk back is mostly silent. Miss Blue hums something to herself the majority of the way, but I don't really ask her about it.

Once we're back into the Officio, I'm struck by an idea. And I start trying to think of something, besides how much the burns bother me. Something to ask her. Because I have the opportunity, and there has to be something that she can tell me. She's not an Eversor, but she stabbed herself without flinching. There has to be a trick to it.

It's just before we're about to part ways when it comes to me.

I clear my throat to get her attention, and pose what I think is the most important question I can think of: "Miss Blue? How do I deal with all the aches and pains that come from extended training, without... any kind of help?"

Miss Blue thinks for a second, and then shrugs. "You do what I did," she says plainly. "You get good. Then you get really good. And then... you get good enough to stand with the 'pure' Eversors without feeling ashamed of yourself." That sounds like a hell of a stretch, but she sounds serious. "Once you can do the 'Official Officio Bare Minimum Daily Workout' without your costume, daily drills get a lot easier."

I can barely do that -with- my costume. That... might explain a lot, really.

I nod gratefully and tell her, "I'll tr- I mean, I'll do that, then." I offer up a sincere smile of gratitude.

Miss Blue takes it. "Good. See you tomorrow, kid." Then, with a flourish of her cape, she leaves me to head back to my room on my own.

...I really hope she wasn't pulling my leg there.

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus The Nakajima Sisters Plus Valentina Tenko[edit]

Heather hotblood.png

My eyes flutter open as a tantalizing smell rouses me from my slumber. Awake, I fling off the covers, stand up and STREEEETCH - feeling oddly groggy right now - and then open my eyes as I prepare to start the day! ...This is not my room. This is NAKAJIMA'S ROOM!? Also OTHER NAKAJIMA'S ROOM?! What happened? Why am I here? What did I DO last night? WHAT DID -THEY- DO LAST NIGHT?!!

Heather ohshit.png

I pat myself down and do a quick check of my person and belongings. I find my nightie is not out of place, my underwear is still intact, and there are no mysterious injuries or anything like that... That's right; I was watching Tounosaman with the Nakajimas. And Nakajima fell asleep before I did... and I let her sleep on my shoulder. It was just so...

...Anyway, for now, I, myself, appear to be COMPLETELY FINE! In fact, I was TUCKED INTO BED from my sitting position before! Moreover, that smell from earlier... it's the smell of steak sizzling on a skillet somewhere! I bet it's those maids preparing breakfast right now!

Heather sogood.png

So you doubted them, taunts that voice in my mind, and thought they would do you harm, after all that they did to pull you out of your stupor. Yes, voice in my head, I did doubt them in spite of everything they did last night. That is why I'm going to try to make it up to them today. I am going to go OUT OF MY WAY to NOT be a bitch towards the Nakajimas! Nakajima herself, especially.

That is NOT the same as accepting her advances, though! I am just going to keep my temper in check and give her the benefit of the doubt, THAT IS ALL! It is the very LEAST I can do!

FIRST, however, I must get ready!

Heather smile.png

In hindsight, singing in the shower was probably overdoing it. They might have been able to HEAR me, and THAT would be embarrassing! I was just in such a good mood - for REAL this time - I could hardly help it! Today it feels as though my worries are not so worrisome that they can get to me!

Going back to my room to change - fling the door open, because WHY NOT - I see my residence looks just as I left it before. My important personal effects and figures are SAFE! Or very LIKELY safe! They LOOK safe enough from here. I can investigate further sometime later if I am feeling suspicious. Benefit of the doubt and all that.

Oh, but there IS something out of place here! That MANNEQUIN wasn't there before, and the MAID UNIFORM that COVERS IT was DIRTY and WRINKLED before! NOW, however, it's as CRISP and CLEAN as though it were brand new. So that means the Nakajimas DID get into my room... but maybe this was all that they did. Put this here in the hope that I might wear it now that it looks presentable again.

Heather areyousure.png

I mean, I WAS going to change into some clothes I bought from the city, but... sure, why not? I KNOW I look good in that costume.

I shouldn't linger though, or else the food will get cold! With that sense of URGENCY in mind, I SPRING INTO ACTION! NIGHTIE OFF, FANCY UNDERWEAR -ON-! SOCKS! MAID OUTFIT! APRON! CHOKER! SHOES! BOW! AND I'LL FORM THE HEADDRESS! ...Just kidding~. All I formed was my soul gem over the bow. A BURNING RED to contrast with the blue ribbon. Perfect!

Heathermaid featherdusterthatpiercestheheavens.png

All dressed up with somewhere to go, I go somewhere. Namely, to the dining room, where the food probably is! My shoes click-clack in a rhythm on the hardwood flooring. My stride and bearing are IMPECCABLE on this GLORIOUS DAY! Almost as glorious as ME! HAH!

I can make out other smells now that I am drawing closer. Smells like... pancakes and hashbrowns. That's right; I was going to ask how to make pancakes and hashbrowns like the Nakajimas at some point. I should do that today. Sometime AFTER eating them, though.

At LAST, I step into the dining room to make my GRAND ENTRANCE! Throwing my arms WIDE and ANNOUNCING, "GOOD..."

My eyes widen in shock and awe! "...GOD!" I finish.

Heathermaid outofservice.png

What covers the dining room table does not look like breakfast. Rather, it looks like a banquet. A feast, even. Something that put the other meals they made to shame in its magnitude. Something that should have taken more than just a few hours to prepare. The wall clock says it is seven in the morning, and I saw her fall asleep at about two... so how did they make all this in such a short period of time? Are they even human?

The size of the meal wouldn't be an issue, though. I could finish most of it on my own if I kept at it. I find myself walking closer to it, drawn to it like a car accident. It doesn't look BAD - in fact, it looks amazing and it's making my mouth water. The meat is still hot enough to be sizzling, and the entire meal smells wonderful... But it feels like if I eat this, I'm implying agreement towards something. Something I don't actually want. Or at least I don't WANT to want it. Yes, the food itself is fine. It's how it's been PREPARED that's giving me pause!

Heathermaid thisisntmyserviceatall.png

For the entirety of the meal looks like something out of the 'Waifu Special' back at the Ninth. Except on a grander scale, and with breakfast foods, and probably a LOT more enjoyable to eat than the packed lunch. If I could bring myself to even touch it.

Reaching the table and taking hold of a chair, I hesitate to sit, preferring to stand with the chair as a shield between me and... This. At this end of the table is an empty plate, a napkin, silverware, and a tall glass of what I assume is a smoothie, with two straws put in it. It's very... pink. Looking past that, I see a plate with stacks of toast covered with a thin spread of strawberry jam in the shape of puckered lips. A ways down, half a dozen bacon and egg biscuit sandwiches, cut into heart shapes, lay arranged on another plate. There is a stack of pancakes with an impression that looks like a smiling super-deformed Nakajima face, garnished with strawberry hearts. A juicy looking breakfast steak bears 'Amber x Crunchy' written on it in sauce. A bouquet of flowers made of carved fruit on skewers dominates the center, with a couple of apple bunnies posed to look like they are gnawing on the 'stems'. Heart-shaped cinnamon rolls glazed with frosting wait at the far end of the table.

If it had just looked normal, I would be praising the Nakajimas for the effort they put into it. And I would actually be eating it instead of treating it like a minefield. But as it is, this feel like a trap. If I sat down for this meal, they'd believe I'm implying that this whole lovey-dovey theme is reasonable.

What happened to benefit of the doubt, sneers that voice in my head. And it raises a good point.

Deep breath... Okay, calm down, Crunch. Just because it being a set-up is the most LIKELY reason for... all of this... does not make it the correct one. Yeah, let's not cut ourselves on Occam's Razor. After all, it... it could just be Nakajima's way of, uh, making sure I am still in good spirits. She's trying to make sure I am not still in the DOLDRUMS as I was BEFORE. Or maybe she's just TEASING me again in her own Nakajima-y way, as she is wont to do.

Heathermaid thatsbullshitbutillserveyou.png

And on the off chance that it -is- what it looks like... well, that's no reason to be terrified of a meal or scream in her face. This may just be a misunderstanding. I mean, I admit I do like her, but I'm not sure I like her enough to go through with this kind of thing! I'm still not sold on the concept of romance in relation to myself! Besides, it's just food. I am not obligated to do anything after eating this meal.

...Look at me, cowering behind a chair because the implications of the breakfast buffet intimidate me. That's no way for an Eversor Rank Leader of the Sixth Officio to behave. I've been making myself look rather pitiful lately, haven't I? Stop sniveling and show some backbone, me! I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED BY THE LIKES OF YOU, BREAKFAST FOODS! I would tell you to prepare yourself, BUT SOMEBODY ALREADY PREPARED YOU FOR ME!

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I let go of the chair and grab the plate, marching around the table to take a sample of -every single item-. Soon my plate starts to get CROWDED, and I add things on top of other things! Building a pyramid out of my meal! Following a sudden stroke of genius, I use one of the fruit skewers at the top to hold it together! The structure wobbles as I take my plate back to my seat, but it does NOT fall! No, my tottering tabletop Tower of Babel - more like Tower of BAGEL - DOES NOT CRUMBLE! NO, it falls only at MY whims!

I start out this feast with an egg and bacon sandwich. Taking a few tentative bites, I conclude that it is probably the best breakfast sandwich I have eaten in memory. Were this not reality, I would probably be overcome with a food-based hallucination. If all of it is this good, then...

Suddenly everything goes dark. "Guess who~?" chirps my mysterious assailant as an increasingly familiar softness presses against the back of my head. Slender, gentle hands cover my eyes, and a scent that I recognize identifies her immediately.

So it -is- teasing. I put up a front of having to think it over, 'hmm'ing and 'huh'ing, which makes her giggle, and then ask, "Is it... NAKAJIMAAAA?!"

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"Ding ding ding ding ding! You got it in one!" Nakajima sings, removing her hands from my eyes but still caressing the side of my head. "Soooo, whatcha think of my 'Totally on the Crunchy Route Good End Breakfast Bonanza?'" In a very proud tone, she adds, "I made it myself~!" The rubbing is somewhat distracting. And so is having her chest pushed against the back of my head. It doesn't feel so bad, though. It's kind of nice.

But not -too- nice.

"Actually, that IS impressive," I admit. "How did you manage?"

Nakajima giggles, causing some... motion against my head. "That's a secret~," she whispers, IGNITING MY INDIGNATION!

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"GOD-" No, no, that's a dumb thing to get mad over. Just... calm down. Calm down and try not to scream. Even though she's pushing your buttons again, it is not an adequate reason to launch any Interconversational Bitchlistic Missiles today. Show some restraint and dignity. "So," I start, forcing a smile, "the 'Totally on the Crunchy Route Good End Breakfast Bonanza'?" I gesture towards the aforementioned thing I mentioned afore. "Am I correct in assuming that the name is reference to dating sim routes and endings?"

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Nakajima starts playing with my hair and it's freaky how not freaked out I am about it. "Yeppers!" She chirps. "We shared a touching bonding moment thing, a pivotal event, so now I'm on your route. I'm just hurrying it along towards the 'good end' now and fast forwarding through the boring bits~." Do not go to Bitchcon 1. It is not worth it.

"Like character development, plot resolution, and the actual climax of the story?" I state as bluntly as I can manage.

She doesn't even stop to consider it before she gives her response: "I miiiiiight slow down for the sex scenes." Maybe she missed my sarcasm. It's fine. It's -fine-! Do NOT enable the bitch missiles over it!

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"So you're doing all of this to hurry along our relationship from 'friends' to... 'Lovers'?" "Wow, right again," she says, her voice expressing genuine surprise in a way that makes my soul hurt. "Did you skip your stupid pills this morning?" Don't yell! Don't get angry! Don't do it! That was probably supposed to be a compliment! Do NOT go through the BITCH LAUNCH STEPS! You can't undo something like that!

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I pull her hands OFF of me - do it GENTLY! - and lean forward to FREE my head from her bosom! I do not think that what I need to say would have very much IMPACT if I remained where I was! "Listen, Nakajima, I think there has been a SERIOUS misunderstanding here!" I explain, staring at the tower of food I made instead of her face. "I mean, I thought we both agreed that love is -stupid-?!"

"Yyyyyyyeeeeaaaahhhhh, but we're skipping that stuff to get to the fun parts," she says, sounding irritated. OKAY! Just because she doesn't GET IT and is being INSENSITIVE does not make it OKAY to be a PRICK! Do NOT turn the BITCH LAUNCH KEYS! STAND THE HELL -DOWN-!

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"It's NOT just that I'm not really...COMFORTABLE with romance!" I attempt to explain in exasperation to my increasingly oblivious adversary! "I'm just not READY for this! Or a relationship in GENERAL!" I throw my hands up in the air and sigh loudly, hopefully HAMMERING the point home with "In fact I really can't say I WANT one at this point! Not even with YOU!"

I THINK she got it. She's being quiet. Being shot down probably hurts - and it hurts to shoot her down - but she NEEDS to understand that it wouldn't-

"So," Nakajima murmurs, her voice sad and trembling, "you don't like me?"


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Nakajima is completely naked save for her headband, a set of lacy garters, and a white apron. A white apron that is clinging closely to her modest frame. And a hungry, leering smile on her face.

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"...N a k a j i m a ?" I murmur, my voice feeling hoarse and weak. Which just makes her laugh.

"Finally got you to turn around," Nakajima taunts, grabbing the hem of the apron. "Go on, drink it all in. Then try and tell me you don't want summa' this." With deliberate slowness, she starts to pull the hem up higher. Exposing more of her slender legs. And, as my heart starts pounding loud enough for me to hear it, she stops just short of being indecent. "Ahhh, this apron is so comfy~," she teases, swaying in place. "Feels like I'm wearing nothin' at all~."

This is going beyond just screwing with me. This is actually heading towards the goal of just plain -screwing- me. I pick my jaw up off the floor long enough to argue, "Y... y-you ARE wearing-"

"Nothin' at all~," she interrupts, turning slightly to let me see that, yes, she isn't wearing anything underneath.

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My knees feel weak. As if the mounting lust burning inside me had a physical weight. The ugly beast that is my libido sniffs at the air. Its drool starts to pool beneath it. It STRAINS at its shackles and RATTLES the bars of its cage! It ROARS for RELEASE! I start pleading with both it and Nakajima, begging, "Stop-"

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"Nothin' at all~," she says once more, wiggling her backside at me. I try so hard, so very hard, to keep my eyes trained on her face. But the allure, the temptation to look, is just too strong. The notion that things might not be as bad as I make myself believe them to be erodes away at any arguments I try to muster. This is bad; right now I really want to jump her bones so hard it's not funny. My self-control is slipping, like I picture my own hands sliding down her-

What the hell are you doing, snaps the voice in my head, stealing my attention from everything else. Are you even trying anymore, it taunts. That's right, I need to remember that this is something that I should not be doing!

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Feeling returns to my limbs as I clench the hem of my dress. Nakajima looks surprised when I scream, "EXCUSE ME!" and push past her. Running as fast as I can in this getup. Running towards... somewhere that Nakajima isn't.

Why this? I really WAS trying not to be upset with her! And it worked TOO WELL! I fell right into her trap! She almost took ADVANTAGE of me back there! How did she know my weakness for naked aprons? I never told that to anyone!

So much for benefit of the doubt! I -doubt- I'll be able to get the image out of my head! And she had her chest pressed against my head, and I -touched- her and... AGH! Goddammit, Nakajima, what are you DOING?!

"The Seeker of Wisdom graces me with her unrivaled splendor once more," calls out a voice to my left, stopping me in my tracks. The Soul Temperer steps out of the shadows, wearing a cocky grin and, fortunately, her entire magical girl get-up. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" she asks in her normal, her blessedly normal way. I never thought I'd be so happy to see her.

Unfortunately, my patience for stupid conversations is running low today. "I'm -staying- here!" I tell her, pointing out the obvious, THEN explaining it even MORE clearly with a foot stomp and a sweep of my hand: "This is where I SLEEP

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Though her smile doesn't fade, the wind is clearly knocked out of her sails. "Right," she affirms. Flipping her hair with her hand, she poses, and poses a question: "But are you really here?"

...Right, this is making my head hurt. Maybe I should just go take shelter at the Seventh. Or I could go find Other Nakajima and see if she can help me sort through this madness. At least these distractions are helping to take my mind off of...

And I found her. Stepping out from behind the towering figure of the Soul Temperer, her cheeks tinged a slight shade of pink. "Hello," she murmurs demurely, staring at her bare feet while she pulls at-

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"You too?!" I exclaim, despair creeping into the core of my being. Even SHE is only wearing an apron, stockings, and her headband! "WHY?! I thought you were the REASONABLE one!" I point at her in accusation. She shrinks back as I demand, "EXPLAIN YOURSELF!"

Still unable to look me in the eyes, my impeccable observation abilities espy the Soul Temperer nudging her in the ribs. As if reading from a script, Other Nakajima speaks in a deadpan, telling me, "...It's much cooler. You ought to try it."

I glare at her with irritation. Fidgeting, Other Nakajima glances at the Soul Temperer. "She asked me to say it,” she confirms. The Soul Temperer makes finger guns toward Other Nakajima, who flushes a deeper shade of red. It actually makes her look...

"FOUL LIBIDO, get BACK in your CAGE where you BELONG!" I snarl at myself. Forcing that THING out of mind! I WILL have ORDER and CONTROL! I WILL -NEVER- LET IT HAVE ITS WAY! I WOULD SOONER -DIE- THAN-

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...Oh, right, I have an audience here. I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Okay, that's... that's not important," I say, ignoring their confusion at my outburst. "Why ARE you here, Soul Temperer?!"

Thrusting her chest out with pride – and there is a LOT there to thrust - the Soul Temperer enigmatically proclaims, "I am as a leaf on the wind, Seeker of Enlightenment! I go where I please, and land where I want." This time it's her turn to point at myself - I don't flinch. "Today, I landed here, to see you."

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"Fair enough," I admit, shrugging. "Here I am, then. Did you need to speak to me about something?"

With a nudge of encouragement from Other Nakajima, the Soul Temperer steps forward and drops to one knee before me. Eyes brimming with resolve for something, she says, "I must confess, Seeker of Enlightenment. I am-"

"There you are, Crunchyyy~!" Nakajima exclaims from behind me, sending a jolt up my spine and eliciting a look of displeasure from the Soul Temperer. How did I not hear her coming? How did I not notice her?! This situation has become REALLY DANGEROUS! I look towards the others for assistance, both of whom seem put off by her sudden entrance, but I'm too late! She already has her hand on my shoulder! "C'mon, lemme ride your caboose~!"

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Without even thinking about it, I reach back and grab her arm with both hands. Years of Eversor training manifest as I pull her forward and lift her. And then HEAVE her over my back and SLAM her into the ground! Nakajima looks almost as shocked as I feel right now. And in pain.

"As satisfying as that was to watch," the Soul Temperer says, drawing my attention to her perturbed expression, “that also seemed excessive, as though you ripped a door from its hinges to swat a bothersome mosquito.”

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...I didn't mean to do that. I just felt pressured, like I'd been backed into a corner, and...

"I tried to warn her that this would happen," explains Other Nakajima, followed by a heavy sigh. She seems disappointed. Is she disappointed in me, or in her sister?

You can be really terrible, the voice chides.

This wasn't my fault, right? Right?

Of course not, it sneers, she slipped and fell on the floor on her own.

Almost afraid of what sort of response I will get, I ask Nakajima, "Are you alright?" and offer my hand to help her off the ground.

She takes it. "Immortal," she affirms, then groans. "Effin' hurts, though." Standing back upright, her demeanor is noticeably less... sprightly than it was. Was she -that- disappointed by how I reacted? I just didn't want anything to do with love or romance or whatever, not to -hurt- her! Goddammit, I need to apologize properly for this!

"I didn't mean to do that!" I shout. That is NOT a proper apology! "It was an accident!" I try to elaborate. This earns me disappointed glares from everyone gathered, which cut FAR deeper than any blade. “It was an instinctive response! Eversor conditioning! COMBAT REFLEXES!” I explain, still not apologizing, still making excuses, still earning withering glares from all those assembled. Why can't I just say that I'm sorry?! Why is this so HARD?!

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"Jerk,” spits Nakajima, “I was only teasing."

“Teasing?” I ask with incredulity, and Nakajima nods as if I had asked if 2+2=4. "THIS was -teasing-?" I ask again, gesturing towards general direction of the dining room. At least call it a PRANK instead of teasing! And AGAIN she nods as though it were obvious!

“Also excessive,” observes the Soul Temperer, hand on her chin in thoughtful reflection, “like a mating ritual that-”

“Butt out, Eurotrash!” interrupts Nakajima, trying to shove the Soul Temperer away. The Soul Temperer doesn't give an inch, which only frustrates Nakajima even more. Though she's not as frustrated as I am right now.

“All of this?” I ask, just for the sake of clarity. Nod. “ALL OF IT?!” I ask again, because I STILL can't believe it. Nod. “JUST -TEASING-?!” I ask once more, as if it'd get a different response this time.

"Gawwwwd, yes! It's just teasing!" exclaims an irritated Nakajima, stamping her feet and balling up her fists. If THIS is teasing, I'd hate to see what happens when she gets SERIOUS!

Which means she wasn't serious after all. I feel angry, relieved, and oddly saddened at the same time. It really wasn't that it was BAD, it's just...

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“I have to agree with the Soul Temperer,” I admit, “all of this was VERY EXCESSIVE! I mean, yeah, my response... was...” I trail off, because Nakajima looks as though I slapped her in the face. Even though I tried so hard not to be a bitch today. “Er, are you-”

That look disappears as soon as I ask, replaced with an expression of boredom. Groaning like a child who was scolded for doing something fun, Nakajima sticks out her tongue and says, "man, if you're all gonna be like that, maybe I should just go call Sayaka instead of hanging out with you losers."

"Sayaka?" I ask slowly, feigning ignorance. Because I don't want it to be who I think it is. Please don't be who I think it is. Please be some other Sayaka. Please be somebody else.

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Reality is cruel and couldn't care less about my pleas. "Yeah, Sayaka Miki," Amber confirms my unpleasant conclusion with a dreamy smile, and goes on to twist the knife: "She's tall, she's dashing, and she has a real last name. And she doesn't pull a trucking judo flip on me when she's more upset than usual." If everyone's glares cut deep before, then Nakajima's praise of Miki stabs deep enough to run me through. She thinks the world of her. Just like everyone that talks about her.

"You know She Who Dances Gracefully on the Bloody Sea of Battle?" inquires the Soul Temperer, who looks and sounds awestruck at the mention of Miki. I want to tell them to stop talking. To stop shaking the foundation for my crumbling self-esteem. To stop making me feel like I lost at something when there wasn't even a competition. Again. But words are failing me right now, and I just gape like an idiot.

Business as usual, sneers the voice.

"Oh, totally," Nakajima says, any vitriol she has towards the Soul Temperer no longer showing through her cheerful tone of voice. "Her route's locked, though. She's practically married to that other redhead."

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“'Other redhead?'” I croak, finding my voice in bad condition. “Kyoko? Kyoko Sakura?"

"Yeah, that one! She'd probably be a lot of fun to hang out with if, y'know, she wasn't in my way."

"They told me that they weren't together like that," I murmur. "Why would they lie to me?" It's like a parade of things I never wanted to hear marching past my window. I look to the others for an answer, genuinely wanting to know why Kyoko lied to me about something so important.

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The Soul Temperer is the first to respond. "While I do think the world of you Seeker of Wisdom," she says, as though she realizes just how wretched hearing all this makes me feel, and such a preface would make what comes next easier to swallow, "considering your attitude towards romance in general a scant few hours ago, they were perhaps justified in concealing their true intentions, lest you attempt to sunder the thread that binds them together." It didn't help.

The worst part is that she's right. I was furious when I thought they were dating. I only stopped trying to separate them when they swore it wasn't like that at all. That they were just sharing a flat because it made sense from a financial perspective. And that I couldn't be a third tenant because I was too much for any roommates to handle. Which wasn't untrue.

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...How many couples did I try to break up before I came her? How many of them never got back together because of me?

"Kinda wish she did," mutters Nakajima. "You know, I proposed that we could work in a threesome and win her over some time ago, but Saya-pon's all 'muh principles' and said no."

"Most people place emphasis on the emotional aspect of a relationship," explains Other Nakajima.

"Or they at least show some degree of tact," adds the Soul Temperer, without a trace of irony.

"Anyway!” shouts Nakajima, somewhat irritated by their answers, “now even Crunchy's being a total butthole about it. What's with you blue-haired hero types and your whole 'I can't be with you, I'm married to justice' spiel?" Her face flushes a little, and she clutches the hem of her apron and mumbles, "okay, I guess that's kind of hot, too, but still..."


“No, I'm not talking about you, Eurotrash! Go home already!"

"So I wasn't even your first choice," I interrupt their comedy routine with this crushing realization, drawing painful looks of pity from Other Nakajima and the Soul Temperer.

"Nope, sorry!" Nakajima chirps, not making any attempt to sugarcoat it. Though even she seems to realize that I am not in a good mood any longer, as she shows what could pass for concern on her face before she asks, "hey, are you gonna be all pouty and sad again? Like, do I need to proc another event flag with-"

"And I'm not 'tall' or 'dashing'?" I cut her off, already knowing the answer.

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“No,” she says bluntly. Knowing didn't lessen how much it stung when she said it. “Well you are cute,” Nakajima adds after a moment, which only serves to rub salt in the wound. “'Cute is justice', right?"

"Yeah, I get that a lot,” I inform her with no enthusiasm. “I'm 'cute'. I'm not 'pretty', or 'smart', or 'cool' like Miki." I didn't want this. I didn't even want this, and it still hurts. I didn't even want a relationship, but now that I know I'm not even the prime choice... After all this time, even all the way out here, Miki STILL wins!

"Uh, yes?" Nakajima affirms, glancing at Other Nakajima and the Soul Temperer, likely because looking at me being as pitiful as this is painful to look at. "She's not really a rocket scientist, but you set the bar at rock bottom for-"

"Child of Chaos, that's enough," interrupts the Soul Temperer, attempting to spare my feelings. It doesn't help.

"Hey, she asked!"

I can't believe it. I'm actually in tears about this. I'm actually crying over something as stupid as not being Nakajima's favorite. I mean, maybe they have a history, or something happened between them, and here I've only known her for a couple weeks. And being her favorite, the favorite of an evil psychopath, that shouldn't be considered an accomplishment. Finally, I said I needed to have dignity, and that would mean not making a scene like this. It would mean having the self-control not to make a big deal out of something so inconsequential. Miki wouldn't. I understand all of this.

I understand all of this, but it STILL HURTS! I don't even care that Kyoko lied to me anymore; that one was justified. But something like this...

Well, I guess this is justified for the reasons Nakajima already said.

After about a minute of silence and worried looks, I break it like I break everything I get my hands on. "She is all those things, isn't she?" I say, sighing in utter defeat. "And it's not surprising; given the choice, who would take me when they could have the quintessential 'hero of justice', Sayaka Miki? Nobody, that's who." Hell, even I wouldn't pick me if she was on the table. Nobody in their right mind would take me when Sayaka Miki is an option.

Still... “I just wish her supposed superiority wasn't rubbed in my face every time I heard about her.”

Putting a hand on my shoulder in a gesture of reassurance, the Soul Temperer smiles at me. “You still shine brighter than her in my eyes, Seeker of Wisdom,” she encourages. That actually makes me feel a little bit better, though it raises the question of -why- she would like me more.

“Suck-up,” jeers Nakajima, who puts her face far too close to mine, with a curious smile. "Soooo, you're-”

“Sister, please,” interrupts Other Nakajima, but Nakajima presses on.

“-jealous of her?" she finishes.

...That's completely RIDICULOUS!

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It felt GOOD to say that! That's right, Miki is NOT a Rank Leader of ANY Officio right now, while I AM in such a position! A position I EARNED! A position that commands RESPECT! A position that MATTERS! A position that plays a part on the WORLD STAGE! I am DEFINITELY-

Other Nakajima coughs and interrupts my reverie. And the dawning realization of what I just did comes crashing down on me.

I could have stopped this.

"I..." I try to apologize, "You didn't need to see that." And I fail again. "I didn't mean to dump my emotional baggage on everyone. Again." I smile a little, trying to show everybody that in spite of that outburst, I'm not going to let it drag me down, and state, “But no, I'm not jealous. I'm fine. Everything's fine.”

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They don't seem to believe me, which is understandable. The Soul Temperer is about to speak, when Nakajima says something: "Admitting you have a problem is the first step. I mean, that's sorta why you came out here, right?"

Other Nakajima looks shocked. I'm just annoyed. "Were you even paying atten-” Don't be a bitch about it, just... “I AM NOT..." I reiterate, trying to emphasize just HOW little I'm letting it drag me down.

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"I'm..." But...

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"I..." Oh god...

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"I'm jealous," I murmur, tears pouring out at this horrible revelation. "I'm so jealous of her!" I cry, and bury my face in my hands to preserve what little dignity I have left. "She's just so annoyingly PERFECT, and I'm just a screw-up no matter WHAT I try to do! Even when I succeed, she succeeds even HARDER, and it feels like I haven't accomplished ANYTHING compared to her!" I vent years and years of resentment and envy, though my voice is muffled through my hands. "I don't even have to DEAL with her anymore, and I should be ECSTATIC about it, yet I'm not! Because it's not going to change the fact that I STILL CAN'T BEAT HER! And I can't bring myself to hate her for it, because it's so SHALLOW and PETTY! All I can do is blame myself for failing to catch up, and try harder and harder each time to make up for it!"

And this... this is what pisses me off the most. Or perhaps it's the core of why I'm so upset. "But it's NEVER ENOUGH! She STILL wins, without even TRYING to compete, and so I still envy her and just... everything about her!”

"You shouldn't,” Nakajima says immediately. “You're still way more fun than she is."

I'd put what she says down to pity and dismiss it, except I can actually, plausibly believe what she's saying. I've been told I'm good company sometimes, by some of the most unlikely people. Meanwhile, for all her virtues, Miki is always firing off ICBMs. Not the most pleasant person in the world.

“What?” Nakajima says, just now noticing Other Nakajima's expression. “I can be supportive, too, y'know?”

Other Nakajima's stoic expression returns. “Of course,” she says. Well, maybe there's a hint of a smile on her face. “I'm very proud of you, sister.”

“Besides, I was just joking about calling her up, anyway. If I wanted to talk to her, I'd do it in person.”

I'm not going to lose to an inferiority complex! I won't let it ruin my day any further! In fact, I can still salvage this situation from irreparable awkwardness!

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“You know,” I murmur, getting back the attention of the two of them, “from what I had so far, that food was REALLY good.” I smile as sincerely as I can. “You put in a LOT OF EFFORT, NAKAJIMAAAA, and-”

“New flag get! Gimme five, Jade!”

“-and I'm still starving.” I finish as the sisters share a high-five. Nakajima smiles coyly.

“Are you sure you don't want to taste me first?” she asks, grabbing the hem of her apron. Oh god, I'd almost forgotten about those! SUPPRESS YOUR SEX DRIVE, DAMMIT! BACK INTO YOUR PRISON, YOU MONSTER!

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“Don't you start!” I warn her STERNLY after triumphing over LUST! But not -too- sternly. Don't want to be a bitch like Miki.

Nakajima giggles. “Kidding, kidding~,” she teases. “Yeah, you can go ahead and eat. I'll catch up in a sec.”

Having dodged what could have been a REALLY compromising situation, and with my good mood restored, I return to my feast in TRIUMPH and-

The Soul Temperer's there, and she's eaten HALF of the food already! “Hey, that's my breakfast!” I exclaim angrily!

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When she catches sight of me, she pouts through a mouthful of toast, explaining, “I didn't have breakfast.” Or something like that. It's hard to make it out. But it does NOT excuse what she's doing!

“That's not for you, Eurotrash!” calls out a fuming Nakajima from the doorway.

The Soul Temperer is unmoved, grabbing the fruit bouquet in its entirety. “Give my compliments to the chef, Child of Chaos.”

As I march over to MANUALLY disengage the Soul Temperer from MY MEAL, NAKAJIMA pleads, “Jaaaade, do somethiiiing!”

Just as I'm about to REMOVE SOUL TEMPERER, Other Nakajima slinks into view. “No. Bad,” she scolds the Soul Temperer, who actually looks hurt by her words and sets down the bouquet. I can't see the expression on Other Nakajima's face, but I felt a chill just now. Like it's a good thing that I didn't.

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After that, Other Nakajima excuses herself and leads the Soul Temperer out by her ear. There's an awkward silence shared between myself and Nakajima, as I learn something unsettling: Other Nakajima is scary.

Not important, though. I have food in front of me that's getting cold. So without further delays, I resume my consumption!

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“ALRIGHT THEN! It's time for us to work off all this food with some LIGHT EXERCISE!” I declare IMMEDIATELY upon the completion of my feasting. Tenko is shushed by Other Nakajima when she tries to suggest something; things got a bit WEIRD after those two left, as Other Nakajima is pretty much using her as a chair right now, but I am going to IGNORE IT! I AM IGNORING IT LIKE THE FIST OF THE NORTH STAR!

Nakajima herself seems to have hit upon a similar conclusion and spares them no more than a perturbed look. She looks as if she is about to say something, too, but thinks better of it, and instead responds, “Okay, have fun with that. We'll be cheering you on and stuff!”

“I don't think you heard me correctly,” I announce, SMUGNESS infecting my voice with SMUGNESS and EVEN MORE SMUGNESS! “I said 'we'. That means EVERYONE here.” I gesture to ALL of them.

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Nakajima looks shocked for a moment, then giggles. “Hee, not bad!” she praises. “You're pretty good at this teasing thing, 'cuz I almost believed you for a second!”

WISHFUL THINKING! “THAT was NOT teasing, Nakajima,” I explain to her, to Other Nakajima, and to the Soul Temperer, “I want YOU, OTHER NAKAJIMA, and THE SOUL TEMPERER to join me in a light workout!” Now, STRIKE A MAIDLY POSE! “ONE HUNDRED PUSH-UPS, ONE HUNDRED SIT-UPS, ONE HUNDRED CRUNCHES, AND TEN MILES OF RUNNING!”

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From her place on the ground, the Soul Temperer scoffs. “Hmph, at least try to make it challenging, Truth-Seeker.” She is shushed by Other Nakajima, but TOO LATE!

“THAT'S THE SPIRIT!” I encourage her! GET PUMPED UP!

Nakajima is NOT ENTHUSIASTIC about it! “Nuh uh! That's too much work!” she complains, and gestures towards her current naked apron attire! “And I'm not going out there naked like this!”

“I am not fit for fitness,” chimes in Other Nakajima. As though THAT could ever stop me!

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YES! Today is going to be GOOD! I can FEEL it!

And if it's NOT... well, SMILE ANYWAY! Don't look WEAK in front of everyone else anymore! Keep those problems locked away where they won't bother people! Nobody else has to know!

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...That will have to be good enough for now.

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus Patient Gardener Dahlia Marigold II: A Good Day to Tryhard[edit]

“You totally killed Jade,” accuses Nakajima, fighting to breathe.

“She's just resting,” I respond. Though, from a certain way of looking at it, Other Nakajima was indeed KILLED! For she is sprawled on the ground in the hallways of the Seventh, and pale as a sheet! HOWEVER, she's not 'dead' so much as she is 'dead tired'! The skimpy apron heaves as she takes ragged breaths, her apron WET with SWEAT! It clings so close that, were I so inclined, I could see EVERYTHING through it! FURTHERMORE, the contours of her coverage cause me to realize something!

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“I think your sister's about ten pounds heavier than you are,” I inform Nakajima of my ocularly-acquired estimations, to which she sniggers snidely. Other Nakajima GLARES at me, and I remember some other, more important things. FIRST, that's not something you tell most people out loud! And SECOND, hydration is IMPORTANT, and I didn't see her getting ANY water! I got so caught up in my own hijinks that I didn't think of that during the run here!

I rummage through my inventory and bring out a canteen, but the Soul Temperer appears to be a step ahead of me, and is already giving her water. Well, peaches. Peaches are full of juice, right? But she also has a stone bowl full of water – where did that come from? - so I guess she's fine either way. In hindsight, when I had her working out, I probably should have given Slam water as well. She might not have had any on her person.

Well, what's done is done. So that just leaves...

“Crunchyyy, this suuuucks!” whines Nakajima, in better shape than her sister, as she is still standing, but OBVIOUSLY tired. She attempts to INVADE my personal space as I DEFTLY DODGE HER, which makes her POUT in SCORN! “I'm sweaty and gross and naked and thirsty and it's your faaaault!”

...Don't dump it on her. Don't do it. Fight the urge... And don't stare too hard, either. That's what she -wants- you to do.

“HMPH!” I harrumph, handing over the canteen. “You have a lot less STAMINA than I expected!” My OVERPOWERING WILLPOWER triumphs in the face of lust! EAT THAT, NAKAJIMAAAA! ALSO, DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS, NAKAJIMAAAA!

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“I make stuff that matters instead of being a gym bunny,” Nakajima fires back sulkily, holding the canteen above her head. Water cascades into her open mouth, some of it splashing on her face. When it's empty, she tosses it back to me. Or at me, since it was an overhand throw aimed at my head. I caught it before it would break my nose.

You're welcome.

Nakajima then spins around unsteadily to complain to her sister. “Jaaade,” she whines, stamping her feet, “Crunchy made me run!”

Cradled in the arms of the Soul Temperer, the rejuvenated Other Nakajima lazily eyes her sibling. Then she gives said sibling a thumbs up. “Your calves... look exquisite, sister," she replies, her voice still slightly hoarse. While it draws a chuckle from myself and the Soul Temperer, Nakajima frowns. Unamused, she advances upon her sibling with what is undoubtedly ill intent.

To prevent things from degenerating any further, I clear my throat to get everyone's attention. “It's about time, isn't it?” I ask the Soul Temperer, who has finally torn her eyes from Other Nakajima's body. When this fails to elicit the desired response, I furrow my brow in frustration and gesture towards the halls.

Comprehension dawns on the Soul Temperer, who tries again to play it off as though she meant to do it. “I could read your heart earlier, Truth-Seeker,” she lies, trying to look cool, “you wanted to express your regret, but could not form the words. Do you have trouble expressing your feelings?”

That's an unexpected question. My feelings aren't something I give a lot of thought to most of the time. Then again, most of the time I'm in my excited, hot-blooded take-on-the-world state, and I don't have any issue expressing -that-. Otherwise I'm probably sad, afraid, or upset. And I usually don't want people to know that. On the occasions I do want people to know, again, no problems there.

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But regret and gratitude... it's just hard to say 'sorry' or 'thank you' and feel like it's genuine. It's like I don't really mean it, thinking things aren't my fault (and sometimes they really aren't!), and using those words without sincerity is just -not done-. And every time I try, it just doesn't come out right. There's a lot of things that -are- my fault and I can't bring myself to apologize for them. And there's things I am grateful for, but I cannot show the grace to say 'thank you'. It's vexing that at my age I can't even show common courtesy.

I KNOW I did wrong with some things, that I was COMPLETELY in the wrong with some things, yet admitting it aloud fills me with dread that I just can't place...

It's because you're not sincere, that voice informs me. That voice can stuff it. I felt -horrible- for what happened to Slam, and-

“Seeker of Enlightenment?” queries the Soul Temperer. Seems I've been silent for some time now.

“I was thinking on it,” I tell her, then ask, “Is something like that really IMPORTANT, though?” It'd be a lie to say I wasn't afraid of failing this. If there's any way to change it to some other activity, I'm all for that. I'll tackle something like this, which doesn't really fix things that are already broken, another time.

The Soul Temperer isn't having that. She closes her eyes and starts preaching. “For one as splendorous as yourself to admit fault for something,” she explains, “it would show us lessers that you are still human, and give us hope to one day-”

“Your breath smells from all the butt kissing you're doing, Eurotrash!” interrupts Nakajima, waving her hand in front of her nose.

Indignation edges into the Soul Temperer's explanation. “And it would also place you above the Child of Chaos,” she says, her smile thin, and her words full of poison, “who wouldn't know guilt if it fucked her sister right in front of her.” Other Nakajima turns flushes redder than her own hair!

Nakajima bristles, retorting, “And Eurotrash wouldn't know shut up if it killed her family and made pinatas from their bodies!” To reinforce this, she waves to her sister. “Hey Jade, remember that time-”

“In any event,” the Soul Temperer says loudly over a very troubling conversation, “expressing your true feelings is an important part of your growth.” Pivoting around Other Nakajima – I -really- didn't expect her to go fully naked – the Soul Temperer uses her captive's feet to point down a hallway. “Which is why I prepared something while we were coming here, by asking someone to expect your arrival. Your task, then, is to earn that person's forgiveness.”

“But that doesn't make it important,” I insist. “How does this relate to preventing me from making bad decisions in the future?”

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“It is but a stepping stone in your path to redemption, Seeker of Truth. Being able to apologize will help you be true to your feelings, develop your emotional maturity, and make amends with those you have wronged before.” Sweeping Other Nakajima around to gesture to all of us – Other Nakajima gives a slightly panicked cry – the Soul Temperer meaningfully states, “But I think -all- of us can agree that making you be true to your feelings would be a tremendous improvement.” She glares at Nakajima when she says this, for some reason.

...Sounds like bullshit, but I'm not enlightened or whatever the Soul Temperer is. Or emotionally mature, either. So I can't really argue back any further on this issue. Damn. “Alright, fine. So where is the person who I need to be forgiven by?”

The Soul Temeperer answers, using a name I'm almost sure she made up, saying, “In the Garden Where The Sun Reigns Eternal.”

“Oh, -that- person,” I intone with a not-insignificant amount of dread. I should have guessed; it's the gardener I met on the first day here that I managed to take from calm and patient to pissed off within a week. “Yeah, I didn't really leave her with a positive impression or an actual apology,” I admit. She was absolutely -steaming- when the Warmaster separated us. I think there was actual killing intent behind that fake smile Miss Marigold wore while I was led away.

“Are you nervous?” The Soul Temperer's inquiry forces me to acknowledge the troubled look on my face. Not that I'd let them have that satisfaction.

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“HAH!” I scoff, puffing up with pride. “Don't be RIDICULOUS, I am merely ANXIOUS because I am EXCITED!” Clenching a fist, I boldly declare, “I am STOKED to accomplish this challenge lain before me!” The reactions of the Nakajimas and the Soul Temperer range from a tired sigh, to a giggle, to vigorous nodding.

Heh, they don't suspect a thing. I'm the best liar ever. No Callidus has anything on my acting ability.

With a destination in mind now, I start off toward my fated meeting. Everyone else falls in step behind me. Except for Other Nakajima; the Soul Temperer is still carrying her.

“You're going to visit Ol' Batshit again?” asks Nakajima from ahead of me – somehow – while walking backwards. When I nod, she playfully grabs my arm and commands, “then carry me!”

I pull my arm back and frown at her. “Your 'exquisite calves' still work, you can WALK!” I SASS BACK! Unfortunately for me, she had a secret weapon – an almost heartbroken look of sadness upon rejection. My resolve breaks like wet tissue paper in the face of such underhanded trickery.


I let out a tremendous sigh. But I'm not going away empty handed: “Promise to teach me how to properly make pancakes and hashbrowns later and I'll do it.”

Nakajima finds the terms agreeable, and firmly wraps her finger around mine. “Pinky swear!” she exclaims while we shake on it.

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Good enough for me. I hoist her up in my arms and say, “Don't squirm or I'll drop you like a crappy anime!” Her incessant giggling proves that she understood, and she settles into my arms comfortably.

The garden's a lot further off than I remember. Either that, or it's different from the one I visited before. Somehow I manage to end up lost at a dead end. It might be that I'm just that scatterbrained today, though it could also be due to carrying Nakajima. Absorbed in her warmth. Her smell. Her...

...ANYWAY, after that, I relent the lead to the Soul Temperer and follow behind her. I'm starting to wonder if I can pull this off. I'd look pretty stupid if I failed after getting fired up like that.

“Y'know,” Nakajima says after a minute of uncomfortable silence, “you can totally just blow this off and say you're sorry, to us, for making a scene earlier, instead of trying to convince the crazy lady.” I think I heard the Soul Temperer grunt something up ahead, but I might just be imagining it.

“I'll do that AFTER I've succeeded here!” I -insist-. I -have- to do this right first. And besides, I'm not in the right frame of mind to talk to Nakajima for an extended period of time. Especially not to apologize. She'd trip me up with her laughter.

“Diiiid you know she's a psycho ex-Warmaster who killed people whenever she had a tantrum?” She asks me. I shake my head, only sort of listening. She frowns a little, probably because I'm still following the Soul Temperer. “She might not forgive you even if you do everything right,” she insists. I keep going and she frowns even harder. “She's, like, really scary! She's called the Empress of Dead Body Mountain for a reason! She'd turn you into compost!” she shouts, trying to wave her arms and only managing to wiggle in my arms.

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So I drop her, like I said I would.

Okay, no, that's wrong. I just stop and set her down.

Nakajima pouts when she realizes what's happening and stands back up. Balling her hands up into fists, she screams, “Fine, see if I ever help you again, you... you tryhard!” before storming off the other way in a huff.

You want to blow this off and chase her, taunts the voice. And it's right about that. But I'll just have to grit my teeth and bear it for now. This is -important-. More important than anything to do with feelings.

As it turns out, it -is- a different garden. One that is SIGNIFICANTLY GRANDER in SCOPE and SCALE! Flowers and bushes TOWER over my head, looking less like a field and more like a -forest-! FURTHERMORE, it is -much- better trimmed! It looks cleaner, and it smells less earthy than the other one. Maybe this is her main garden, her Eden, and the other was a side project. It would at least explain why I, an outsider with issues, was allowed to help out.

The Soul Temperer now trails behind me as I march forward, toward the heart of this sunflower sanctuary, birdsong providing quiet ambiance for my journey. I'm a little irritated about how useless she was regarding this whole situation. I was banking on the Soul Temperer being prepared. I figured she had a way to help me succeed, or some trick that I missed, but all she had for me were words of encouragement: “-You- will make you succeed, Seeker of Wisdom. I only push you out of the nest so that you may find your wings and soar.”

What a load of crap. If nothing's changed, it'll go the same as it has every other time. We may have had time to cool off, but that's not going to help anything. I mean, the worst I did towards Miss Marigold was start a fire; I've done far nastier things to other people without regrets. If I won't apologize for those, why would I start here?

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Besides, I'm pretty sure birds don't actually do that.

Okay, fine, she thinks I can do it. That's... well, actually I'm grateful for the vote of confidence. Not that I'd -tell- her that, mind, but I do appreciate it.

Maybe that's it. No, it's not that it fixes whatever is stopping me. Rather, thinking I -can- do it if I try instead of lamenting that I -can't-, gives me a greater chance of success. So rather than complain, let's... think... Even if it's useless, I want to give it my best effort.

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With this in mind, I close my eyes and shut everything out. My senses dull until they are unnoticeable, and my body goes to autopilot. And then, I start thinking.

Forgiveness isn't just given, it is something that is earned. To earn forgiveness, one must, at least, show they are repentant to the party that they wish to be forgiven by. To show they are repentant, they must express remorse. To express remorse, one must feel guilt. And one feels guilt because they believe they did something wrong and it's their fault.

Do I think I did something wrong? I caused damage to the garden. That's wrong. However, though I did cause damage, was it truly my fault? For instance, pulling weeds on the first day... I was trying to do it properly, but by accident, I had started tearing up Miss Marigold's sunflower patch. That was a bad thing, but it was not done out of malice or spite – it was an accident. It was me getting caught up in the moment and not paying attention to where I was going or what I was doing. It was me being neglectful of my surroundings.

Am I the kind of person to be neglectful? It's not that I don't care, right? I was absorbed in thoughts of self-improvement, towards being the kind of person that isn't careless. Was I being careless then? Am I still careless? Am I a careless person? I can't be, though, there -are- things and people I care about. So I can't be neglectful, so it's not my fault, is it? But other people can say they are sorry, even though they are not careless people. How do they do it? Is there a trick to it? I can't believe that all of them are lying. That's just not feasible. So if it's my fault, I'm not neglectful, but because I was neglectful, it was my fault. That would make me somebody who is careless, selfish, and self-absorbed. Which... which isn't entirely wrong I suppose, if I get right down to it. I have been acting that way for the longest time.

No, no, let's not go there. Thinking about it like that makes my stomach churn. I can put myself down all I want and bounce back later, but now I'm doing it with -facts- and -reasoning- behind it and it makes me feel physically ill. My very being feels like it's under attack. The core of me, of Heather Crunch, is at risk of being compromised by these accusations. And to admit to them would be to admit that I am the antithesis of everything I strive towards. Am I strong enough to do something like that? Can I truthfully say that I was not only wrong, but I, myself, am wrong? That I am, fundamentally, a wrong person? I can't believe that. Not because it's impossible, but because if I go down that road, I'd probably end up in an awful place I'll never escape from.

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Maybe I'm overthinking it. I'll come back to this later.

Okay, there was the fire. That was my fault. I did intentionally start a fire. I knew that I was starting a fire. I started the fire, with the intention of burning something. I wanted to burn down the hornet's nest. I was told that I needed to get rid of it and all the hornets in it, as I had shown an aptitude for destroying things. I thought that fire would be the most effective means to do so. The sword would have caused massive collateral damage, and some of the wasps could escape from that. The tape... I didn't think of the tape. I could have surrounded the entire thing in tape and suffocated them. If I did something wrong, it was that I didn't use a safer method. That's not my fault, because that didn't occur to me. But it is still my fault, because I started a fire and failed to contain it. And it not crossing my mind is my fault, because I wasn't smart enough to think of a safe alternative. It's my fault for being an impulsive idiot. If I accept that, I can feel guilty about it. But am I feeling guilty for the act, or because I'm stupid?

...Wow, I don't even need that voice to put myself down. I'm doing a great job all on my own. Christ. Normal people are able to do this, so why can't I do it? Am I inferior to everyone else? Am... Oh god, am I a sociopath? That can't be right, though! That's too much! Just because I made mistakes doesn't make -me- a bad person! It's just human error!

Yeah. That's right. Just because I have made mistakes, doesn't mean I'm not great. That was the moral of the story. Logically, that makes sense. I'm not perfect, but that doesn't make me a villain. Even the most revered historical figures had their flaws. Can I actually do anything with logic when this is a very emotional issue, though? I'm not a very logical person most of the time. I'm very heat of the moment.

Look where that got me, though. Logic is at least worth a try.

Let's try this again... Do I think I did something wrong? Yes. I caused damage to the garden when I was pulling weeds. I did not pay attention and I did the wrong thing by pulling out other plants that weren't weeds. That's wrong. I could have paid more attention and did not. That is my fault. Just because it wasn't malicious does not absolve me of responsibility for the act. I was entrusted with a task, with something -important-, and I failed at it. I didn't think about what I was doing. How do you even mistake sunflowers for weeds? That's beyond retarded. If you aren't blind, you should be able to see the difference easily. It takes willful ignorance to screw that up! Either that, or you are so utterly MORONIC as to be HELPLESS!

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...Ugh, this negativity is seeping in everywhere. I have to focus. I was on the right track, but I got distracted by negative thoughts. This is exactly why I'm here – to deal with these glaring flaws in my personality. I acknowledge that they are there. I just need to accept them and keep going. I have to -focus-. Even the Soul Temperer says it's possible for me to do it! It might be easier said than done, but I have to do it. I HAVE to do it!

So I messed up. I tore out some of the sunflowers instead of the weeds. In mere hours, I undid what could have taken weeks, if not months, of hard work, patience, and care. That is my fault, my responsibility. It wasn't anybody's fault but mine. For that, I am ashamed of myself. For doing harm to her garden, her labor of love, I am ashamed of myself. I am responsible for it, and so I feel guilty. I feel guilty. I feel guilty, right?

...Yes, yes I do feel guilty. That's good. Well, not -good-, but it shows I'm not a sociopath. The tearing up of flowers, the fire, all of it. All of it was my fault. It wasn't hers, it wasn't the Soul Temperer's, it wasn't the Nakajimas', it wasn't even the voice in my head. It was my actions and decisions that caused the damage. No, not just the damage, but the time spent instructing me and cleaning up after my failures. That's time she isn't getting back. That's time -neither of us- will get back. That's the price of my failings. Am I repentant for it? I do not know how to fix things, but given the chance, I would like to make it up to Miss Marigold somehow. And now that I recognize my failing, I can be sure to correct it. I -know- what I did wrong, and I have an idea of -why- I did it wrong. I was -hasty-, -overly energetic-, and didn't consider -all- my options.

I feel remorseful. I feel repentant. I am aware of what I did wrong. Now for the million dollar question: am I sorry? I... I -think- so. I regret what I did... therefore, I am sorry that I did it. So that means I am sorry. I'm sorry.

I, Heather Crunch, am sorry.

…Okay, let's not celebrate just yet. Just to be sure, I should try this with what happened this morning. Let's see... the circumstances were that I was stressed about Nakajima being so forward with her affections. I let my combat training take over because I perceived her as a threat. I viewed her as an 'enemy', even though, at that moment, she wasn't being hostile. It was just me, because I was afraid. And so I reacted with violence. And I gave unneeded and unwarranted exposition about my inferiority complex. Just because she mentioned Sayaka Miki. Even if I'm not her, I'm still me. Just because I'm not her, does not make me completely worthless. So for overreacting, that was my fault. I was wrong to overdo things like some third-rate tsundere. I don't -have- to react with violence or shouting. I don't -have- to be a bitch. I'm not Sayaka Miki. So I made a mistake. I was wrong. My reaction was wrong, and, though she isn't blameless, it is still my fault for reacting as extremely as I did. If I were to do it over...

...I'd tell her to put her clothes back on. Firmly, but not forcefully. And tell her to drop this whole 'romance' thing. There's no way it'd work out. It's better not to attempt something so hopelessly impossible as a relationship between us. It's better that way.

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...But then again, although being perfect is hopelessly impossible, that doesn't stop me from striving towards it every day...

“Seeker of Enlightenment!”

My eyes fly open as the world comes back to me. The first thing I notice is the face of the Soul Temperer, her brow knit in alarm, slowly relaxing upon my regaining consciousness. The second thing I notice is she has me by the shoulders, mashing my chest against the hers. Fortunately, she lets go of me and backs up, clasping her hands together. “You had stopped walking and started murmuring to yourself as though you were asleep,“ she explains, before I even have to ask why she was concerned, “Were you meditating?”

Was that what it was? It was different from when I was doing it at the waterfall. There was just nothing there but my thoughts. I didn't feel any sort of 'calm', though.

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Still, “I think I was,” I tell her. “But that's not all.” Grinning broadly, I put my hands on -her- shoulders. Her confusion and red expression are cute, but that's not important right now. “Soul Temperer, I found it. Thanks in part to your encouragement, I found the answer!” I release her with that declaration, leaving her awestruck self to adjust her lopsided hat and follow behind me once again.

Yes, I've laid all the groundwork for what I need to do. All that's left is for me to put my feelings into words, and seek forgiveness.

Miss Marigold waits underneath a cherry tree at the very center of the gardens, as I was told. Rather than wearing a sundress and hat like before, the woman wears a red plaid ensemble this time. She finishes stuffing a blanket and picnic basket into her inventory, confirming that she is currently in her magical girl costume. Her withering stare at my arrival doesn't inspire confidence, but I have enough already. I don't need any further help for what I have to do.

“Well?” the woman asks impatiently, arms folded across her chest. I look back at the Soul Temperer, and she nods her head.

Turning back around, I step forward and clear my throat. “Miss Marigold,” I say, my voice clear and loud, but not overwhelming, “I have come to apologize for what I did!” Having stated my intentions, I put my heart, my SPIRIT into my words and gesticulations! “Through my carelessness, I destroyed part of your work! Work that you poured your time, labor, and love into! I came here because I had wronged someone else before you, and sought to change myself; still, even as flawed as I was, you entrusted me with taking care of your Eden! And I repaid you in destruction and disappointment!“ I drop to my knees, getting mud all over the apron, and yell, “It was my fault! If I'd paid closer attention to what I was doing, and treated it with the seriousness it deserved, it wouldn't have happened! I am sorry, Miss Marigold! I am sorry for wasting your precious time, undoing your hard work, and ruining your slice of Eden! I know what I did wrong, and I swear that I won't make those mistakes again!” As a sign of ultimate humility, I bow down until my face mere inches from the dirt! “I seek your forgiveness not out of obligation, but sincere regret, and an earnest desire to make things right! I do not know how to make amends for what I did, but if it is even remotely possible for me to do it, then, even if it takes me as many months as it took you to grow your garden, I swear to make up for my mistakes!” Even after finishing my speech, I remain in prostration! Because I understand now! I know why she was upset! And I've conveyed my regret to the best of my ability!

The silence is sudden and palpable. The sound of birds chirping is eerily absent now. Even so, I will not look up! That would be disrespectful and undo what I'm working towards!

“Stand,” orders Miss Marigold. I push myself back to my feet and wipe the dirt from my clothes as discretely as I can. I maintain eye contact with the woman, as she deserves such respect, and wait for her response.

Miss Marigold stares me down with great intensity... then sighs slightly. “Well, Ah was prepa'uhed tah tell yew to kahndlih leave befoah mah tempah spiked,” she says slowly, her lips curled into a smirk, “but aftah that hahtfelt display, Ah have changed mah mind. If yo'uh sinceah about restitutiuhn, then yew can watuh these flowahs with yo'uh blood.”

The Soul Temperer gasps, while my heart settles into my stomach. After getting my hopes up, she proposed something unnecessary. Something violent. Something I want to do, but -shouldn't do-.

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“I don't really bleed, though...” I say, knowing how useless the statement is.

“Don't play coy, girlih,” Miss Marigold orders, showing an unsettling smile, “yew know exactlih what Ah mean.”

The Soul Temperer steps up to diffuse the situation, arguing, “This was not what we discussed-”

“Ah have altahd the deal, Miss Tenko,” Miss Marigold interrupts, a parasol manifesting in her hands. “If she wants mah foahgivenuss, she will have tah fight me foah it like huh life depended on it.” She points the umbrella back at us, deadpanning, “othuhwise, yew should leave.”

As soon as I meet her glare again, I can feel it. Something I haven't felt in a long time, not at this intensity. A strong, rage-fueled killing intent emanates from Miss Marigold in waves and almost makes me choke. This isn't simple bloodlust – this is a warning. A deliberate warning to every instinct of self-preservation I have: “Run. This person can and will kill you. Run. You can't win. RUN.”

An urgent pull on my arm frees me from my stupefaction. “Truth-Seeker,” the Soul Temperer whispers harshly, “this was a trial to learn to express yourself, and you have done that. Now, however, you should take her offer and leave.” Since she's transformed and I'm not, I stumble back under her stronger grip. “Loathe as I am to admit it, everything the Child of Chaos said about Miss Marigold is true. Even if you are the brightest star in the sky, that makes her a Great Old One that can unmake the universe itself. Only the Spiritual Liege herself is her equal. By all measures, you have passed your trial. If you leave now, I will not think less of you.” I'm dragged behind her like a ragdoll. But she has a point.

She has a lot of good points, really. I don't -have- to do this. I learned how to apologize, and I could do as Nakajima said earlier and just say sorry to them. It would be the same result – forgiveness – but with no risk of death. Fighting an ex-Warmaster is suicidal and stupid. Even I know that. No, I probably know that better than most people. There's only one possible answer for this, and the Soul Temperer knows that.

The uniform is engulfed in light as my greatcoat and hat materialize. Soon there's no trace remaining of the maid outfit. There's only me, in my magical girl costume, telling the Soul Temperer, “I would sooner die than go back on an oath.”

“Truth-Seeker...” the Soul Temperer says, her voice and eyes full of sadness. She understands, though. She releases my arm and nods at me, conveying that understanding. That some things -have- to be done, in spite of, or perhaps even because they're stupid.

That's not the whole truth, though. If it was a suicidal, pointless oath, like the one I gave, I would leave. I'd fought Miss Valnikov many times when she was in her prime. I know what kind of monstrous power a Warmaster commands. It's a no-brainer.

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But I want to do this.

Even if it is the stupid thing to do, even if it's a stupid thing that I -shouldn't- do, it's a stupid thing that I -have- to do. I CANNOT throw away this chance at winning REAL glory! Becoming a Rank Leader is not a major accomplishment, but if I can do THIS, I will FINALLY have my GREATNESS -irrefutably- acknowledged! Even if I fall into the DEEPEST, BLACKEST DEPTHS OF DESPAIR, NOBODY can argue against an accomplishment like THIS! It is a fight against a former Warmaster at FULL STRENGTH, rather than the emaciated, empty husk of Miss Valnikov!

Properly fired up, I flash a smile to Miss Marigold! “I ACCEPT your invitation to BATTLE!” I yell! Psyching myself up for this battle! A battle against a -monster- in the guise of a human being!

She curtsies, and I do my best to mimic her. “Give meh a gewd fight,” she says, “Ah don't expect yew to win, but try not tah disapphoint meh.”

I'm sure nobody expects -me- to win! Even -I- don't expect me to win! But that's just it; if I win in spite of everything, how AMAZING would that be? How AMAZING would -I- be? If I win, it WILL count, no matter WHAT anybody, especially -me-, says! That's why I NEED to prove I can do it! I HAVE to win! I MUST show the WORLD that I, Heather Crunch, am BETTER than Stringbean, BETTER than Sayaka Miki, BETTER THAN EVEN MISS VALNIKOV!

Striking a pose of -utmost defiance-, I lay down my challenge: “THEN I WILL -DEFY- YOUR EXPECTATIONS, MISS MARIGOLD!” I will my trusty blade, my giant Eversword, into my hands. Twirling it dexterously above my head, I end my flourish by holding it in a -single hand-. I then speak with a voice of -conviction-, of -strength- and -will- that makes even -me- believe it as an UNSHAKEABLE TRUTH, -PROUDLY- DECLARING, “I WILL -DEFEAT- YOU, AND BECOME A -LIVING LEGEND-!”

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"Entuhtain me, Miss Crunch!”

Omake: Read[edit]


“Um, hi. Checkers.”

“...Been a while.”

“Yeah. Dragon Lady makes us stay out late so she can shoot at us or set us on fire.”

“...Sucks. Don't call her that to her face, though.”


“It's... well it has a bad meaning.”

“... ...Oh. 'm sorry.”

“S'alright. You know better now, Papers.”


“Her Majesty called me up. Asked me if I thought she was a bitch.”


“...told her that she was. It's her thing and she should own up to it.”


“Yeah. Just thought you might want to know about it.”

“...'m sorry.”

“Christ, Papers, you don't have to apologize for that. I'm just glad you're not a broken wreck.”

“Yeah. Yeah, me too. I'm finally healing up all the burn wounds.”

“That's good. That's good.”

“Hurts like Hell, though.”

“...Did Your Majesty give you that thing?”

“What thing?”

“She said something about a... fuck, what was it... some kind of way to stop freaking out when you see words.”

“She gave me a pair of glasses, I think. I didn't put them on yet.”


“...everything's a lot less blurry.”

“Did you need contacts or something before?”

“I don't... I don't know. I never got it looked at before.”

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“Fucking hell...”

“I'm going to look at those finance books Jael gave me.”

“Okay, even if it does work as they say, you have to remember something.”


“Don't owe Russ any favors. Just... just don't. No matter how nice she looks, try not to owe her anything.”

“...Why're you telling me this?”

“'s for your own safety. Wolves are assholes, Papers. Don't let her own you.”



“...I can't read it.”

“Yeah, it's probably way past your level. Don't sweat it right now.”

“No, I mean... I can't read anything. At all.”

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus Empress of Dead Body Mountain Dahlia Marigold[edit]


As anticipated, she blocks it. As not anticipated, she blocks it with distressingly little effort. In fact, she’s not driven back at all! No, Miss Marigold stands her ground, and advances as I myself am driven back! She fends me off with her weapon! She is a portrait of serenity in violence!

I’m reminded of my fights with Miss Valnikov, and what I’m forced to call the “power abyss”. It’s like a power gap, but far more pronounced. It’s the difference between fighting someone like Miki and noticing the power gap, and fighting someone like Miss Valnikov and having it thrust in your face. You could tell almost from the outset that you’re thoroughly outmatched. That’s the difference between a Warmaster and the rest of us. It’s not just that intimidating presence, it’s that ungodly power that swallows up anything that opposes it. The chasm of strength and ability that stretches past the horizon and makes even attempting to cross it all but impossible. The realization that I still can’t see where it ends, even after all this time, fills me with despair.


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“An umbrella? You’re fighting with an UMBRELLA?!” I balk at her incredulously as I strike. I keep trying to hit harder and harder. Yet I’m the one who’s being driven back when she swings that thing! There’s so much force behind it that it’s unreal!

“Ah fail to see the problem heah,” Miss Marigold counters verbally as she counters physically, “it’s moah then enough to hold yew off.”

She has a point. Every blow from that thing has horrific strength behind it. As magic metal clashes against magic metal, and sparks shower us, I’m physically forced back. Still, it’s the principal of the thing. “It’s not even a WEAPON!” I protest, blocking an overhead strike aimed for my head. “Even a SCYTHE has a BLADE on it! And no sane person should use THAT as a weapon!” I hate people that think scythes are real weapons. Unless you change the angle of the blade, they’re GARBAGE!

How ironic; such a tool would have actually FIT her theme, and she doesn’t use it!

“Yew have no room to talk down to me, Miss Crunch,” Miss Marigold tells me as I narrowly avoid another hit, “as yew have shown no finesse with yoah sword.” I’ve already noticed something scary about her. Her attacks, her parries, all her movements are slow. Even so, they’re made with no wasted movement. She just puts herself exactly where she needs to be at the time.

“I have PLENTY of finesse!” I roar back. “I’ve used swords since before I could even SPELL!”

“That recently? No wonduh yew show no skill.”

“SHUT UP!” I scream at her. I overextend myself in anger, and she stabs my exposed shoulder as my swing goes wild. There’s a terrible amount of power concentrated on a very small area. But even that fails to pierce my flesh, which she didn’t seem to anticipate. I use THAT opening to kick her in the gut!

Finally, FINALLY I have made my opponent stagger back, however briefly! Yes, I WELCOME your stare of indignant surprise! DON’T UNDERESTIMATE ME LIKE THAT AGAIN! Even so, she recovers quickly enough, and continues her trash talking! “Still, to have gone this long without taking on any noticeable fighting style is stunnenly pitiful.”

“STYLES have WEAKNESSES!” I fire back, EMBIGGENING my blade to better hit her from this distance AND increase damage dealt! “They can be COUNTERED and EXPLOITED by other styles!“ And the Eversword compensates for its weaknesses as a sword! IT HAS NO WEAKNESSES! I haven’t bothered with “style” for years now!

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Somehow, my revelation makes Miss Marigold look sorely disappointed. “Ah feel yew may have missed the point of why styles were developed in the first place,” she says.

Marigold starts striding toward me, and I bring down my blade like the wrath of god upon her. Once more, she blocks it with her umbrella. She doesn’t slow, doesn’t stop, and doesn’t flinch during her inexorable advance. No matter how many times I hammer at her with my weapon, no matter how big I make it, she shrugs it aside with that puny parasol!

In desperation, I fling my tremendous blade at her! And then, I charge her! Even if she blocks it, she’ll still be open enough for me to PUNCH her! She doesn’t even try to block it this time! Rather, she extends her hand and snatches it out of the air! She caught it with her bare hand! This is even worse than what Alondight did; Miss Marigold just caught it like it was nothing!

Which means…

“Ah believe this belongs to yew.”

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A metric crap-ton of glowing metal smashes into my gut and knocks me completely off balance. Something bursts inside me, and I start feeling nauseous. I stagger back, putting distance between myself and that… that THING that just… I think it was my kidney just exploded! I feel nauseous… then I get to taste Nakajima’s breakfast again as it splatters all over the dirt.

And when I think things can’t get worse, they do. Something grabs me by the ankles and hauls me back. My face slams into the dirt and compost. I try to right myself while I’m dragged away. I try to claw my way back. I try to grab hold of something! And it’s no good! Whatever it is, it has a firm hold on my legs!

My arms are grabbed next, by what look like vines. I am lifted from the ground by whatever force is restraining me. I spit out dust and bile as I’m held aloft by plants. Goddamn plants! I can’t believe I’m losing to a flower girl! How can she be this strong?!

Miss Marigold smugly strides forward. “That was, perhaps, the most disappointing fight I’ve ever had,” she chides, close enough to spit in my face if she wanted. “Yew rely on yo’ah powuhs too much instead of yewzing yoah head.”

I still can’t believe it. This is it. This is all I was able to do. I haven’t improved at all. The gap in power and skill between myself and a Warmaster is nearly as large as it was fighting Miss Valnikov. I struggle against my bonds, but it’s not working!

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You dug this hole yourself, sneers that voice, and now you get to lie in it.

Yeah, I really did screw this up, didn’t I? I was careless enough to ignore the warnings of Nakajima and the Soul Temperer. I was careless enough to ignore my own instincts. I knew I couldn’t cross the power abyss. I tried anyway, and now I’m screwed. I don’t know what she’s planning, but it’s not anything good.

…There has to be SOMETHING I can do, though…

As Miss Marigold makes a fist and gets ready to strike, I do the first thing that comes to mind. Okay, the first two things.

“HEADBUTT!” I yell, and CRASH my forehead against hers! I hear a CRACK as Marigold staggers backwards, finally appearing inconvenienced! I dismiss my Eversword from wherever it is. And I WILL it back into my hand! But THIS time, it’s less of a sword, and more of a dagger! Easy enough for my determinedly dexterous digits to MASTERFULLY MANIPULATE! I CUT the vicious vine on my right arm, SLICE apart the ones on my feet, and DISPATCH the binding on my left arm!

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“Now yew’ve gone and made me angreh,” Marigold says suddenly as I approach her again. Her SCOWL brings back that TERRIFYING AURA OF OPPRESSION again, but I am DETERMINED! I SPRINT up to her, ARM RAISED, and BRING THE DAGGER DOWN!

“You know what, Miss Marigold? You’re probably right. I AM over reliant on my powers!” I admit to her. My attack, of course, is BLOCKED! That’s GOOD, because I was COUNTING ON THAT! With but an IMPULSE, my Eversword dagger is in my other hand! I SLIP beneath her earlier attack and WHIRL about!


“But they do offer their own advantages!“ I exclaim as I drive the blade in. I will it bigger and SCREAM my attack aloud as it takes effect:


A disgusting tearing sound is made as the weapon grows to its former size. Any intervening flesh is torn apart as the Eversword reasserts its normal form. And then the dagger becomes a big sword between Miss Marigold’s head and the rest of her body. It’s over in a heartbeat. She doesn’t even have enough time to look shocked.


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Dropping the head, I strike a victory pose! Which is less of a pose and more of a short dance, and THEN a pose! In either case, posing! And winning!

That’ll teach you to underestimate Heather Crunch! Look at me, Soul Temperer! LOOK AT ME! –I- AM THE WARMASTER NOW! Or at least on the level of a former one!

Oh man, I can’t wait for her to heal up and admit she underestimated my GREATNESS! Ahaha, I’m getting goosebumps just THINKING about it! “Yes, Miss Marigold, you may now praise me,” I say aloud to myself as that scene continues to play out in my mind.

“Ah suppose yo’ah not the worst Ah’ve evah fought,” she says, “but don’t get ahead of yoahself.”

Yeah, it’d go something like that. It’d probably be hard to admit that-

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Wait, that came from behind me, didn’t it? No, it must have been in my head. Nobody’s going to recover that quickly after having their head cut off. Surely, SURELY it’s just my imagination, right? PLEASE DON’T BE REAL! PLEASE JUST KEEP LAYING DOWN!

When I turn around, cruel reality greets me. Dahlia’s head is reattaching itself, pulling itself along with root-like appendages. The area that was severed is covered in blooming flowers, which wilt away to reveal smooth, unblemished skin. She turns her head to work out the kinks in her neck, and seems to be good as new. She’s ready to brandish that damnable parasol once more.

“What the hell are you?” I ask, trembling slightly. I knew she was strong, but that’s just unfair, isn’t it?

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Miss Marigold smiles menacingly and says, “Ah’m just a simple gal who loves flowers. Ah’m just stronger than yew are.” To prove this, she lunges at me with her umbrella. It wasn’t fast, but it was precise. None of the movement or energy was wasted. All of that power was directed to pierce my chest. I block it with my blade, but it’s turned aside by her inhuman strength! It hits dead on, hurling me back. I skid and roll across the dirt as I lose my grip on my Eversword. I come to a stop in another patch of carnivorous plants, dizzy and struggling to breathe.

What the hell was that? That was even stronger than her attacks from before! It’s like she hasn’t even been trying until now!

I roll away from the plants before I am grabbed again and pull myself to my feet. Even though whatever organ was ruptured earlier has healed, now I have to deal with whatever this is. A collapsed lung, maybe? Something’s wrong with it, I know that much. I also know I don’t have time for this! Miss Marigold is advancing on my position even now!

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I race to retrieve my Eversword while ducking and dodging past the much livelier greenery – even the plants are more aggressive now! My head’s spinning from either lack of oxygen or from the tumble I went through. Either way, I’m in trouble. I have my Eversword back, but for all the good it does me I may as well be unarmed!

“You really are stronger than I am,” I admit to her aloud, planting my blade in the ground. “You’re far beyond my level of ability. I really can’t hope to win against you.” She doesn’t pause her stride, and I look pitiful, hunched over my weapon and gasping for breath.

“BUT SO WHAT?!” I scream defiantly, tape erupting from my sleeves and wrapping around the hilt of my Eversword. I gesture emphatically as I can from my position, wasting precious oxygen to get my feelings across. “I don’t care what you are! Even if I can’t see the other side, I WILL bridge that abyss of power between us!”

With that bold declaration made, I shout out, “ASCEND!” and WILL my blade bigger! Bigger than EVER before! BIG ENOUGH TO CROSS THE SKILL ABYSS!

The wind RUSHES past me as I ROCKET skyward, PULLED up by the ever-growing Eversword! A LESSER person would pass out from the FORCE that I am PROPELLED with! BUT I AM NO LESSER PERSON! I FLY HIGHER INTO THE SKY, POURING MORE AND MORE MAGIC INTO MY WEAPON TO MAKE IT GROW! I’ll certainly need a grief seed after this, but IT’LL BE WORTH IT! I SOAR through the clouds, my breathing problems becoming MORE pronounced at this altitude! HOLD IT TOGETHER, DAMMIT!

At the APEX of my ASCENT I DECELERATE at JUST THE RIGHT SPEED! That means rather than be flung skyward, I instead appear to LEAP onto my enormous cross-guard! Because of my CLEVERNESS and ATHLETICISM, I EASILY stick the landing!

And now, the most important part: I cross my arms under my chest and face the wind. And I hold that pose for several seconds. The wind causes my cloak to billow out behind me.

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Even if nobody can see it, you HAVE to do a cool pose for something like this! I am the very picture of badass right now!

…Okay, posing time is done. COMMENCE ATTACK!

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I take the grip in both hands. I leap off the cross-guard. And I take the impossibly large sword with me as I fall to the earth below! YEAH, EAT IT, PHYSICS! I DEFY YOUR COMMON SENSE!

NOW! As I PLUMMET to the ground at increasing speed, I hold my Eversword up high! And I declare my attack over the rushing winds! Directing it at the fast-approaching blob below, where Dahlia Marigold’s garden sits!






A twinkle below catches my eye. I have enough time to comprehend something is headed towards me before a gargantuan beam of light hits my sword. It effortlessly rips it out of my hands and hurls it into the sky in the time it would take to blink.

But… but that’s not fair.

That’s just not fair!

How do you even fight something like that?

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CAN you even fight something like that? If she just had an ultra-powerful magic laser, it wouldn’t so bad, but she’s strong, skilled, quick to regenerate, and controls plants, too? That’s just unfair! I can’t match that!

I hit the earth hard, nothing breaking other than my optimism. I contemplate just laying down like that and sleeping until the world makes sense again. But that won’t happen, so I have to stand up. At least my lungs have stopped hurting, but I have nothing to show for my efforts other than a gem full of grief. I’m just tired now. I’m tired and I want to go home and act like I didn’t do something stupid again. Maybe drink myself into a stupor and watch old sentai films. Except I’d just do something even dumber tomorrow, probably. I’m really outdoing myself there lately.

“Ah suppose Ah should commend yew for making me stop holding back,” commends Miss Marigold. She’s a lot closer than I thought she was, I didn’t even see her move. “But yew would have done irreparable hahm if Ah did not stop yew.”

Irreparable harm? What does she…?


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I look around and see a large fissure where my Eversword was. A great tear in the earth because I wanted to ride it to the sky. Because I wanted to look cool, I created an actual ravine in the ground. I could have physically damaged the Seventh Officio building with that stunt. And I just ruined her garden again. Even if we were fighting, I could have just stopped. I didn’t have to go as far as I did. Hell, I could have tried using common sense and realized it was a terrible idea to use a weapon that big near another Officio! I let my head hang in shame; maybe it’s just the grief talking, but I’m just so angry at myself for doing something so pointlessly reckless. I could have hurt a lot of people! And even with all that, I couldn’t get past the power abyss after all. Dammit.

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“Ah didn’t want to crush your optimism too quickly,” Miss Marigold continues, getting uncomfortably close. “It’s moah fun to cultivate it fuhst, but yoahs grew like a weed. Ah had to pull it out at the root.” She tries to demonstrate by pulling out a strand of my hair, but it refuses to come out. Much to her frustration, and to my pain.

“Ow! OW! I yield! Victory is yours! I can’t match you in battle!” I yell out at her! I get it, I lost! I concede! I’m not being a sore loser so stop hurting me!

And that’s when Miss Marigold grabs me by the windpipe and lifts me off the ground, strangling me.

“What… are…?” I rasp, unable to form any more words as my air is slowly cut off. The bones don’t break or crack, but that doesn’t matter when you can’t breathe! What the hell is she doing?! WHY?

“This doesn’t end when yew give up, Miss Crunch,” Miss Marigold sneers. “It ends when Ah feel like forgiving yew.”

She jams the tip of her umbrella into the back of my throat. A vaguely familiar glow envelops what little I can see between the dancing spots. I try to wiggle out, to remove the taste of dirt and blood from my mouth. To do something, anything at all. But it’s every bit as pointless as the earlier fight.

“And right now, Ah am feeling very unforgiving.”

For one short, agonizing instant, everything is pain. My entire being is flooded with agony as my insides are cooked by a magic laser. My eyeballs blow out, my eardrums rupture, and my organs become nothing but ashes. My body is a hollow shell of skin and bone, and again, it only took an instant for it to happen.

Fortunately, my nerves burn out, too, and I stop feeling, or sensing, anything, right after that. Now, there’s only darkness, and the lingering taste of failure as my consciousness fades.

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch III: Subhuman[edit]

The next time I open my eyes. I’m staring up at the ceiling of an unfamiliar setting. It’s a vaulted ceiling, so it must be a chapel or church. A chandelier at the edge of my vision reinforces that belief. Getting to my feet – weird, I don’t feel tired or anything. How long was I unconscious? – I survey the surroundings and see that I was wrong.

It’s not a chapel. Or a church. It’s a cathedral. The scope and ambition in its design are too grand for lesser labels. Towering stained glass windows, rows of benches that could seat an entire Officio, and a throne at the furthest end.

I don’t recognize this place, but, somehow, I know one important detail about it.

I shouldn’t be here. It feels wrong, somehow, and the place makes my skin crawl.

“Oh, you’re finally awake,” a terse, tight voice echoes across the chamber, its tone laden with displeasure. I turn around, trying to find the source, and discover that, while I was distracted, someone had seated themselves in the throne. Someone who is now watching my every move with withering disdain. Someone wearing a pink and cream-colored dress, her hair set in long twintails. Someone whose stocking-clad legs sit crossed, the heels of their her dress shoes not touching the ground. Someone with obsidian eyes, their dark, glinting glare crawling over my skin. The eyes of Miss Valnikov, but not. My spine stiffens straight, but shivers of dread race down it nonetheless. Which is understandable.

After all, it’s me over there.

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I start towards them, the sound of my boots echoing through the place, and begin asking a flurry of questions, such as, “Who are you, and why do you look like me? Where am I? How did I get here?” The last thing I remember was Miss Marigold cooking my guts with a magic laser…

She – me? – appears resigned to having to explaining things to me, and not at all pleased by the necessity of such exposition. “I am you, of course,” she replies, gesturing to the room with her hand, “and all of this is a monument to failure.”

Stopping a few feet shy of her, I inquire, “A monument to failure?” The words leave a bitter taste in my mouth. That title sounds –INCREDIBLY- PRETENTIOUS!

“Good job parroting my words, bird brain,” she retorts irritably, drumming her fingers on the armrest. “It’s a shrine to your continued blundering. A shrine you laid yourself, brick by brick by foolish brick.” She sighs, tilting her face up to appreciate the high sweep of the vaulted ceilings. “Oh, how you need an intervention.”

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Everything she says just… it PISSES ME OFF! Who does she think she is, saying that kind of garbage? Still, she is the only one who seems to know what’s going on, so I try pressing for more information on my current situation. “What kind of intervention? Why now? And why here?”

“An intervention to tell you to stay away from the Nakajimas and the Soul Temperer, because they’re distractions. You’re even considering shacking up with Amber. An incredibly stupid idea, even by your standards.” She glowers at me, her disdainful look a few shades darker. “That, and because my previous, more subtle methods weren’t getting through your thick skull.”

“Oh YEAH?!” I spit back, taking a step forward! “Why should I listen to YOU?!” And she STILL didn’t answer all of my questions! This person is looking more suspicious by the minute!

She throws her hands up, the wide sleeves of her dress sliding down to her elbows. “Because I’m you,” she explains matter-of-factly, “I’m your conscience. Your voice of reason. Your capacity to make good, rational, reasonable decisions.”

“BALONEY!” I ENRAGEDLY exclaim! “You don’t even LOOK that much like me! In fact, you look EVIL! FIENDISH, even! A DIABOLICAL DOPPELGANGER!” Those onyx-colored eyes of hers make her look absolutely DEVILISH! In addition, her entire –attitude- is so very not-me! Acting all cool and above it all like she’s in control! Even if she –were- correct, she is only a FRAGMENT of my being – she has NO right to be so UPPITY!

“That’s because you’ve vilified and demonized me and my good advice,” she explains, her voice dripping with venom. She makes a set of air quotes as she describes herself: “An ‘evil voice in my head’, as you called me.”

My eyes shoot open. “YOU!” I scream, pointing at her so hard that she flinches! “I DESPISE you! You kept TAUNTING ME! –MOCKING- ME! Giving advice that OBVIOUSLY shouldn’t be followed!”

“And good on you for actually catching that sometimes!” she says, her praise sounding –condescending- and –dishonest-! “But-“

“And you LIED!” I snarl, my rage brought almost to BOILING! “You said nobody would call back! You said I was ALL ALONE!”

She shrugs dismissively. “It seemed so, at the time,” she says in her defense. “I’m not omniscient. And you have no good reason to believe everybody don't resent you.” She scowls at me. “As well they should.”

“That’s…” I ball my fists in anger as my eyes begin to burn. As much as I want to deny it, that seed of distrust and paranoia still bears bitter fruit even now. “That’s low.”

“Well it’s true!” she replies with a shrug. “You’d drop everything for a chance to return to your friends that kicked you out of the Ninth. And if my appearance bothers you so much, try to picture me as a more benevolent figure.” She briefly brings up a hand to stop me. “Actually, don’t. We only have so much time. So I’ll get on to why I dragged your consciousness out here-”

“Where IS ‘here’, anyway?!” I press on. Then add “and how did I get here?!” for good measure. She didn’t even answer my question from earlier! This person is extremely sketchy!

“It’s nowhere and somewhere at the same time,” she replies patiently, propping her cheek in one hand as she traces circles in the air with the other. “It’s a dream, and a place inside your mind. Think of it as a visual metaphor for a part of your psyche. Right now, you are effectively dead and waiting for your organs to regenerate. So, rather than let such an opportunity pass by, like I did the last time this happened, I brought you here so we could have our chat.” She closes her eyes and smirks, obviously pleased with her explanation.

Well, sorry to burst your smug little bubble, but…

“You’re not making a very convincing case so far,” I inform her, still smoldering with anger. Conscience or not, she -pisses me off-!

She opens her eyes again. “Because somebody keeps interrupting me,” she accuses. I ignore her. Her glare means nothing to me!

“And this place doesn’t have a better name than ‘monument to failure’?” I ask her-me. Surely Heather Crunch is more creative than that!

She rolls her black eyes, the shifting glints making my stomach lurch. “It doesn’t need a name,” she snaps. “Stop getting distracted by useless things and useless people.”

“What useless people?!”

“Amber Nakajima. Valentina Tenko. Jade Nakajima.” She speaks those names as though I asked her to say the most unpleasant words she can think of. “They’re useless as far as you should be concerned. They’ve done nothing but slow you down.”

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I stamp my foot in protest. “They’re NOT useless people!” Now I have to hold back the rising urge to walk up and grab her by her cocky collar!

“Really?” she asks dourly. “It’s been almost two weeks since you arrived at the Seventh, and you don’t have a lot to show for it. Whereas just in the last year, two people who you were supposed to be cooperating with have tried to kill you out of anger, and one of them almost succeeded.” Did she smile just now? I swear she did. “And those useless people are partly to blame.”

“THEY’RE -NOT- USELESS PEOPLE!” I INSIST, my anger coming back full force!

The evil looking me sinks all the way into her throne. Listlessly lifting up her meticulously manicured finger, she points at me accusingly. “Let’s be serious,” she accuses, “You really haven’t learned anything here, have you?”

Such an unfair accusation! I object, “But I HAVE learned things!” With a sweeping movement of my arm, I lay bare my discoveries: “I learned how to express my feelings! And I finally understand that not all love is bad!”

…Now that I say it aloud, it sounds incredibly, hopelessly stupid.

My counterpart agrees. “Aww, baby’s first apology,” the girl croons, clapping her hands together. “Well that’s just precious. Let me get my camera.” I stare at my feet in shame and disgrace. I can’t even muster the willpower to tell her to shut up here. “You could've learned that watching Sesame Street. That asinine garbage is not why you booked yourself a vacation here.” She preempts my complaint with a dismissive wave and a counter-retort. “Yes, it is a vacation; you’re hardly suffering here. Being fawned after by women does not count.”

“THIS TIME you’re wrong!” I snapped back, indignation heating my voice. “I have to FEND OFF the UNWANTED ADVANCES of the crafty Nakajima and the hedonistic Soul Temperer EVERY SINGLE DAY! I AM IN -HELL-!”

My stomach lurches, as if, subconsciously, I recognize I said something I should not have.

A terrible, contemptuous smile blossoms on my dark counterpart’s face. “Unwanted?” she jeers. “You never denied wanting to date Nakajima.” Narrowing those obsidian eyes as if she were honing an edge, she taunts me further. “In fact you appear quite taken with the idea.”

Heat erupts from my gut and colors my face a disgraceful shade of red. Words melt in my throat before ever reaching my lips. I feel like I’m suffocating as I’m scrambling for words. I shouldn’t have admitted to myself I liked her in any capacity. Now my instincts are trying to shut me down, HARD! “…W-well,” I stammer through a dry mouth, willing myself not to look away again out of embarrassment, “I, I don’t –want- to want it, and, uh-”

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“Admit it,” she cuts me off, impatience flashing in her eyes. “You actually want her to do it. You want to bed her. Then you want her to be your lover. You like her liking you, lusting for you, giving you attention. It feeds your ego and makes you feel like your life has worth and meaning, right?”

My nervous hands fiddle with my coat. “I… I mean… I don’t LIKE that I l-l-like her! It’s, it’s just that-”

“Just the Stockholm Syndrome setting in,” she says, diagnosing me with bored finality. “You’re desperate and sad and soooo ronery that you feel you deserve a hug, and almost anyone will do at this point. Anything to fill the void Miss Valnikov left because she never reciprocated your feelings.” The corner of her mouth twitches, as if she were suppressing a sneer. “Even a psychotic monster, as long as she looks pretty and give you attention.”

And that heat EXPLODES as a FURIOUS FIRE!

“How DARE YOU!” I snap, taking a step forward as my anger began to pulse in my temples. This bitch. THIS –BITCH-! “I KNOW she’s not perfect, but even SHE has good inside her! She, in her own way, tried to pull me up from the brink of despair... despair that YOU threw me into!” I spit, once more thrusting my finger at that DESPICABLE DESPOT! “I don’t care if you ARE me, you throne-squatting TART; you keep talking like that about Nakajima and I’ll BEAT YOU SO HARD, YOU WON’T HAVE THE –CAPACITY—TO BADMOUTH HER EVER AGAIN!”

“She will screw you,” she says crisply, emphasizing the invective, while raising up her arm, “and then she will dump you, as soon as she gets tired of you.” Her arm falls into her lap with a forceful slap.

BUT I DON’T CARE! “WHAT DID I JUST SAY!?” I scream, making her flinch again. I feel like RIPPING out a bench and SMACKING her, I’m just so MAD!

She heaves an exasperated sigh. “She’s after your body, Heather. Not you. Just slip a dakimakura of yourself on your body pillow and throw it at those nobodies, and they’ll leave you alone.”

“THAT’S WRONG!” I roar, my voice echoing back from the vaulted chambers – ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’ – and I hastily add, “And - and you KNOW I need that pillow!”

“Yes, yes, because you're a timid child afraid of thunder and even more afraid of the looks you get when you go tugging on their aprons to be held during storms.” Her voice hardens. “Get over it.”

“Shut up! SHE would hold me! SHE cares!”

Her brow creases with increasing incredulity. SOMEHOW she just doesn’t GET IT! “Are you... serious?” she breathes with wonder. “You earnestly believe if you open your heart to her that she will repay you in kind? Do you ACTUALLY THINK that-” she holds up her palm, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “No. No, if you're under the impression that she WANTS to comfort you when you come-a-crying, then thinking has nothing to do with it.” She opens her eyes to dark slits, her cheek now resting on a curled fist. “If you're lucky, she will think your mewling is cute - but that's just the surface, isn't it, Heather? What about -everything else-? Can you really show her just how sad and lonely and pathetic you are on the inside? Do you really expect her to care?”

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“YES!” I scream defiantly! “You were wrong before! And I believe you’re wrong AGAIN about THIS!” Besides, it’s not like I am going to go along with it right away, but if that’s where things go, then it would be due to the natural progression of our relationship! I’ll take it slow! One step at a time!

“You’re really considering giving in to your baser desires?” she queries, hiking her eyebrow dubiously. “Remember how...” she searches the air for a tasteful word, “-unlikeable- you were when you gave in as a middle schooler?”

“I’ve grown up! I’m an adult now! I can control myself!”

She snorts. “You lock away your libido in a cage like a monster.”

I thump my chest and STAND MY GROUND! “Then maybe I should learn to TAME it, instead of living in fear of it! Other people are able to have one and lead functional, productive lives. Why should I, Heather Crunch, not be able to do the same?”

“Other people aren’t –you-!” she suddenly snaps, her anger finally bubbling to the surface, “You’re acting like a lovesick teenager in a bad shoujo manga! You are almost 19 and you STILL cannot act your age! You're not ready for a pet FISH, much less a -relationship-!”

“We’ll see about that!” I say defiantly, matching her glare for stony glare! “Your lies and falsehoods will NOT sway me any longer, you ATROCIOUS, ADVERSARIAL ILLUSION!”


A WIDE SWING of my hand cuts her off! “THAT’S ENOUGH! If this SLANDER is all you called me out here to say, then I will NOT listen to another word from YOU!” I punch my fist into my palm with a loud, sharp CRACK! “No, actually, I’ll do one better! Just to spite you, I’ll ACCEPT Nakajima’s affections even IF I’m still not ready for a relationship!” I cross my arms and turn up my nose, my grin the –epitome- of victorious smugness! “Take THAT, you NETHER HEATHER!”

A faint trace of spittle dribbles out of the corner of her mouth. “Nether Heather?” she hisses through clenched teeth. Oh, she’s mad, sure, but I have not yet even BEGUN to deliberately piss her off!

“You’re CLEARLY not the good part of me, you LIAR! DECIEVER! FABRITCATING FRAUDSTER!” I say, holding that chilling gaze with growing confidence! “Even if I’m still hung up on my ex-boyfriend, I’ll romance another girl! I will POWER THROUGH whatever holds me back! NO OBSTACLE WILL STOP THE CRUNCH TRAIN!” CHOO CHOO, YOU BITCH!

“That’s… not-“

“Hell, I’ll get TWO girlfriends!” I boast! Wait, what the hell am I saying?! “I’LL ROMANCE BOTH NAKAJIMA –AND- THE SOUL TEMPERER!” Cut off again, her obsidian eyes twitch as I lay out more and more infuriating things, my body (soul?) flush with embarrassment! Stop saying embarrassing things! But I can’t stop now! “YES, I’LL ACKNOWLEDGE HER AFFECTIONS IN FULL!” The adrenaline coursing through me calls for DRASTIC, DRAMATIC GESTICULATION! “AND THE THREE OF US WILL BE SO TOOTH-ROTTINGLY, SICKENINGLY HAPPY IN OUR TRIAD RELATIONSHIP THAT THE -GODS THEMSELVES- WILL GRIND THEIR TEETH AS THEY LOOK UPON US WITH -ENVY-!”

Whew, what a head rush! My Nether self sits there in IMPOTENT RAGE, as I have CLEARLY danced CIRCLES around her in this conversational tango! And me… I can’t believe I said (thought?) all that! I clearly was not thinking straight!

Although… I said all of it to make her mad, but the more I think about it, the more I come to like the idea. Not just dating Nakajima, but courting the Soul Temperer as well! And not in the shadows, either, but –openly- going out with both of them! I have to cut myself off before my thoughts grow –indecent-!

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…If I can get them to work together towards a singular purpose, then they’ll -have- to get along! It’s difficult, but –far- from impossible for me to pull off! And pursuing Valentina as well… Her Amazonian physique forms a striking contrast with Nakajima’s girl-next-door charm. …Not that I like the latter any less for it! Ahaha! And she has a hot-blooded spirit! A kindred burning soul!

Just imagine: Me! Heather Crunch! With a gorgeous woman on each arm! I would be the envy of all! Even Miki would have to admit defeat there! Besides, I bet being sandwiched between Nakajima and the Soul Temperer would be… hah…

Ahem. But -that’s- for a distant future! Or at –least- past the fifth date! I’m not so desperate that I’m just going to throw myself at them!

…Well, okay, maybe I am, but I have standards to follow! And we’d have to be on a first-name basis to cry out their- uh, yeah! So COOL DOWN, my hungering loins, and save it for when and IF the time comes!

Nether-me breaks my reverie by asking, “So, you’re going to go out and enjoy yourself, with that stupid grin on your face, no matter what I say?”

My awareness returns. Bringing with it the knowledge that I was hugging myself. My arms go slack as I quit doing that. My conniving clone’s black, lidded eyes seem to smolder at me, like the waves of heat rising from the road on a summer day.

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I’m not even impressed, much less intimidated. “Yep!” I chirp!

Nether-me shivers in her seat, clearly taken with FURY and SHAME! “Fine, but I’d like to ask you a question first,” she says, in a –desperate- attempt to steer the conversation again.

I won’t let her. “If it’s about date plans, I’m considering the ice cream parlor again. After that, maybe dinner and a movie.” THERE ARE NO BRAKES ON THIS TRAIN, NETHER-ME! “After that I’m running out of plans, so if you have any, then I’d like to hear them!”

My goading shatters her illusion of calmness, and she starts screaming, “NO, you ignorant imbecile!” Nether-me falls back into her chair, attempting to appear composed and in control. HAH! I see right through your charade!

I throw up my hands in mock exasperation. Because I am –mocking- this not-me Nether-me! “Wow, calm down. It’s too early for wedding plans, isn’t it?” I ask her; she doesn’t react this time. BORING!

Idly I wonder if I could get Her Majesty to design me a tuxedo. She would like that sort of thing. It’d be nice to have some swanky clothes like that. Hey, maybe I can take Nakajima and the Soul Temperer dancing! Or singing! Or both! I wonder if they like-

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, playing around and having fun?” she snarls in a low voice. Her pale brows furrow slightly as her lips twitch against a sneer. “Did you already forget why you came here?”

My idle thoughts are scoured by the sudden outburst. “You’re in serious trouble, Heather!” she snaps, her free hand grabbing a fistful of her peach dress. “You messed up! You ruined peoples’ lives, and now you are flirting with a couple of -whores- that batted their eyelashes at you! You're just clinging to anyone who will acknowledge your pathetic existence, a narcissistic pig feeding at any trough she can find instead of worrying about –real- things! Do you have absolutely no shame whatsoever? Do you think that if you show a token amount of resistance towards them before you give up and let them have their way with you, you can tell all the people you disappointed that you tried? That you’re not some absent-minded slut that those girls can throw away when they’re done with you?”

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I’m still recovering from the sudden change in atmosphere, the blood draining from my face. When her latest volley of insults hits, all I can do is stammer like an idiot, “W… W-well... they make me happy-”

“You're not –supposed- to be happy right now!” she barks, her flinty voice scraping down my nerves ruthlessly. “Nobody even –wants- you to be happy right now! You're being punished! You are supposed to be –miserable- and reflect on your FAILURES while you are here! If it’s –fun-, then there is NO deterrence from committing the same kinds of acts in the future! But all that you’ve done here is play around! Why do you think I tried to convince you that everyone abandoned you? It’s for your own good! You can’t –develop- if there’s no tragedy, even if that tragedy is as –pathetic- as feeling lonely, inadequate, and unwanted!” She crosses her stockinged legs slowly, pausing to catch her breath. “And, might I reiterate, you -can’t- disprove that they secretly hate you! No matter how much you trust them, they can still put a dagger into your back at any time, and at this point, NOBODY will shed any tears for you when you’re gone!”

“But they’re my friends!” I protest, my eyes burning again, worse than before. “My allies! They willingly took me in when the Ninth cast me out! They LIKE me down there! I finally found somewhere that I felt like I fit in!”

“You don’t HAVE friends!” she barks. “Nobody wants to be friends with a quixotic narcissist that just breaks everything! Nobody even wants to have anything to DO with you other than point and laugh at your idiocy! Did you fight Miss Marigold so that the Ninth would finally apologize and take you back?”

“No!” I complain, “I did it for me!”

“And not for the sake of your development! You did it because you have NO self-esteem! You NEED to have concrete proof that the things you do actually matter! Newsflash: They DON’T! –YOU- DON’T! You’re not MATURE enough to matter right now!” She closes her eyes, hand twisting her dress into a knot around her fist as she pauses for a few breaths. “When will you finally take your issues seriously? When are you going to put in any amount of effort into reform? What will it take to get you to try to get better, really? Will it be when you accidentally kill someone?”

I just realized I’d taken a few steps back during her tirade. I stop in my tracks and remain defiant. “But I AM trying!” I protest.


I shrink back under her ferocious assault, stammering, “I, I k-keep having bad things happen to distract-”

“BULLSHIT!” she thunders, slashing the air in front of her with both arms. “Nothing BAD –ever- happens to you! While this may be a tall order, just try and –think- about it! Your boyfriend cheated on you? You put him in the hospital and got off with a warning! Your parents died? You got to become a magical girl! You piss everyone off? Kyoko is still your friend! You humiliated the Warmaster, and the Ninth subsequently banished you? Get transferred to a place where you thrive, and get a goddamn promotion on top of that! You caused a diplomatic breakdown? You threw a party and nobody said anything! You traumatized a quiet kid by blundering into making her confront her own witch? Vacation time! You get in a van with suspicious strangers? Love interest! Screw things up with the person who is supposed to be helping you get your life back on track? Have another love interest! Everyone abandons you? Surprise, just kidding! You pick a fight with somebody who can kill you? You’re not dead! NOTHING BAD EVER HAPPENS TO YOU AND YOU STILL ENDED UP A WHINING LITTLE PILE OF COMPLETE AND UTTER –GARBAGE-!”

My heart stings as each statement skewers it and tears me down. “And what are you whining about?” she continues, mockingly weeping, “‘Boo hoo, I was dumped, nobody understands me, everything is so hard and nobody gives me sympathy.’” Leaning forward until she almost falls out of her throne, my double growls, “That's because they're not even -problems-, you useless leech! Billions of people wake up every morning and contribute to society while dealing with the trifling everyday issues that YOU turn into a train wreck! Even cows know not to kick their own herd mates, Heather, but you? You're an impulsive, thoughtless, selfish monster who never, EVER thinks about the consequences of her actions, or who they hurt, and then you have the sheer, breathtaking audacity to whine when you can't sate your base desires without a trough to swill at! Even –pigs- know how to root for food without being told, you subhuman sack of GARBAGE!”

She -is- sneering at me now, her nose wrinkled at the stench of my existence. “And here you think you deserve a reward and a round of applause just for -trying-? Like we're supposed to celebrate you -attempting- to be less of a horrible person? This isn't Useless People anonymous, Heather! This isn’t the Special Olympics, either! You don't get a participation prize! You don’t get an honorable mention! This is the real world! Either you walk on two legs, and wipe your own ass like a human being, or you stop stealing oxygen that belongs to your betters! You’re a Rank Leader now! Does that not mean anything to you? You have responsibilities now! You are representing the Sixth Officio! If you throw one of your childish tantrums, people might DIE! Do you want that?”


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“THEN STOP BEING A DUMBASS!” she roars, settling back into her seat, a sneer slowly overtaking her pale face. “You think they will care about your excuses? ‘Sorry, Mister Incubator, I am just a selfish child who cannot handle things –real- people figured out in middle school?’ It’s as if you’re TRYING to drag the entire Sixth Officio down by being a horrible person, you…” Breathing as if she had just run a marathon, my counterpart searches for a fitting word, and finds several. “You scar on the world! You –pathetic- parasite! You HIDEOUS HODGEPODGE of INCONGROUS ELEMENTS! You… You DEVIANTART SONIC DONUT-STEEL-TIER -EYESORE-!”

“SHUT UP!” I scream, covering my ears.

“Have you even LOOKED at yourself in the mirror?” she screams back. “It’s as if you jumped out of a bargain bin at a cosplay convention! And you –unironically- insist you have a great costume? You’re a Rank Leader now! You represent your Officio to the world, and all they are going to see is some clown in a horrible pirate getup! They took out the old Rank Leader, who had been at it for YEARS before you stole her job, and gave you authority you have thus far shown NO signs of deserving! You are an embarrassment AND a hazard! –THAT- IS WHY EVERYONE –HATES- YOU!”

“SHUT –UP-!” I roar back, turning away to weather her insults as if they were a typhoon.

“You don’t BELONG! You’re a WRONGNESS, an ANOMALY! You don’t qualify as a human BEING, much less a HERO! You cannot even pass as a goddamn –placeholder- in that atrocious pile of resale-shop ribbon, and even if you could, you'd –ruin- it the instant you opened your stupid loud mouth! You don’t even count as a person, much less a magical girl!”

“Shut up!” I yell, choking back tears. It’s more of a reflex action that a rebuttal, though.

“ARE YOU GOING TO JUST YELL ‘SHUT UP’ FOREVER, OR ARE YOU GOING TO ACTUALLY TRY AND BETTER YOURSELF SOMEHOW?!” I hear her sigh slip to the marble floor as my gaze falls on my shoes. “Somehow, you don’t seem motivated to change at –all-. Otherwise, you would agree with me instead of fighting about it. You really, truly must have forgotten what drove you to come here.” Stopping right in front of me, her face inches from mine, I see her scornful smile clearly. “Do you even feel bad about them anymore? Are the memories no longer fresh in your mind?”

She motions to the windows with a grand gesture, as if she’d been just waiting for this chance. She isn’t even angry anymore; she’s enjoying this. “Just look at the stained-glass windows if your recollection is so bad! Look at the chronicle of your stupid mistakes and remember why you –need- to change!” Not trusting me to do so on my own, she grabs me by the chin and tilts my unresisting head around.

And then, as I look around, at this shrine to everything I am, the memories started flashing through my mind to match the illustrations. I see them again, paraded in front of me. Even though I want to hide from them, there they are, glaring at me accusingly.

My greatest failures.

I remember when that witch turned around and revealed its identity. Cooldown told me to do something; fighting your own witch is almost impossible, and Slam didn’t even have a weapon anymore. The enormity of what was happening didn’t fully sink in until the witch was almost on top of Slam. Cooldown was the one who pulled her out before it ate her whole. I killed it and took its grief seed, but if I’d acted sooner, instead of standing around like a moron, she’d still have an arm, and wouldn’t need it. Instead, she was bleeding, losing consciousness, and crying. Crying at how unfair it was that she was stuck with me of all people trying to improve her life, and only making it worse.

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And it was all my fault.

I remember when Alondight was truly angry with me. I wasn’t just careless for provoking a fight with her; I was thoughtless. I knew on some level she was upset about something, and I figured that fighting it out would help her vent some of that anger. But it only made it worse. It filled her with a fully justified murderous intent. It was when she tore my then-unnamed sword out of my stupid, incompetent, useless hands, and started beating me into the ground with it, that I realized how serious she was. I can still smell the sparks that flew when she was grinding her wheels on my face; attempting to gouge out my eyes with them… she really, really hated me.

And it was all my fault.

I remember my practice match with Miss Valnikov. What started innocently enough as an attempt to get her back on her feet… no, it was never that, was it? I can tell myself it escalated because I got angry with Miss Valnikov for how weak and half-hearted her fighting felt. I can tell myself I was angry because she was supposed to be so much better than this, and because she was supposed to be winning easily. I can tell myself I went all out because I somehow got it in my head that giving my all would force her to do the same, and I’d see the old Warmaster back in action instead of being a miserable, empty husk. But I’m starting to disbelieve that I ever had any good intentions when I called for that match. I just wanted to vent because she never praised me, or acknowledged me, or did anything for me that my entitled self thought I deserved. That seems a lot more likely. What I deserved was when Miss Valnikov understood she lost, and she angrily tore away my soul gem and… tried to bite it in half. My whole body shivers at the memory. Yes, I deserved it, but the sight of her, the person I admired more than anything in the world, glaring at me with murderous hatred as she tried to kill me, and bitter despair when she failed, still shakes me to my core.

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And it was all my fault.

And those… those are just the most famous landmarks on my road to being truly awful. There’s still the little things along the way that truly round out my less-than-worthless being.

“So,” my double says suddenly, bringing me back to reality, “what do you have to say for yourself?” Even though my awareness returns, my surroundings blur before my eyes.

“I, I… I didn’t… I really didn’t… I just...” My voice breaks at last as the first tear falls. “I didn’t mean to hurt anybody!”

She frowns at that stupid, pointless defense. With disbelief painting her words, she repeats, “Didn't mean to hurt anybody? Didn’t mean to hurt anybody?” She takes a deep breath, and I tense before the blast. “WHAT DID YOU –THINK- WAS GOING TO HAPPEN?” she shrieks, digging her nails into my face. “YOU BEAT THE –HOPE- OUT OF KHARN, YOU ATTACKED ALONDIGHT DURING A -DIPLOMATIC MEETING-, AND YOU SENT SLAM INTO THE- AKASHIC REALM-! HOW CAN YOU EVEN –MAKE- THAT EXCUSE WITH A STRAIGHT FACE?”

“I really didn’t… I was just trying to help!” I sob, though the words sound empty even to me. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I’ve laid my path straight to the front gate.

Wrapping her arm around my shoulder, she tilts my sniveling face up with a finger. “Well,” she sneers, “do you feel like you helped?”

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“I…” I start, but I have nothing. I didn’t help at all. I didn’t do anything but make things worse for everyone.

“Do you feel like you did anything meaningful?” she presses.

“N-no…” I say timidly, all my worthless bluster and bravado gone.

She smiles wider. “Do you feel like you made a difference?”

“No…” I murmur, not bothering to wipe away the snot running down my face. I’m a disgrace, so why should I bother to look otherwise?

“Do you feel like a hero yet, Heather?” she coos, her words dripping with sarcasm.

I quietly whine, instead of giving an actual answer. I don’t feel like a hero. I don’t even feel like a good person. I feel worthless, as I should.

“Good. For once in your life, you’re correct.” She lets me go, and I sag to the ground limply. “Right now, you are not a hero. You are not a magical girl. You are not a person. You are good for nothing, and amount to being nothing but subhuman garbage that –deserves- to be alone, unloved, and unwanted.”

I nod along dimly, curling up into a ball while I stare at nothing. Nothing. That’s me. A tiny, bitter laugh forces its way out. I wasn’t a hero. Not in the slightest. I haven’t done any good in my entire life that I didn’t undo or overshadow. And it took me this long to realize it. I really am a moron.

…Heh, I was wrong. It’s not that I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be anywhere. I shouldn’t be at all. I shouldn’t exist. I should have died a long time ago. I should have never been born. My parents should have had some other kid. One that wouldn’t be a complete waste of their time and energy.

I can’t even fix my mistakes. What’s the point in trying when it’ll only lead to messing up even worse? There’s no reason to do anything but lay down and-

“But… you can still change that.”

I look back up at my foil, disbelieving. After everything she said, she suddenly says I can change. That can’t be possible, can it? But she’s been right about everything so far, and a part of me hopes that I can change my fate. Even if I no longer believe that I deserve better. I really am a selfish monster.

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I see her relax at last, rubbing her forehead wearily. Still grinning, but no longer shouting. “Wouldn’t it be great to walk among the other magical girls without feeling as if you’re living a lie?” she asks rhetorically. I dumbly nod along with her. Her fearsome smile only grows wider. “It’s not an impossible dream. It’s just that you need to actually work at it.” She clenches a fist. “You can still become a great person. In spite of everything, it is not too late for you. However, you have to listen to me, for once in your miserable messed-up life. If you want to be a hero, you have to show everyone that you are not the screw-up you used to be. You need to stop being this terrible Heather Crunch you are now, and become the ideal Heather Crunch that contributes to society in a meaningful way.” She snorts derisively, condescension – that I deserve – creeping into her voice as she continues, “and if you want to date those two girls, you’ll have to hope that they understand that you’re not in any shape or position to do so at the moment. Right now, it isn’t a question of whether they are good enough for you; it’s whether you are good enough for them. Even if they are terrible, their lives are worth more than yours on the cosmic scale. I don’t care how you drive those girls away. Get them out of your life, ask the Spiritual Liege for somebody else, and start focusing on actually learning some discipline – that means working, even when you’re miserable. And be serious about it this time. You promised you would get better, and I know how you would rather –die- than go back on a promise. Especially when the alternative is you continuing to mess up in new and spectacular ways.”

…Right. That makes sense. Monster or rapist or whatever, they’re still people. I should not act above my station. That’s hubris. They’re out of the league of somebody who doesn’t qualify for the human race. It’s for their own good that they give up on me, and find somebody that isn’t subhuman garbage. Even if it hurts me… well, it doesn’t matter what happens to me as long as they’re okay. They’ll get over me. They’ll forget me. It’s fine. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t matter if it hurts-

“Do you still want to be a hero, even if it means forcing everyone away from you?” she asks seriously.

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I uncurl and jump to my feet, snot and drool flying from my face from the sudden movement. “More than anything!” I yell, my voice shaking in excitement and hope.

“Good,” she comments, seemingly satisfied. She walks back to her throne, heels clicking on the stone. “Overcome your nature as a failure, Heather,” she says as she sits back down. She takes a moment to straighten her dress and cross her legs again, and continues, “Focus on your goal, and shut out everything else. You only have about two weeks to save your sorry skin. If I were you, which I am, I would devote every waking moment to attacking the problem head on, and force out all distractions, no matter how much I craved their affections.” She shakes her head. “No, ESPECIALLY because I craved their affections. They can do better than some love junkie looking for a fix. And you, you have to hurt before you can heal, Heather. Forget about love and happiness. That won’t help you.” Her obsidian eyes shine, as she eagerly asks me, “Can you still go through with it?”

“I’ll do it!” I declare in triumph! “I’ll do it this time! Just you watch! Even if I have to be alone, I’ll become a hero!” She’s right again! I didn’t think it possible, but even I can still become a good person! I was just going about it the wrong way! Believing that love and care were the solution! Maybe for other people, or people in general, but not for subhuman garbage like me! But she, she saved me, and put me on the right path!

Even though I’m still crying, I have to smile. My voice of reason! My conscience! My savior! She’s shown me what really matters! It’s not love, it’s –suffering-! To suffer is the only way for a wretched soul like me to grow, so in a way, liking Nakajima and the Soul Temperer helps me! It’ll hurt to force them to hate me, and to see them with someone else, but from that pain, I’ll finally become someone! Someone that –isn’t- a complete and utter failure! Sure, it means burning those bridges, and hurting possibly the only people that will ever feel that way about me, but the alternative would hurt them far worse!

Look, I’m already being heroic! Simply by driving them away so that I cannot hurt them even more, such heroism is possible for Heather Crunch!

And my other, better part agrees with me! She’s actually applauding me! “-Very- good!” she cheers, and I can’t help but glow. A thing like me does something praiseworthy – it’s unthinkable, but still possible! All because of her!

Adopting a more serious look, my superior reminds me, “Now remember, this is your last chance. You have already gotten three strikes, Heather. Technically, you should not have this chance to redeem yourself in the first place. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that won’t come again.”

Before I can nod, everything vanishes like a mirage. Her, the church, the light. All of it. I am floating in the darkness of my own soul gem. All is right with the world.

A crack of thunder without the lightning follows, and thunders “So don’t you DARE FUCK IT UP!” until it echoes through the darkness.

My mind blanks reflexively at the sound – because I am still a complete dumbass who is afraid of thunderstorms. I’m still subhuman garbage.

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But it’s okay! Because I know now I can finally fix that! I can fix every mistake about me! I can fix the mistake that –is- me! In fact, it’s incredibly easy to do so! Hell, if I wasn’t such a hopeless moron, I’d have been doing it already!

I just have to let my conscience be my guide!

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Killjoy “Madge” II: I Want to Become Stronger[edit]



I feel tired. So goddamn I-can’t-be-assed-to-get-out-of-bed tired that I can’t be assed to get out of bed. But I have to. Because there’s a ringing noise that’s been going on for the last minute, and it won’t shut up. It’s my phone, I remember now. That’s my phone. It’s my phone that’s ringing.

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Why is my phone ringing? Who even calls me in the morning like this?

I force my eyes open and rub the sleep out of them one-handed. Then I pull myself out of bed. I stumble and look at my alarm. The hands are pointing to what my squinting eyes and sleeping brain eventually say is about four thirty. It’s dark out, so it means somebody is calling me at four thirty in the morning for some reason.

…Are you fucking kidding me? Who the hell is calling at Fuck-You in the morning? Captain Fuckface? I bet it’s Captain Fuckface. I’m so mad my face hurts.

I grab the phone off the hook and growl “What?!” into the receiver, not even trying to hide how annoyed I am. I forgot to slot in my arm, I’m just so pissed off right now and I want this person to go away so I can go to sleep. Checkers doesn’t call this early, so it’s Fuckface’s fault. Only one I can think of.

“Miss Slam,” a voice coolly chides from the other end, “I know this is sudden, but I need you to be ready within the next fifteen minutes for your appointment.” Appointment? What’s she talking about? Whoever it is, their smug, you’re-going-to-do-whatever-I-say sort of confident voice kinda pisses me off.

“Appointment? Who’s this?” I snap back. My head’s still fuzzy and tired. I don’t remember an appointment with anyone. Last I remember was going to bed in my costume because I had to… heal those burns. Right. Who’s this asshole calling me at Fuck-All in the morning?

A pause. Enough time for me to decide I was going to slam the phone down. And then go back to bed. Then she says, “It’s Madge.” Madge? Madge. I remember a Madge. The uppity lady who was abusive to her spouse or something. Wait, no, it was her girlfriend, right? “I need you to be in my office in ten minutes.”

Ten minutes. Ten minutes? Ten minutes isn’t enough time to get ready and head there without cheating and skipping important things. Like a shower. And another two hours of sleep. Whatever it is… evaluation… yeah, it’s an evaluation. The evaluation can wait until reasonable hours, right? “Can I get an hour?” I whine, swaying slightly in place.

“Nine minutes and forty five seconds…”

“Fucking… I’ll be there,” I grumble back. And then she hangs up without saying goodbye. Rude. Not that I was much better. Not that I even noticed. My head’s too fuzzy and buzzy to be nice this early.

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Gotta get ready. My hair’s a mess, my body smells like charcoal, and my stomach hurts from hunger. First things first, I need food now. I open the cabinet and take out a banana and the last slice of bread. I stick the slice in the toaster, eat the banana, and cancel my transformation. Then I redo it. It fixes the stench and the hair problem, my hair returning to its normal curliness.

I fish a handful of hard candies out of my stash and put them in my pocket for later. While I’m waiting for the toaster to toast, I fixate on my own blank expression reflected in the shiny aluminum. The slack jaw and unfocused eyes.

It’s going to be one of those days.

God I hope I’m wrong. I’ve had way too many of those already.

In front of her office door. Knock knock knock. “It’s me,” I call out quietly. The trip here was blurry and uneventful. Hopefully this evaluation will be the same.

Immediately the same voice from before says, “come in.”

I lean against the door while opening it, and let myself stumble into Madge’s office, yawning. The run I made to get here didn’t even help me wake up; I feel dead on my feet. At least I get to sit. Sit in the chair. With the armrests and the buttons. But it’s not standing, so it’s good. Very good. Madge is there sitting at her desk, lit by a table lamp. The office looks different today for some reason. It’s because the sheets are gone. Last time there were sheets everywhere. There’s a shelf, and a desk, and… something up above…

Madge is glaring at me. “Is there something on my face?” I ask her. I wipe at my face, trying to get whatever she’s staring at.

“Where are your glasses?” she asks.

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Blank look.

“The glasses I gave you yesterday,” she says.

Blank look.

“The glasses that are supposed to suppress your Vanus trance,” she explains.

Blank- actually, no, I kinda remember those. I rummage through my inventory, looking for them… what were they? Glasses, right. Sleepy tired brain feels syrupy, can barely remember what I’m looking for. It’s glasses. Glasses. What are glasses? I’m too tired to remember words right now. But the mental image of what I’m looking for becomes clear enough that I am able to pull out the glasses and show them to Madge.

So… why doesn’t she seem satisfied? Oh, right, yeah. Glasses are supposed to be worn. I look at them for a second to remember how I’m supposed to put them on… push my hair aside and put the handles on my ears, right? Right. First I wipe the sleepies from my eyes again, and then I put them on.

And then I scream.

A giant bug-eyed bird head screeches at me just inches from my face, hot wet saliva fogging up my glasses immediately. I scramble out of the chair, trip, and bang my chin when I hit the floor. Get up, get up, getupgetupgetup I have to get up and get out of…

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And just like that, the feeling of danger is gone. Like it was never there at all. My glasses unfog, letting me see again; the screaming bird-bug is just a head mounted on the wall. The indistinct thing from before that I couldn’t make out. And it’s not inches from my face, it’s behind Madge. Blinking, I look around the room, feeling disoriented not just from the sudden shock, or from falling out of the chair. But because everything looks so much clearer than ever before. I can see individual books on the bookshelf instead of a blur of colors and symbols. I can’t make out any of the words, but I can actually see that there are (probably) words on the spines from where I’m sitting. Er, lying. I should get back in my seat.


“Are you with us now, Miss Slam?” Madge asks, smugness bleeding into her voice. I turn and scowl at her, which gets no change from her equally smug face. Once I pick myself back up and dust myself off, I sit back down in the chair, aware again of the annoying buttons poking me. I didn’t really notice those because my brain wouldn’t work earlier. Like, I knew they were there, and I knew something was poking at me (sort of), but I didn’t make the association. Now I’m fully aware of them. Thanks, brain.

Realizing she asked a question, I process what she said and nod. It sucks, but I probably needed that to wake up. Madge smirks a little wider and starts talking again. “Those glasses should attune to your costume, so they won’t be difficult to replace if you lose or break them.” Huh. Handy. “Remember to clean them regularly, and don’t let them get hot, unless you want them to burn your face.”

“Did you make them?” I ask her. She shakes her head. “No, Miss Ashford did, upon request,” she explains. Somehow I thought Her Majesty here made them, but I guess not. “As I said, as long as you’re wearing them, they will keep your trance from activating on its own.”

“By making it so I can’t recognize any words or numbers?” I ask her, fidgeting with them a little.

A nod this time. “She has another pair waiting for when you master your trance,” Madge says. Like it’s a certainty that I’ll do it. I guess I have to if I want to be able to read again. Though really, being able to see without worrying about my trance triggering on its own makes me smile a little. Maybe I can live with this instead of doing anything more difficult.

She taps a small device on her desk. “Do you mind if I record this session?” she asks me. “I want to send a transcript to the rest of the leadership, and to Cooldown herself so we can coordinate on how your overall productivity and mental health can be improved.” I shake my head. It sounds like something that’ll be good for me at least.

Her Majesty takes this as a signal for readiness. “Then, without further ado,” she starts, “let’s get right into your evaluation.” She brings out a folder on her desk, and types something into her computer. Sounds like office work, which is usually a signal to me to tune out everything. “Since you haven’t had one of these before, we’re going to look at how you’ve been doing since you came here before we get to what your strengths are, what you can improve on, and where to go moving forward.” Nod. I start to zone out due to habit – the adults are talking, my brain says, don’t even try to make sense of it – but a shiver runs down my spine and my attention snaps back.

“It’s been nearly four-and-a-half months since you transferred here, and for those first three months, your condition and temperament were less than ideal.” Nod. “You worked out of a utility closet, which we can only assume you chose because you didn’t want to deal with people in a shared office setting.” Nod. “You went out of your way to avoid talking to anyone here, in fact.” Nod. “Were you afraid?” Nod nod nod. “Did Cooldown not say anything about us?”

Put back on the spot, I had no response ready. I wracked my brain, trying to think of something, but I couldn’t. Checkers really didn’t tell me much about these guys. Not a lot of nice things, anyway. She was always on my side, at least.

The silence was painful, because it was my fault there was silence.

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“Well, she told me a story where the moral was ‘wolves are assholes’,” I said. Madge raises an eyebrow at me, so I explain, “I never asked her for it, I just called her one night when I couldn’t sleep and she started talking. About wolves. About assassins. About pigs who cut a deal with the UAA…” Her gaze is too intense for me to look her in the face, so the rest of the story is mumbled through my hands covering my face, “It didn’t make much sense, but I fell asleep soon after the call ended.”

“Typical Cooldown,” she says back, though whether she meant the story or how she didn’t tell me anything, I didn’t know. I put my hands down, and saw her face didn’t make it obvious one way or another. But this does not seem to be the answer Madge wanted, so I add, “and recently she said not to owe the Warmaster anything.”

Her Majesty chuckles. “Sage advice,” she mutters, narrowing her eyes. I don’t think she actually found that funny. “Ssssso,” she hisses, then clears her throat and talks normally again, “she said nothing about how we were trying to accommodate you? At the request of her own Officio?”

“A… accommodate?” I meekly ask her, feeling out the pronunciation of that word. Accommodate. Uh com oh date. That’s something I hadn’t heard before.

Madge realizes that probably means ‘no,’ and explains, “the Warmaster prefers to have people work out their problems without her intervention, but we were… requested, to make an arrangement that worked for you.” She gestures toward me, and I flinch, digging myself into the uncomfortable chair. “If you’d said from the start ‘I want to run a sweet shop’ then we would have put you to work towards that goal in a way that benefited both you and the Officio. One that would be similar to the current arrangement, possibly more lenient.”

…Fuck me, I could have been done with the whole Eversor training thing by now? “I don’t remember her saying anything about that. Just that she and her friends were working on something,” I tell her. "Maybe Checkers did tell me and I just forgot. Or maybe she didn’t. I might have to ask her later.“

Madge sighs loudly. “I see,” she says, starting to sound annoyed. “Regardless of whether or not she communicated it, we tried to reach out to you. Several times, in fact. The Warmaster herself asked you if anything was wrong, if something was bothering you, and you requested to be left alone. It took us nearly three months just to get you to admit you would rather have an office than a shitty broom closet for a workspace. Our dear Eversor Rank Leader was just the latest of several failed attempts.” She starts writing something down on the paper in front of her, arguing, “say what you will regarding the way she went about it, but she and Suzi were the first ones to get more than a half-mumbled response from you. Even if her methods were unorthodox and irritated you.”

She has a point. I think Fuckface got more words out of me in just one day than I’d let out the entire three months I’d been there.

Still… “Even when she tried to feed me crushed glass?” I ask quietly. She nods, still smiling a little. Like that wasn’t even a weird question.

Am… am I the one that’s weird in this Officio, instead of the Officio itself being weird? “So wait,” I start, troubling thoughts prickling at the back of my mind. Madge looks up and I cringe again and forget to speak for a bit.

“Well?” she asks impatiently. I remember my original question, asking, “all of the stuff that happened here, you guys were trying to help me the whole time?”

“And you are only realizing this now?!” Her Majesty snaps, forcing me to slump so far into the chair that only my head was resting against the back. “We’ve been on your side since the beginning! We were just waiting for you to speak up and admit that your quality of living was dirt! We believed that Cooldown and her American friends were having a hard time getting you to cooperate, rather than failing to say anything about us actually trying to help you!”

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I felt a bit defensive. It can’t all have been the fault of me and Checkers. “There were mean people here,” I throw back at her, “like somebody who kept picking on me and stealing my food early on.” For emphasis, I add, “and she had a gun.” Why was she allowed to have a gun?

Without missing a beat, Her Majesty responds, “that girl was caught, and has been punished appropriately for it. We are sorry that she threatened you like that, as such conduct is considered unsporting and doesn’t reflect the values of the Officio.”

“Well, people kept calling me ‘Crunchberry’,” I counter.

“It’s just a nickname. A lot of those get thrown around here.” Madge rubs her forehead, a growl entering her voice when she speaks. “If you think people did it to bully you, you’re probably mistaken. I know how intimidating we look, but most of the girls working here are quite friendly even if you don’t get to know them.” She gestures at me. “They were trying to be nice, some of it at the request of the Warmaster herself.”

Dammit, dammit, dammit. There has to be something… I’d argue about Milly but they already took care of her and she probably doesn’t ‘reflect the values’ or whatever…

“Well… I never got an apology,” I say back, sitting up and folding my arms over my chest. I’m not wrong about this. My life got screwed up even more by Fuckface doing her thing, and she never said anything like ‘sorry I fucked you over’.

And Madge seems to agree with me on that. “That, you’ll have to extract from Miss Crunch herself. I had no part in what she did.” That’s… true. It didn’t seem like anybody else was involved in her plan.

“Then… then I’ll do that.” There. I have a small feeling of satisfaction.

Wait, one more thing. “And Checkers is cool, okay?” Her Majesty doesn’t argue back, which is good. I just wanted to be right about something bad not being my fault. Then she tells me, “please bear in mind, even if she hurt you, Miss Crunch meant well, and she feels terribly guilty about what happened. If she hasn’t said sorry already, it’s because our dear Rank Leader finds it every bit as hard to talk to you now as you would find it talking to her.”

…It was so surreal, I dismissed it as just a dream, but I remember the desperate phone call Crunch made from just a while back. I had felt so angry at first. She hadn’t said sorry, and she didn’t sound sorry, and here I thought she was bossing me around like I was her lackey. I believed she was being arrogant, and that she thought she could do no wrong. I’d forgotten how miserable she looked after we were recovered from that witch barrier. And she sounded so unlike herself when the rest of the phone calls played. It didn’t feel real at first.

At that time, I forgot all about the barrier, about Milly, about everything, really. The only thing on my mind was trying to help. I didn’t think I could do much, but if she just needed somebody to talk to, then even if I’m not really someone that likes talking, I felt like I had to do something. And I did. I stayed with her for at least an hour, just making sure she wasn’t still miserable or alone, before I let Checkers answer her question she needed to have answered.

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…In hindsight, if she felt as guilty as Madge says, all of that might have actually made her more miserable. I should have told her I was doing okay. She probably would have said sorry, and we could have made up then and there.

“But now, here you are,” Madge says, bringing me out of my flashback, “arguably in a better place than you were before, traumatic events notwithstanding, and you’re actually engaging with the people here.” Nod. Fidget.

I felt my moral high ground crumbling beneath me in the face of all these realizations. "So,” I ask timidly, already sure of the answer I didn’t want to hear, “all of this could have been avoided if..."

Her Majesty takes a deep breath before she starts speaking, another chill going down my spine when she says, "if Cooldown had told you? Maybe. If you'd had more backbone, better sssocial sssskillsss, and more ssssenssse?" Though I don’t see her move, I could have sworn I heard her spit into something. It seems to clear up the hissing, but she’s still upset. "Yes, in fact, you *could* have made our jobs a lot easier if you'd opened up to us from the start. And now you’re down an arm and our much-beloved Eversor Rank Leader is very bitterly depressed about it.” She shuts her eyes and shuffles her papers, making me flinch. “Could we have done more? Could we have sent people with less boisterous personalities to befriend you? Possibly. We may not have had any at the time, but we could have gotten a transfer.” Tap tap tap goes her finger on the papers. Her eyes snap back open, and she at least *looks* like she’s trying to be friendly again. "But wallowing in past regrets isn't going to help you or the Officio move forward. You have to learn from your mistakes like everyone else. We’re making progress, on that front."

And then the evaluation starts for real. Her Majesty asks me about my goals, and begins discussing my strengths and faults. I was tenacious, but I had a bad temper that would get me into trouble sometimes. I protected one of their own during Milly's rampage, but I was still barely keeping up with everyone else in basic training. Good things and bad things. We talk back and forth about it. It's important stuff, yet that couldn't distract me from the nagging thought I couldn't get rid of:

I could have stopped this. I could have made my life so much easier if I'd been stronger. That idea made me think back.

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If I'd quit taking pain medicine sooner, I wouldn't have screwed up last night's class. If I wasn't so weak, Tanis wouldn't have gotten hurt helping me. Hell, I wouldn't have been out of commission just because I had my face shot off, if I'd taken Marina's advice to heart. If I'd had more guts, I could have done better fighting Marina herself.

If... If I could have gotten over my doubts and called up my weapon, could I have fought my own witch? Could I have won? At the very least, I'd probably still have a normal arm. I flex my robotic fist a couple of times, which makes Madge look at me strangely. It's not important, though; what's important is I have to dig deeper.

If I'd just been nicer to Milly, maybe she wouldn't have gotten angry, and everything that happened with her, and to her, could have been avoided. If I'd trusted Suzi, maybe she could have helped me. If I'd at least tried to fight Crunch seriously, maybe I could have summoned a weapon, and gotten out of that hell sooner. If I'd just had the backbone to tell the Sixth what was going on, maybe I'd be further along in this program and closer to going home.

If I'd sought help back at the Eighth, maybe things would have been more bearable. Maybe Checkers could have done something.

...And if I'd been nicer- if I'd been a better daughter... maybe I wouldn't have become a magical girl in the first place. And all of this suffering would never have happened.

It’s my fault. It’s my fault things are fucked up for me. The realization shuts me up; I can’t grapple with the growing horror and talk at the same time. It’s too much. It’s too goddamn much for someone as weak as I am. At least Madge is content to talk at me for now.

With the evaluation winding down, Madge finally asks me, " You've been oddly quiet for over an hour now. Is something on your mind?"

"No," I say instinctively. Thing is, I don't want to so say it, or do it. It'd be so much easier not to say anything. So comfortable and familiar to not even try. The idea of slacking off and not putting in any effort is like an old friend by now. And now, people are looking after me, things are looking better, so relax, it says. I want to relax, take it easy, sleep a lot, play video games, and eat cake for the rest of my life.

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But I shouldn't. I can't, really. Not after all this. It took everyone this much work just so I could get this far. I have to say it, or else I won't have the strength to follow through on it. I shake my head, "I mean, yes, actually, there's something. Something I need to say." With Madge waiting expectantly, I start talking and have a false start. And another one. The idea of basically making a pledge is making me choke on my words before I can get them out of my mouth.

Deep breath. Deep breath. Stand up and take a deep breath, Eleanor. Swallow, untangle your tongue, and try again. "I want," I murmur, clearing my throat before trying again. I think I exhausted all my bravery yesterday, and my body is screaming at me to hide behind the chair and shut up. But this is important. This is something I have to say. Not just for her benefit, but for me.

"What I want... is..." I finish the rest of it inaudibly, and Madge's lip curls into a frown. Dammit, this is exactly what I'm trying to get past. I ball up my fists, ignoring the pounding of my terrified heart. I can't back down, I *need* to do this, dammit! I *have* to say this!

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I slam my fists on the desk and shout, "I want to become stronger!" Madge doesn't do anything to stop me from screaming, and I don't trust myself to pause. "Strong enough that other people don't get hurt fighting my battles for me, and so I can protect them instead!" I have to take another deep breath just so I can keep yelling. "I want to be strong enough to not be afraid of everyone and everything, to try and make the best of what's here!" The need to cower is almost unbearable at this point, my face burning from embarrassment, and anger at being embarrassed about this. "And most of all," I start shrieking at this point, using volume to force myself to keep going, to cover up my insecurity. "I want to be strong enough-" Oh god it sounds so stupid, but it's too important to leave out "-to be KIND and COMPASSIONATE, even when I'm ANGRY and MISERABLE!” Louder! LOUDER! “I WANT TO BE STRONG ENOUGH TO BE KIND NO MATTER WHAT!”

The moment my shouting finishes, the shame kicks in. My legs give out so I can quickly hit the floor and my reddening face. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid! What the hell was I thinking? And why did I tell anyone, much less Her Majesty, about it? I’m just a stupid kid! Why am I getting caught up in all this stuff when all I’m good for is laying around and getting fat?

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From out in the hall, there’s a chorus of hooting and hollering, sending my embarrassment to near-fatal levels. Oh god, people heard me. PEOPLE HEARD ME, OH MY GOD! This is hell. Why would I say something so retarded in the first place? I start groaning in frustration, but one of them just yells “YEAH, GET STUCK IN THERE CUNT!” which pushes me past the point of no return. This is it. This is how it ends. Being mocked for stupid beliefs that I couldn’t just keep to myself. I can feel the grief pulsing in my-

“Miss Slam, please stand up,” Her Majesty orders. I slowly rise to my feet, staring at them the entire time. I don’t want to look at her smirking face right now.

“Look at me,” she commands. I can’t even have that? That’s not fucking fair. I tilt my head up and look to the side of her, but I remember she can make things much worse if I don’t do exactly what she says. I force my eyes to look directly at her face…

…and she’s smiling. Actually smiling, like she’s happy about something. “What you just put forth is a fair bit more grand and noble than the average meathead will admit,” she praises, her tone softer than it was for the entire evaluation. “You want to be strong not just for yourself, but for others’ sake. To have strength of character and mental fortitude, not just power. And to be able to treat people with compassion, even if you’re upset. Is that correct?” Nod nod nod. “Then don’t be ashamed of that. I think that’s a refreshingly realistic yet still lofty goal to strive towards.”

Oh. Oh! She’s encouraging me because she likes what I said! I smile back at her. It feels good to get praise that isn’t about murdering stuff.

“As long as you’re willing to do your part to help yourself, the Sixth Officio will support you.” Her Majesty leans forward and rests her chin on her hands. “You do still have to work for us in some capacity, though, but I believe that you might enjoy what I have in mind.” I’m cautiously optimistic about what she might suggest.

“How do you feel about bake sales? Like the one happening this Sunday, for instance?”

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I gasp in amazement for the first time in longer than I can remember. I don’t know how they work besides people giving money for goods you baked, but it involves baking and selling sweet things! This is something I can actually get excited about! “You… you’re going to let me do something like that? I mean, I don’t have an oven, and I can’t write down figures… but I can do it? Is this really okay?” I ask, trying not to sound too excited.

I think Madge noticed, but she doesn’t point it out. “We’ll figure something out,” she says. "You’re a friend of Miss St. Maur’s, aren’t you?”

Nod nod. “We’re doing spear training together on Saturday,” I tell her.

“Good for you. Then I’m sure that if you ask nicely, she’ll be more than happy to let you use her oven.” Pause. “Although you could still make a cake with the portable barbecue pit if you put your mind to it.”

Huh. I never even thought about it. I should ask someone how to use that thing. I mean, being able to make cake *anywhere* at *any time* is a really big deal!

“Now, I believe we are almost finished here.” Her Majesty scribbles something before she sets her papers down, reading off of them, “to summarize what we talked about,” she says, “you have the spirit and tenacity to keep up with work and training if you apply yourself. I know it’s unfair that you have to work harder to keep up with the Eversors and Vindicares, but if you want to become stronger, you will have to put in the effort. You’re going to do that, you’re going to keep up with the daily warm-ups, and you’re going to stop abusing painkillers, correct?”

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“Yes, ma’am,” I reply with a nod. I may have messed up and taken some again yesterday, but I’m going to stop doing that. Unless I need one for something other than sore muscles.

She returns my nod. “Your mood has improved significantly from when you first came here. You said you’re going to keep your temper in check, and be ‘kinder’, which is good. As for your overall health and nutrition, you’ll find out more about that sometime later today. Also, consider getting training as a Vanus. Being able to use your power, instead of being used by it, would make your life so much easier.“

“I understand,” I say back. And it’s true. Before now, I never even considered being able to use my Vanus trance willingly, for things I might actually need it for. But the possibility is there now, and it’s something I should really think about, probably.

“And finally, don’t be afraid to come to us for help. We do want you to succeed.” Nod nod. “On that note, we’ve been working on an Officio cell phone for you, preloaded with several contacts, like the numbers of all the Rank Leaders. It should be finished tomorrow.”

A cell phone? A way to call Checkers at any time or place? “That’d, I’d like that, thank you,” I tell her gratefully. Oh gosh, things are really looking up for me today.

“And with that, I believe we’re done here,” Madge says, touching the recording device on her desk, then, returning to her papers, “You’re free to go.”

Blink. Blink. “Where do I go right now?” I ask. “It’s still… early, right?” It’s still dark outside, from the looks of it. Can’t be past time to get up.

Her Majesty looks up at me. “Now? Well, you could start your day early.” Big uneasy frown. Her Majesty sighs, telling me, “or you can sleep until you have to get up for work,” in a you-can-do-this-but-I-hope-you-don’t tone of voice.

Too bad, because I’m wiped out. “I’m going with the latter,” I admit.

She doesn’t look surprised. “That’s your choice, then.” Darn right it’s my choice. It took a lot out of me to admit all that stuff earlier, so good mood or not, I’m tired again.

“One more thing before you go,” Her Majesty says suddenly, as I’m about to open the door.

I glance back at her, giving as much attention as my bed-craving mind can muster.

“If you want to be kind, no matter what,” she wonders, “what will you do when you *can’t* be kind? When that’s not an option… how will you react?”

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I blink in confusion, and turn the question over in my brain. If I want to be kind, what will I do when I can’t be kind? If I can’t be kind… no, if being kind isn’t working… then what? Is the answer fighting? It can’t just be fighting…

Grandma Headley told me about this once, when I was really little. She said, “Eleanor, you cannot always be kind, but you can always do your best to…” something. I don’t think fighting was the answer she gave, so what was it?

And was it the right answer?

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I’m starting to get dizzy, and my chest hurts. I let out the breath I’d been holding in, gasp for air, and tell Her Majesty, “I’m not sure…” It doesn’t look like she was expecting any kind of definitive answer anyway.

“You’ll need to figure it out when the time comes,” she informs me, dead serious. I get a chill down my spine, and I don’t think she needed her magic for that effect. Like it’s a certainty that I’ll need to make a decision like that someday. Her usual smile returns shortly. “For now, though, good-bye, Miss Slam, and good luck.”

“Y-you too,” I murmur in return, still thinking that question over. Once I’m out in the hallway, I take out a couple of hard candies, stuffing them in my mouth. Green apple and root beer, meh. But the comfortable familiarity of sugar makes me feel less upset about it. I’m probably not going to get any sleep right now anyway.

Well… I should probably make the most of it. Time to go for a run.

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Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus The Old Grind, Part I: Origins[edit]


Or is it darkness? I wave my hand in front of my face. I see it just fine. But everywhere else... just nothing. Sigh.

The idea I came up with for fixing the broken me was that I'd make myself look especially terrible and dangerous. Through a combination of violence and threats, I would drive away everyone, burn all my bridges, and then disappear into the Akashic Realm for a while. The plan would be to live as a hermit there. I’d survive off of rations until I find a food-barrier... or start eating witches if I get desperate.

But, as time has dragged on and nothing has continued to happen, I’ve started to seriously question my decision. Am I *really* doing the right thing? Or am I just overreacting again? I started picking apart the threads and the whole thing began to unravel. The final nail in the coffin for the idea came when I realized there was no endpoint. It was a Mobius strip of pointless grandstanding and bad ideas without any goal beyond suffering.

How am I going to fix myself like this? Am I not allowed to wake up until I’ve reached the right answer? Or am I simply slated to die here in oblivion no matter what decision I come to?

…I really don’t want to die. Not when I still have so many regrets.

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I squeeze my eyes shut and pinch my cheek between my nails. The stinging sensation sends shocks through my entire face, and something trickles down my fingers. Blood. And I’m still stuck here.

“I knew your dreamcatcher of a brain wouldn’t stay on task,” a familiar voice sneers. I open my eyes just in time for gravity to kick in. It plants me face-first onto the cold, hard ground of the “Monument to Failure” cathedral. It looks... *off*, though. The colors look washed out and hazy like I’m viewing everything through a cheap television. Even my counterpart is closer to monochromatic than before.

“And still, I wasted so much time, effort and faith into trying to set you on the right path,” Nether-me chides, her voice cloying, a hollowhearted simulacrum of saccharine sweetness. Perhaps mercifully, her voice sounds muffled, as if there's an invisible pillow gently smothering her to death. I pull myself up onto a nearby bench, using my hat to dab at my bloodied nose. I size up the void-eyed, twin-tailed doppelganger, noting the twitches tugging the corners of her eyes and mouth ever-so-slightly out of their places in her meticulously affected expression.

“New plan~" She chimes with barely concealed malice. "Step one? Just *die*."

The cold air stinks of disinfectant. The atmosphere had grown heavier with each passing hour.

The room holds a doctor, a nurse, and a visitor, all huddled over a patient in a white gown.

An EKG beeps out a monotone beat, and an old, grey, chipped steel air tank gently hisses as it pumps oxygen into the face mask of the patient. Another packet of psychotropics is torn open, and the crinkle of paper and plastic breaks the rhythm. They're popped into a mortar and pestle with haste, ground to dust, then added to the significant pile inside of a small mason jar.

The doctor takes out a grief seed and taps it against a red soul gem, dark and swirling with grief. It returns to its pristine red color, before darkening ever so slightly on its own. She drops the gem into the jar, kicking up a small dust cloud of antidepressants and painkillers. She follows this up by drowning it in a bottle of peppermint schnapps. As the clear liquid fills to the brim, she screws the lid back on, then turns the jar over a few times to let the powders dissolve properly.

"You guys suck, y'know?" the doctor mutters under her breath, pointing accusingly at her assistant. "I can't believe you made me use my own booze for this. This needs whiskey, Jade!"

The nurse’s stern expression doesn’t change. She calmly explains, "you can have my whiskey when you pry it from my cold, dead hands, sister." The doctor lightly punches her in the shoulder.

No response.

The visitor scoffs. "When she wakes, I shall gladly share my spirits with her." She gestures to the sleeping woman, adding, "as it stands, this is as haphazard as an adventurous schoolgirl’s room after her mother knocks on the door. I thought you were a doctor. Aren't you supposed to have these medications in their pure concentrated form as liquids?"

The jar is placed on the nightstand next to the bed. With a small clink, the gem settles in the murky brownish liquid at the bottom of the jar.

"Okay, first of all -- nobody invited you, Eurotrash," the doctor says, kicking an empty bottle on the ground, "Second, these-” she gestures to an arrangement of almost cartoonishly nonstandard drugs, the labels covered with cute stickers, which she assured were very professional, “-are the drugs I usually pump people full of, buuut needles won't work.” The bottle clinks against several others.

As if to illustrate her point, the doctor grabs a random emptied syringe from a cabinet and nonchalantly jabs it into the sleeping woman's sternum. The needle snaps in two, its pointed end whizzing off and embedding itself in the visitor’s cheek like a dart. Neither the doctor nor the visitor flinch.

“And third,” she adds, “patient safety and comfort isn't really something I really, like, care about?"

Silence. Slumping of shoulders.

"Before now, I guess."

The EKG still beeps, the beat's pace slowing slightly as the mix sinks into the gem bit by bit. The visitor sighs and removes her hat.

"Seeker of Wisdom, please come back to us..."

Nether-me triumphantly holds me up by the neck, my bloodied, beaten body her trophy to show off to herself. Through the haze of pain, I snarl back defiantly, clawing at her grasping hand. It’s an empty gesture, like a cornered puppy baring its fangs at a ravenous wolf, at least partly because of how much of it turned into gurgling and choking sounds. Even my vision’s going blurry, the cathedral twisting and distorting all around me.

My tormentor drops me to the floor in a broken, gasping heap. She stabs my head with the point of her heel. “What did anyone ever do to deserve YOU?” she taunts, stomping my head and drawing fresh screams I didn’t know I still had in me.

“You had EVERY advantage as a magical girl!” she screams at me, her words harder to understand when she’s not doing so. The spiked points of both heels dig into my jaw as she leaps over me to stomp even harder. I roll away from her landing, and she rewards me by gouging my leg with her weapon to pin me down again. “You hit the jackpot with your power set! How could you fail this hard?” she persists, stamping on my head again with nothing to stop her. My agonized screaming and throbbing headache can’t drown her out.

“The best Officio in the world couldn’t make you a hero!” Stamp. “The most ferocious Warmaster of all time couldn’t make you a hero!” Stamp! “MUTANT SPACE CAT MAGIC THAT GRANTED WISHES COULDN’T MAKE YOU A HERO!” STAMP!

My gut burns like a shameful sun, hollow and empty. This is how it ends, I realize. My body dies, and then my mind executes me. I don’t have any rebuttal besides ‘fuck you’, but I want to at least say it instead of screaming like a wounded animal! I catch her foot, but that won’t stop her. It’s only delaying the inevitable.

“WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?!” my assailant roars, pulling her weapon out of my leg. She swings her scythe, stopping short of my neck, and hooks it from behind. By now, the only color in my vision is the spots dancing in front of my eyes. She and the cathedral are little more than fuzzy blobs of gray. I mouth a silent curse at her while struggling to escape. I’m not going to go down without a fight. Not against her.

Even if I deserve it.

“STOP WASTING EVEryone’s time, and just d-”

Nether-me’s voice grows faint until I can’t even hear it. Right in front of my eyes, she and the Monument to Failure fade until nothing is left. The same blackness as before, with nothing but a spotlight to illuminate me. I squint against the accusing ray of light.

Am I dead? Is this Hell?

I stand up, but a sharp pain in my right leg brings me crumpling to the ground. I grit my teeth and try again, shakily succeeding since the sting seems to have abated some. My body feels relaxed - maybe too relaxed. My injuries aren’t healing, either; I can still see my heart through my chest, its rhythm slowing to a crawl.

The first thing I think of is bandaging my injuries. Except I don’t have a first aid kit. That was something I declined so I could store more weapons in my inventory. Time to improvise. Silver spreads out from every unobserved spot of my outfit, patching myself up with tape that will do even worse damage coming off. Without the need to worry about becoming somehow deader than I already am, I can rest. Rest for a while to at least get my breath back. And then, I can…

…what, exactly? There’s nothing here. I limp off in one direction, and nothing. The light follows me like a vigilant searchlight on a hobbled convict. At least there’s actual ground now instead of a sea of nothing. Then a calming fuzziness drapes over my brain and body like a blanket, and my large, boisterous strides become slow and deliberate.

Then, without warning, there’s suddenly an ugly scene of carnage lit up before my eyes.


What the hell.

What IS all this?

Heavy snow and thick fog blur the features of a coast off Japan that I still recognize immediately. The illumination comes from nearby bolts of lightning that pierce the heavy clouds overhead, and the blaze of the burning wreckage of a luxury cruise liner a kilometer away. From this angle, I can just barely make out the letters ERNAL MAI through the billowing black clouds of smoke. The sign glared back at me accusingly; at the one that got away.

Certainty and urgency build in my gut. That’s more than my stomach can bear right now, and I cough up splotches of dark red bile onto my hand. I head on towards the shoreline of a small beach. There’s no crunch of sand or snow beneath my boots, no biting cold from the wind and snow. No stimuli besides me being able to see it. But my body remembers, and it shivers sympathetically. I find an erratically woven trail furrowed through the snow, heading inland at a slow pace. It was about here that… yes, there’s a half-buried boot here. I bend down, wince, and try to take it, but my hand passes through it.

There’s no mistaking it. This is where it started.

I pick up my pace, following the trail off the beach and onto a road that saw little travel in this weather. Another soundless lightning bolt illuminates what I’m looking for: two figures in the distance. One of them is the sole survivor of the cruise, just a young girl who was traveling with her mother and father. Her long blue hair hangs over her face, almost totally blinding her. Her coat is in tatters, the frayed edges still glowing from being aflame. I can’t see it from here, but beneath the coat is her life vest and a simple dress beneath that. She’s shivering, her breathing punctuated by heavy breaths frozen in midair.

The other sits atop a road barrier, its beady red eyes visible even in the darkness. It looks like a a mutation of a cat and ferret. Its coat is white enough to blend in with the snow, except for the pink ends of its long, floppy ears, encircled with floating rings. Its mouth doesn’t move, but it doesn’t need to. Not when it can talk straight into her head.

Heather. Kyubey. Our meeting was an accident. A mistake. Something I have to correct.

“Don’t,” I whimper at the dying girl, building up to a shout: “Don’t listen to him!” They don’t seem to hear me.

I lurch forward, flailing to make my stilted movements faster. I bring out the Eversword, its color shifting rapidly without my input, and hurl the oversized thing at the mutant cat.

My aim is off, and it flies harmlessly overhead. I glance at the girl, who has long since been told to think of a wish, besides preventing the crash of the ship or the resurrection of anyone onboard. She is in deep, sad contemplation. Were life fair, she would have died before coming to the decision.

“I’m begging you, don’t make that wish! You don’t know what you’re getting into!”

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I call my sword back. It flies back to my hand, and I make it grow until I can hit the creature from where I’m standing. I grip it tightly, firmly, and channel all my rage and indignation into my swing! It passes right through Kyubey’s body, the terrain, everything. It hits whatever ground is here with a loud clunk. Nothing’s changed. Those two don’t even notice.

I switch targets and bring my blade down on the girl. Equally useless. Goddammit, this isn’t fair. This isn’t fair at all.

I start running towards them again, smashing and hacking at them and the scenery, my efforts as effective as trying to attack the moon by hitting its reflection in a pond. They don’t fade away. They don’t die. They don’t disappear.

For the first time ever, a big crack forms on my Eversword, then a jagged chunk falls off and disappears like mist. I keep slashing and hammering at my targets, trying to do anything. Anything at all. My trusted, unbreakable weapon is breaking down further and further. The blade falls off and disappears, and I’m left with an oversized haft that I hurl at the girl, who looks like she’s made up her delusional mind. It vanishes before it even makes contact.

I put every fiber of my being into running. My wounds rip open painlessly, dulled by the full horror of my own powerlessness and my attempts to fight it.

Don’t do it. Don’t do it!


I scream, my voice ringing in my own ears as the cat leaps to the girl’s side. The stupid girl lets him raise his ears to her chest. I dive at them, as a gust of wind soundlessly roars past them. The naive girl speaks, making her wish. I pass right through them both.

Everything is stained with a bright red light. As I wail in despair, my contract is complete, in exchange for one wish: to be a great and mighty hero who can protect people.

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Don’t cry.

Don’t you dare cry.

Stop. Crying. Please. You can’t… you can’t just keep crying all the time! Please, just once…

I can't, I can’t stop my tears. Why won't they stop?! Why can't I stop them?!! Why is, why would, why did this happen?! What did anybody do to deserve me?! Why am I being shown this?! What am I supposed to do when I can’t learn from my mistakes?! WHY AM I STILL HERE?!

“WHY!?!” I scream out into the void.

The fading scene does not answer. I’m left alone again. Tears stream hotly down my face as the incriminating spotlight glares at me. Even my own thoughts damn my actions.

Because at the end of the day, it’s my own damn fault.

Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam and the Squad, Part I: Complications[edit]

The red and blue doll’s battle-axe goes flying thanks to a lucky parry from my spear. It turns its blank face away to follow its weapon’s plunk into the choppy black waters, and I press the advantage immediately. Its half-raised wooden shield finally splinters as my fist punches through it and the mannequin’s head. An oily red liquid erupts from the wound. I’m not caught off guard this time, though, or by the sound of a horn blaring from somewhere up above that, somehow, I can still hear over the shrieking winds and crashing waves. This time, I push the lifeless thing’s body off the side of the rail-less ship and into the depths. Its splash, and the motes of snow falling from the sky, are lit up by a shaft of light as a horse-headed cherub dives in after it instead of coming after me. The boat rocks a little as another wave hits it, icy water splashing onto the deck in front of me.

The clouds are still storming, the water is still churning, it’s still blizzarding, the wind is very loud, and there’s too much fog to see very far. Milly and Tanis have ganged up on one of the puppets and have it under control. So does Marina, even though she’s fighting off four at a time. Another beam of light is directed to the sea as Katt shoots an enemy off the deck. Her gun lights up and grows into a complex catapult-like shape as she once again tries to use a molotov to take out the other, burning ship that’s getting way too close. Without my glasses, I can’t really see what the fuzzy shapes are on the deck, but it’s obviously more mannequin things.

Like the one that I could barely see until it snuck up on Katt just now.

“Katt, behind you!” I scream over the battle and the blizzard, sprinting as fast as I can without slipping on the icy deck or being thrown around by the winds and arriving in an instant. Instead of running, she turns to face her attacker and gets an axe buried deep in her right shoulder. While she’s roaring in pain, I crash shoulder-first into the doll and spear it through the gut. Another horn sounds before I kick it and the pen over the edge, followed by another cupid chasing it.

"Fucker-” spits Katt, a growing patch of red overtaking the white color of her hoodie. I have to lean in close to hear her. “Can’t get any strength in my arm.” She glares at me, snarling, “Shoot it now!” and I pull back the piece holding the flinging arm back.

A “shunk” happens, and the device hurls its flaming payload into the blurry distance. It whips around in the air, then turns sharply and explodes against the sails of the other boat. Katt grimaces and pulls the axe out of her body, lightly tossing it at the face of a warrior doll trying to climb up the side of the ship. Both fall back into the churning waters as the other boat’s mast finally snaps and falls. Their boat is engulfed in light, followed by the animalistic screams of horse cherubs on fire.

Can’t sit and stare at it. Gotta keep moving. Keep the chill out, keep the dolls off the boat, keep alive. Keep alive. Keep everyone alive.

Tanis and Milly have joined up with Marina to flank the remaining dolls. Wait, no, there’s one more that just climbed up from the front. I rush over and strike it with my fist before it can get its bearings and push it back into the water. There’s another horn noise as the last puppet is killed and tossed away. Followed by a faint splashing sound as Marina leaps into the water herself. Followed by a dozen horns and shafts of light erupting in the sea around us in short order as the water churns into a froth. And then that is followed by several angel-horse-things rushing to their deaths in the depths.

Marina leaps out of the water, her fish tail tucking away beneath her dress. After finding no obvious threats, she settles down as the adrenaline wears off. Her face, though sharper than usual, takes on some of its usual slothful qualities, despite the constant chattering of her teeth. The most immediate danger seems to have gone. With the fighting done for the moment, I put on my glasses to see better, and they fog up almost immediately. Then defog, then fog up again, and so on. I take them off and put them away, they’re no help here.

That’s when it hits me. Only just now do I feel just how intense everything that happened was. I hadn’t even noticed how much my heart was racing until I tried to talk again. I’d probably be dead if we’d been doing drills earlier instead of splattering toads. Now I was just killing… other things. I, I killed things today. For real this time.

Taking huge gulps of air, I loudly ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind: “What the hell was that?”

Suddenly, Katt is up in my face. “A trebuchet!” she exclaims, showing more energy, animation, and actual cheer than I’d ever seen from her at this point, despite her still-bleeding injury. Tiredly I look at her, then at the thing she conjured, then back at her, and she takes it as a sign that I want her to keep going: “A medieval siege weapon that uses a counterweight to hurl its payload further than regular catapults and can launch heavy projectiles more than aAAAUGH-”

Katt’s spontaneous rant is cut short by Tanis biting her in the arm, the excitement flowing out of her along with her injuries. The cat-eared girl squeals in pain while the snake-bodied girl’s shoulder develops a gash deep enough to see through. I can see it starting to heal already, but it’s still uncomfortably slow and an uncomfortable thing to look at. I don’t feel like throwing up anymore, at least. I guess the training helped there, too. Katt quietly makes her device vanish, and I almost feel bad for her getting interrupted. But nobody’s in the mood for her to go off on a tangent about weapons.

The wind picks up again, and all of us pull out our emergency blankets. At least we were given these starter emergency kits even if we weren’t supposed to be in any emergencies. Everyone huddles up close, so we don’t have to keep screaming at each other to be heard. Tanis, probably because she’s part cold-blooded, huddles up right by me. Yeah, she’s… she’s really cold. This whole place is really, REALLY cold. Why the hell is it so cold? This is the first time I’m not pissed about having a coat for my costume and it’s STILL too cold! Another wave crashes into the boat, but without the confusion of a fight, everyone’s able to brace themselves against it. The boat rocks heavily until it settles back into its regular, less extreme swaying.

Oh, right. I try asking again, louder this time: “What I meant was, what the hell happened?” I look between everyone, trying not to sound as exasperated as I feel. “Is this a test? A joke? A, a mistake? Because this is a witch barrier, right? Something we’re not supposed to be doing yet, right?” Nope, I can’t keep the exasperation or anger inside. This is wrong, this is fucked up. This isn’t something I’m ready for. “Was this Crazy Cunt’s idea or, or…”

Marina, our chaperone until now, shakes her head. “This is… unexpected,” she drawls, her placid looks giving way to worry. “We wouldn’t force this… on a new team. It was supposed to be… like what we did earlier.”

Katt had herself cocooned in her blanket, not even showing her face. She still wanted to give her piece, and her muffled complaint was, “So we’re just going after bigger ‘invasive species’ now? Some ‘training’.”

This was supposed to be training. It was supposed to be training! Not the real thing! I was grouped with some other trainees to form a squad, we had Marina as a senior to give supervision, and we were given special tasks based on what we needed more training in! Some needed help with fitness, some got tasks based on survival, some did mock combat, and some practiced marksmanship. Tanis and I were put with a humbled Milly and the girl who stole my lunch money before - both of whom were let out of detainment on probation or something - so the latter two would learn teamwork. Yeah, I wasn’t thrilled, either, but at least Milly wasn’t pissy about it. Katt - Katherine, the cat girl - was definitely sulky about it, though. I told her I didn’t hold it against her, but she was still annoyed, so maybe being grumpy is just her thing.

Since everybody seemed to have a connection to me, I was appointed squad leader. Which is a first, considering I’ve never been a leader of anything, ever. But I said before I was going to try and do my best, and I meant it, so I rolled with it. Our task? Killing things to become accustomed to killing things. Yeah, okay, sure, why not? They called it “invasive species extermination” and tasked us with “culling the cane toad population” because it was “practical training with a purpose”. What it was, was toad guts. Toad guts on the butt of my spear. Toad guts on my boots. Toad guts on my fists. Toad guts as the rattling sounds of its species grew one voice quieter at a time. And I couldn’t block it out - in fact, I was told not to block it out.

“Think about it…” preached Marina, twenty toads skewered on her harpoon. “Think about… the taking of a life… the feeling… and try to understand… the weight of what you’re doing… without lying to yourself.” Well, I was thinking about it, and I hated it. I hated killing them, I hated the violence. But I said I was going to try harder, and so I agreed, and Marina promised to treat us afterwards. Normal food. Not poisoned food, not glassy food, not marmite food, actual, real food. And for that I could make an effort. Then the sky turned black-

“-and then suddenly we’re on a weird boat, with weird warrior puppet things that summon backup on death and have to be tricked into drowning themselves, and it’s cold, foggy, snowing, the boat’s rocking… did I miss anything?”

Milly pokes her head out of her blanket. The part-cyborg looks like her face is still fully human, and definitely flush with coldness. “There was supposed to be another group,” she responds in quiet, dawning horror. The morbid explanation for how we got here isn’t needed anymore. Now the question is, which of them is the witch? If it’s the chaperone, then they’re probably in worse shape than us, or even…

I glance up at the sky, then at the horizon. It’s fog. It’s all just fog, snow and water.

“Next, I think we need to know where we’re headed,” I say out loud. I wasn’t really trying to give orders just now, but I guess it came out like that, and I’m supposed to be leading. There’s no steering wheel, no rudder, no belowdecks, and I don’t think Marina should try to steer the boat with brute force. She looked cold after she climbed out, too. Colder than the rest of us. I think that if anybody else fell in the water they’d die from how icy it is.

“I can do some reconnaissance,” Milly volunteers, tossing off her blanket. As the only one here who can fly, it was inevitably going to be her, but I’m glad she’s showing initiative.

“Okay, come back in…”


“...How long have we been here?” I suddenly ask.

Tanis checks her phone, which doesn’t have any bars (of course) and squeaks, “T, two minutes.”

...Two minutes? All of that fighting and being lost and confusion and it’s only been two minutes? This has been the longest two minutes (and counting) of my life already!

...Okay, fine. I’m gonna put on a brave face; I’m the leader here, and I want to act like it. “Come back in two minutes at most,” I order Milly. She crouches down as her artificial wings unfold from her back, then I add, “and please stay safe out there.”

Milly, probably not used to that sort of consideration or kindness, looks at me incredulously. I shrug at her, and she smiles. “Understood, thank you,” she says back, then leaps into the air. The wind at her back, she zooms up and away, her strange machine wings giving her lift despite not flapping.

“It’s only been about two minutes…” I mutter in disbelief after Milly disappears. Too quiet for anybody else to hear. I gotta put on my game face and get to work, everyone’s counting on me. I look away from Milly’s retreat once she disappears into the fog, and put forward, “So our options are to wait for backup, find an exit, or kill the witch, right?”

Katt, still refusing to unbundle herself from her blanket, grumbles, “Pretty much, we’re fucked no matter what we pick.”

Marina isn’t optimistic either. “The Officio won’t even know… that anything is wrong... yet. Outbreak trackers… have been somewhat slow… since Walpurgis purged… so many people.”

“I really don’t think we can fight a witch, though. Not if what we’ve been up against is any indication,” I say, voicing what everyone else is probably thinking. If these are just the familiars, I don’t want to think about how strong the witch is. I even realize something important, blurting out, “We don’t even have a dedicated tank.”

This gets me blank stares. “Somebody who can draw aggr-,” wait, that’s not the right language, “um, somebody who can draw attention and, uh, keep everyone from getting hurt.” They still don’t seem to get it. “A dedicated Crazy Cunt.” Ah, now understanding dawns on everyone. “And I don’t think we can reach an exit like this. Not until we hit solid ground.”

“I suppose… not,” Marina confirms solemnly.

“So, we wait for backup?” huffs Katt, burrowing deeper into her blankets. “Suits me just fine. Less work.”

Marina nods sagely. “Seems like… a smart idea. I can’t protect… all of you… all the time.” She actually looks somewhat upset about this, sulking a little.

So, I try to cheer her up, saying “oh, well, you’ve done a good job so far, Marina! Don’t feel bad-”

“We’ve got big trouble ahead!” Milly yells from somewhere in the fog. A couple seconds later, she touches down, wearing a grim expression. She breathlessly relays her infodump: “We’re heading to a waterfall, less than half kilometer away. All the ships are falling over it, and I can’t even see the bottom for how deep it is. There’s a massive tree in the middle, about ten meters from the edge, but that’s all that’s there.”

Nobody’s panicking externally, but I can see it on everyone’s faces. If we fall over, we’re fucked. And one of Milly’s conditions for being allowed to work with us was wearing some kind of “power limiter” or whatever. Which means she can’t fly all of us at once.

Then I hear it. We all hear it.

A constant sound that is just barely recognizable over the winds. The sound of many horns blasting in near unison. Light flashes up ahead, visible even through the fog. And above that, the sound of the wind, and the crashing waves, is the sound of falling water.

The noises are getting louder and louder by the second.

Tanis is the first to panic. “Whawhawhat do we do?!” she exclaims, shuffling around and dropping her cold weather blankets like dead weight. “I can’t jump!” she adds, stretching for emphasis.

I hadn’t even thought of that. If Tanis can’t even jump… but then that’s probably too far for any of us to jump without slamming against the tree and falling to our deaths. We’d have to fly or get more speed... or launch ourselves. I get up in Katt’s face until she shrinks back, demanding, “Katt, can you make a catapult?” Before she can open her mouth all the way to go on another rant, I cut her off. “Just give us something that can fling us onto the tree!”

As everyone puts away their blankets, Katt conjures a simple catapult, the boat and the device creaking as it settles down. All of us pile into the arm bucket, a little cramped, and Tanis wraps her snake half around everyone to keep us from getting separated. The creaking worsens, but we don’t have the luxury of worrying about it. It’s not like we need the catapult to survive as much as we need ourselves to survive.

Then the fog starts to clear, and I can see we’re less than half a minute from going over the edge. Nearby are more boats with more figures. One ship tips over as it and its passengers plummet into oblivion. Off in the distance, past the flashing pillars of light and choirs of horses, a giant white tree canopy shape spreads out about level with us. It’s surrounded on all sides by the waterfall, which keeps dropping ships and summoning angels.

And on top of the tree, something big rears up from the center. Something dark and pulsing that contrasts with the snow-white tree. It bounds forward and lets out a terrible roar, easily audible over everything else.

Of fucking course.

“Looks like… the witch found us…” Marina confirms.

Tanis turns to me, almost on the verge of tears. “What do we do?” she asks imploringly, quivering enough that I can feel it.

I’m reminded of the horror of my first witch encounter. How absolutely helpless I was without somebody to save me. How powerless and fearful I felt. And I don’t feel any of that right now. What I feel is my teeth grinding instead of chattering. I feel my brow furrowed in anger. I feel my hands ball into fists.

I’m just mad. After all the bullshit that happened in just a scant few minutes, now I have to deal with this? I’m so fed up with everything trying to beat me down every time I think things are getting better! I’m sick of having no control over my own life! This time I’m taking the fight to whatever’s in my way, and I’m not backing down! If my life isn’t going to get better, I’m going to FIGHT IT until it does!

“Then we’re gonna kill it!” I exclaim, giving Katt the signal to launch. Her worried glance meets my resolute rage and she complies. And then we’re hurling through the air. And the monster waiting for us. The wind rushes to meet us as I’m gripped with deja vu again, and I yell out in defiance. Tanis loses her grip and we spread out, readying our weapons before we touch down right in front of whatever is trying to wreck our day. A sick animal that needs to be put out of its misery before it hurts someone.

We’re going to get through all of this. We’re going to be okay. I am taking my life back, starting now. En fucking garde!

Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch versus The Old Grind, Part II: Terminus Est[edit]

“-alled Coolio in, she’ll be waiting for-”

A low rumble and the stench of antiseptics greet me in the waking world, just barely drowning out the sounds of voices. People. That complicates things. Well, it's not like they can stop me. There’s the beep of an EKG, and the feeling of wires on my body. A hospital? I crack open one eye and see clouds rushing by. An airplane. A makeshift hospital room on an airplane. After what happened, that makes sense. But it means I'm being taken back. I'm running out of time.

“-n’t blame you, it’s the Gardener’s faul-”

Beneath the covers of the cot, I discreetly feel at my neck. My clothes have been changed to a hospital gown, and my gem is missing. It’s… I close my eye and try to sense it… over there. I feel it like a phantom limb, a pang of sensation disconnected from my body about two feet away, on this side. I open my eyes to look without turning my head, and I can see it, the dull red stone set inside a glass jar. There’s some powdery residue gathered at the bottom, but that’s not important.

“-lliance is over, I’ll give you a head sta-”

Everything is falling into place for this moment. I just need to do it. To find the drive, the conviction to follow through. The last time I tried this, I was paralyzed with fear. So afraid to do it that my body gave out before my spirit did. But now… now I can do it. I finally have what I was missing. Conviction. Drive. Evidence that things will not, cannot improve. Any doubt I had before is gone: this needs to be done.

With one quick motion, I reach forward and take the jar. The top of it comes off easily, and I take back my prize. Now my gem is back in my hands, and, just as importantly, so is my inventory.

“-will leave quarreling for when her condition impro-”

It feels somewhat poetic, pulling out a handgun. This piece was a gift from a former friend. As if I’d kept it solely for this singular purpose. To chamber one bullet in this weapon. To retract the slide lock. To pull back the slide and chamber a round. And to train it squarely at my gem. Because no magical girl is totally immune to damage to the gem, no matter who or what they are. I remember that lecture distinctly. A single bullet is enough, even a .32 caliber.

“-ill succeed! It has to, I can’t deal with this kind of thing, I'm not, like, an empa-”

It’s finally over. This whole farce of a life is finally over. I can finally stop hurting, stop hurting people. My body is tense, but of course it’s tense. I’ve seen what happens when I have a second chance. I squander it. Waste it. I’m a waste. Wasteful. Useless. Unnecessary. And kept alive because people are too kind for their own good.

It has to end.

It has to end!

This can’t go on, it has to END!

It’s been nearly nineteen years of misery and pain inflicted on others. All so I can fail, again and again, to improve myself in any meaningful way, and drag everyone down with me. It has to end. I have to do it. I have to pull the trigger. Pull the trigger. End it. End it now. Please. Not just for yourself, but for everyone else. This can’t go on. It just can’t.

“-er best, and have faith in her will to-”

My vision blurs from the tears. I wish it didn’t have to be this way but wishing didn’t work. There’s no other choice, no other way. No more chances, no more leeching off the good graces of others. I’m putting myself out of everyone’s misery so they can find someone better. It’s not selfish. It’s thinking forward, it’s necessary. A necessary excision of a cancerous tumor on this world. A removal of someone who failed from the very beginning. The grieving will be brief and transitory, as given to any coworker or people who misguidedly saw themselves as my friends. And then someday a brighter future will dawn. One where I’m not in it.

“-ntal state? She’s-”

It’s the right thing to do. That’s all it has to be to finally convince me. I’ll do it. I’ll pull the trigger.

My finger tenses around the trigger, and slowly, gently pulls. There’s no going back.

“-ere’s her gem? Where is-”

...I don’t want to die. But there’s no other way. But I don’t want to die. But there’s no other way. But I don’t want to die! There has to be another way! But there isn’t! But this can’t be the right way! I have to do it, but I don’t want to do it, but I have to do it, I have to do it, there has to be another way, somebody, anybody, tell me there’s another way, but I have to do it!

My hand spasms in panic as the gun fires, my mind racing a trillion miles an hour. I can see it. The jerk of the handgun. The bullet exiting the barrel. The grooves and scratches on it from the rifling. Even the manufacturer’s imprint. I can see all of it play out as the sound of the gunshot rings out.

I can’t say if it’s a cruel twist of fate or otherwise, but my movement was just enough. At the last possible moment, the bullet grazes past the gem and embeds itself in the wall of the aircraft. The empty ejected casing smacks me in the face to rub in my failure.

…No! NO!

No, no, no, no, no, I’ve already done this before! I can’t keep backing out forever, I have to die! I have to try again! I have to break this damned thing!

As I try to slot in another bullet, someone grabs my arm to stop me. Weakened as I am, still lying on the bed, the bullet tumbles out of my fingers in the scuffle and rattles across the floor out of reach. Cursing my luck, I form my gem into its normal shape as a broach, in case someone would try to pry it out of my grasp.

“Crunchy, whatever happened with Dolly the Destroyer back there isn’t worth an heroing over!” cries the pained voice of Nakajima as she wrests my weapon away. I don’t understand what she’s trying to pull, considering she got all the data from me she probably needs. I toss and turn in the struggle, finding the Soul Temperer at the foot of the cot. Her shocked expression looks like she just about had a heart attack.

She has to take a deep breath before she can even speak. “Truth-Seeker-” the Soul Temperer starts, about to launch into some spiel about duty or hopes and dreams or whatever. Some fortune cookie bullshit that isn’t going to help here. I want no part of this, so I cut them both off.

“No, see, I don’t want to try and fail to get better yet again,” I say, pulling myself up into a sitting position and wrenching my arm back from Nakajima. “I’ve finally remembered that this is why I came out here in the first place!” I fling my arms wide, putting on the fakest smile I can manage. “To get away from bleeding hearts and crocodile tears so I can, at last, end my wretched, miserable, worthless, hopeless, damned and despicable life with NOBODY to stop me!”

My captive audience is, for whatever reason, speechless. As if everything I said wasn’t the most simple, logical, moral, ethical, and best possible conclusion to the facts presented by my continued existence. I pull myself out of the cot, pushing past Nakajima as she scrunches her face up in pain. “Why?!” she screeches; for someone supposedly so smart, she needs an awful lot of this explained to her.

It’s annoying. It’s irritating. It’s getting on my fucking nerves.

“Why indeed!” I roar back, causing her and the Soul Temperer to shrink back. “WHY IN-FUCKING-DEED!” I wag my finger at them accusingly, their eyes following it like I was still holding a gun. “THAT is a question I’ll throw to God before I fling myself rightfully into the deepest pits of hell!” With my piece said, I march towards the emergency exit. They can’t follow me out of the plane if I jump-

The Soul Temperer grabs my arm. “Heather…” she pleads. What, was the Truth I was Seeking too much for her to bear? I shake her off, my anger empowering me enough to get my strength back.

“‘Why do better people suffer because of me, while I coast through life unscathed? ‘“I pose to her. She has no answer, so I continue, driving in what should be a simple conclusion with increasing frustration. ‘Why couldn’t I be a hero when I explicitly wished to be one?’ ‘Why can’t I ever, ever, EVER improve myself in a meaningful way or stop making the same exact mistakes every single time?!’” I roar, punching my palm for emphasis. “EVERY! SINGLE! TIME!” It’s not fucking fair.

The anger is swept away by a flood of tears and sadness, enervation and listlessness threatening to stop me from my sacred duty. “It’s like a bad joke,” I choke through sobs, “where somebody waits until the end to scream ‘The Aristocrats’, but jokes are supposed to be funny, right?” For once, I turn to look at the others for confirmation. “I’m not the only one who isn’t laughing, right?”

Nakajima looks to be on the verge of tears herself, mouthing “Crunchy” as her expression collapses. I want to tell her that I’m alright, but I’m not. And I never will be. Not in this life. All I can do is convince them to understand where I’m coming from and try to make the pain of loss hurt less.

“You know,” I start, putting my hand on the handle, sniffling and wiping my nose, “I was prepared to fight alone against evil, you know? I was prepared for a friendless, solitary life. I had steeled myself for such a possibility. Hope rides alone and all that.” I can’t see through the tears anymore, but I can still manage a sad little smile at my naive ambitions. “Who hasn’t dreamed a little dream about being the lone agent of good in the world, a pariah who nonetheless does what needs to be done to protect those who can’t protect themselves?” Even I couldn’t be faulted for that much, regardless of my sins.

My sniffling gives way to coughing and retching, a sickness and bile rising up as I try to face the Soul Temperer, blinded as I am. Words burn as my voice cracks, ”but how could I prepare myself for hurting the people I was supposed to help?” I ask, trying to raise my arm to gesticulate and succeeding only in making vague gestures at the ground. “How can anyone come back from that after it happens, again and again and again and again and again…”

The rest of my body, head included, follows my arm’s tired example and slumps to the ground, save for my hand barely hanging on the emergency handle. “I’m so tired, you guys. I’m just so tired of failing so miserably at helping people and myself. That’s my entire reason to exist, literally my raison d’etre, my sincerest wish - and I can’t do it.” If I still had any drive to do so, I’d turn to look at them. Eyes pleading, begging for an answer to the question of my life. “It’s all I wanted, all I wished for. I can’t deal with it. I can’t deal with being subhuman garbage like that, as someone who can’t even fulfill their intended purpose in life, one they chose for themselves and tried to achieve over and over and failed.” Another coughing fit dislodges more tears.

Finally putting it into words, a weight I didn’t know was holding me down releases. I’d almost say I feel better, except I don’t. I just feel weary, and everything feels oppressive and heavy and hopeless.

Someone starts walking over, and I have to force myself to get angry enough to find my strength. I pull myself back to my feet and wipe the tears from my eyes, snarling, “I can’t do it! I won’t do it anymore! Enough is enough!” The figure doesn’t stop, but neither do I, finally pulling down the emergency handle. “This is what’s best for everyone! You’ll see!” Applying enough force to open the door, even mid-flight, is easy-

Just as the door opens, someone grabs me around my midsection and hoists me into the air. “Go limp!” yells Nakajima through gritted teeth, squeezing me as hard as she can in an effort to make me go limp, or something. I don’t understand what she’s trying to do, but with the added turbulence, I wrestle free and dive out the exit before anything else can happen. To the sweet release of death.

The wind rushes up to meet me as the ground rapidly draws closer, my gown fluttering wildly. My tears dry as the wind sucks them away. Oh, I’ve jumped without a parachute before, but this is different. I fling my arms wide as if to embrace it. To savor the moment where things finally turn around. I just need to find a nice, quiet spot to hide myself long enough to deal with any lingering misconceptions and finally end my life.

A sharp noise breaks my reverie like shattering glass. I spin around, and my look of horror matches that of Nakajima, plummeting far past me. The plane is getting further away, but so is the hapless girl that fell out after me. I try to summon my Eversword, but the connection to my weapon is gone as if it never existed in the first place. I try again, and again, but the distance between my targets keeps growing while my blade refuses to materialize. With both out of reach, and my blade not available, I have to act quickly.

I pull a long, massive tube out of my inventory until I’m staring at the tail end of a sidewinder missile twice my height. And a well-aimed punch at the right place gets it belching fire and smoke. Then the thrust kicks in for real, and drags me towards terra firma at breakneck speed, far faster than terminal velocity. Already I’ve almost caught up to Nakajima in the race to hit the earth, but I’m not having it, and wrestle for control to point towards her instead of the ground. And then I climb on. Balance myself. Steady, steady… and stand tall. It’s not the most intuitive way to ride a missile, but I need both hands free for what comes next.

The shrieks of terror draw much closer as I descend and dip right under my target. And into my outstretched arms falls a suddenly silent and extremely surprised Nakajima. I can’t blame her for her shock, but right now we have a flight to catch before the hypoxia sets in.

It takes careful maneuvering to finally rise high enough to catch up with the airplane without blowing it up. While my hands and legs are occupied, my magic tape wraps a grenade from my inventory around the missile. As soon as it pulls the pin, I jump off, kicking the missile down away from the aircraft Nakajima and I land inside of, untangling ourselves from each other. Oxygen masks are brought to us, and we both start gasping and breathing heavily. Outside there’s a loud explosion in the distance as the missile is taken care of. My heart finally stops pounding in my throat.

Before I can continue my tirade, or apologize, or say anything, Nakajima interrupts my train of thought. Loudly. “Perhaps we’re wondering why somebody would shoot themselves, before jumping out of a plane!” she exclaims in a deep voice, the faint trace of a smile visible beneath her air mask. I… don’t have a response to that. Nor does the Soul Temperer. “Did you care who I was until I put on the mask?” she probes, invading my personal space.

I’m almost lured into her rhythm to go along with her skit. But I can see what she’s trying to do. “You’re trying to distract me from the fact that you fell out of the plane and almost died because of me," I tell her bluntly. I can’t even kill myself without getting other people involved now. This is why I wanted to end it before anybody noticed.

“Oh, me?” Nakajima responds in her normal voice, sounding surprisingly carefree for somebody who was screaming for her life just moments ago. “I jumped out on purpose.”

…Wait, what.

“Like, I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist coming after me,” she explains, lunging for my arm. “Sooo, I took a leap of faith, and I knew you were going to try and save me.” I retract my arm, making her pout just a little. “I just had to scream and look scared and a hero like you comes rushing to save me!” So, any hero would have worked, huh?

“That’s stupid!” I retort, pointing at her so hard that she flinches back, “I could have screwed that up you know! Just like everything else, I could have failed, and you could have died!”

Nakajima latches onto my extended arm, grinning beneath her mask. “But you expected it to fail and did it anyway, right?”

Again, I retract my arm, this time to wildly gesticulate. “I had to do something!” I shout back.

As if that somehow answers everything, Nakajima settles back and asks with a gravelly voice, “So, do you feel in charge here?” Again with the jokes. My severe look at her doesn’t cow her, only prompting her to ask, “Also how did you start that missile so quickly?”

“What, I just hit it in the right spot.”

Now it’s her turn to be surprised. “Wait, what? You can jumpstart a missile just by punching it?"

I snort derisively. "You can't? Aren't you supposed to be smart?" As soon as the words leave my mouth, I cover my face in shock and remorse. Even Nakajima is put off by how vicious that was. "I'm... I didn't...” I have to force my tongue to stop tangling itself up and obey me. “That was uncalled for,” I manage, giving a small bow. ”I'm sorry, it’s just… I can assure you this self-destruction is completely deserved. And one good deed does not excuse a lifetime of sin." Another gaffe, which I correct before anybody else can jump on it. "Of failure, then, but it may as well be a sin for me. I’d be the ruler of Hell if incompetence was a sin.”

Nakajima slumps to the ground, staring at me in bewilderment. “I don’t get it. You jumped out of a plane, punch-started and surfed on a missile, and saved the girl, namely me. You should be super stoked, right?” She scoots forward on her knees and reaches up, pushing the corners of my mouth into a fake smile.

I pull her hands down yet again. “And yet I’m still miserable, like I’m constantly being rained on,” I tell her, holding her wrists away. She grabs my hand instead.

“Then build a shelter with me!” she says, the cheery facade she’d built up starting to crumble. “Being happy isn’t about not feeling miserable or hurt, it’s being able to, like…” She looks lost for words, swinging my hand back and forth like a metronome as if it’d get her thought processes going again. She doesn’t have much conviction when she says, “still be happy? Something about weathering the storm together?” She squeezes my hand.

Sigh. “Look,” I tell her, yet again removing her hands from my person, “it’s nice that you’re trying to help, really, but this isn’t something anybody can solve. Literal mutant space cat magic couldn’t make me a good person, it’s just inherently impossible.”

“So, you’re going to try and jump again?” she asks, wiggling her fingers in distraction.

"Of course!”

Nakajima pulls her hands back and covers her face except for her eyes. “Well, that would be very painful…” No, don't finish that sentence - “For you.” I give her the most withering look I can manage, and Nakajima withers under it immediately, before her face scrunches in anger.

“Okay, look!” she growls, hands balling into fists. “I don’t know how to cheer up sad people so good, so I’m just trying to say whatever to make you stop being serious about something stupid!” She points to herself, yelling, “Look at us! We’re magical girls, so of course we’re all miserable, but we’re not killing ourselves over it!” And then stamps over to me to try and grab me, shaking with barely contained indignation. “So come on! Just stop it! Just stop this stupid crap already!”

Yet again, I push her hand away, my costume reforming over the thin hospital gown. “It is stupid, but then again, so am I.”

With my piece said I take off my mask and move towards the opening again. This time I conjure some bindings around her feet, causing her to trip before she can pull the same stunt from before. The breathing apparatus falls off, revealing her pained expression. It doesn’t stop me, but it hurts my heart.

“Don’t do it!” she pleads, with an earnest sadness I haven’t heard from her before. “I tried! I tried so hard this time! I tried for *you*!”

She stretches her arms out once more, but this time they do not reach. I sadly shake my head. “Thanks for trying anyway,” I tell her “I hope you find happiness without-”


The Soul Temperer’s voice rings out clearly, reminding me that she has been watching the entire time. No longer content to sit back, she tears off her oxygen mask and yanks me away from the opening. I stumble slightly, then regain my footing before I would crash into the opposite side. She grabs my other wrist and slams both into the wall. I expect a look of predatory hunger, which is why her expression of righteous indignation takes me completely by surprise. The ferocity in her scarlet red eyes is unlike anything I've seen from her before.

The Soul Temperer takes a deep breath, speaking slowly and deliberately, her voice booming with barely restrained fervor. “I have sat idle for far too long, having full confidence in your ability to finally see your own brilliance the way I see it," she says, her firm grip thwarting my escape, "but still, still you are blinded by despair, loathing and a misbegotten need for penance through self-flagellation! I won’t have it! I won’t suffer it anymore!“

Her face softens, as does her voice, but her grasp stays firm. “For when I first saw you so very many months ago, clashing weapons and hearts with the High Marshall, you kindled a spark in my heart that has since ignited into something far more, something I once would claim that I did not deserve!”

Wait… I saw her. I saw her there. At the conference between the Officios. Between the Second, the Sixth, the Seventh, and the Eighth. The discussion about how to move forward after Walpurgisnacht, between the Officios guarding their own Akashic Gates. She was the one that took me to the infirmary after Alondight gouged out my eyes! Valentina Tenko, a representative from the Seventh!

A sardonic smile twitches at the edge of the Soul Temperer’s mouth, perhaps unable to notice my recognition. “Oh yes, I was once the one seeking wisdom, truth, and enlightenment; And I sought it in pain, and suffering, and placing my faith in people who told me I was a wretched, horrible being, only fit to be used and discarded by those who had no affections for me!” She switches to a scowl, pressing her face forward and driving me back even more. “And I would not have you suffer that same fate!”

Her nose is mere inches from mine - her eyes are even more intense than her words, if that’s possible. I can feel her breath right on my face and smell the traces of fruit from her shampoo. “If ever I still thought I needed to redeem myself for my past sins and transgressions, then for you, and all that you are, I would forsake my other desires both mortal and spiritual, blaspheme any god, do anything! Whatever it takes to convince you that life is worth living!”

I’m stunned. Nobody has ever said anything like that to me before. Nobody ever had to. I didn’t have such vicious hatred for myself until Walpurgisnacht. Or maybe I just never noticed the survivor’s guilt weighing on me until now. But a former Black Templar would shun her own faith if it wouldn’t save me?

If I can’t live for me, if I can’t believe in myself… What about her? Can I believe in someone who so fervently believes that I should live, until I can find that drive myself? It can’t be that easy, can it?

She hoists me up and up, but before she can continue, I have to ask a simple question: “Why? Why are you trying so hard for someone like me? Why go through all this trouble for a one-night stand?”

The Soul Temperer lets go. “Is that what you still think this is about?” she asks incredulously, her momentum interrupted momentarily. “Perhaps I did not make my feelings clear before, so sure that they were as obvious as your own brilliance.” Ouch.

She clears her throat loudly, throwing her arms wide. “Then I will dispel all doubt now,” she declares jubilantly, her previously pained expression breaking into a wide smile. “It is because I love you!”

…My brain skips like a record and tries to make sense of what she just said. However, there is no need, as she repeats, “I love you, Heather!” I’m still coming to terms with what she just said, but she’s not giving me any time to process it. “My love is greater than the stars in the sky, and it burns for you and only you! Even if you would forsake my feelings, please take my earnest wish and passion as a sign to keep living on!”

Valentina Tenko loves me.

With that truth finally laid plain, Tenko pulls the back of my head all the way forward. I squeeze my eyes shut, my body on autopilot while my brain tries to sort through everything that’s happening. Gentle, girlish gasps escape from my mouth even though she has it locked in a deep, passionate kiss. My toes curl as if the heat escaping from my face was all that kept them straight.

The despair hanging over my head is, for the moment, shunted away by emotions so bright I would be afraid to look at them normally. The cheer and warmth in my heart and soul would cook me alive with embarrassment before now. But now a thirst for affection I didn’t even know I suffered from is being sated, and the sense of rightness and belonging gives me a sense of peace I haven’t felt in years. And not because of a kiss - it’s the affections of Valentina Tenko. Someone who, for all their quirks, truly did care for me all this time. That I, somewhere deep down, dared to hope held real affection for me.

Tenko releases me, cradling my chin on one hand, and faces away from me, trying to hide her expression behind her long blue hair. For all her bluster and bravado, even she is red in the face with an awkward self-consciousness that seems out of character for her. Even she, for all her forwardness and brashness, is trembling like a bashful schoolgirl.

I hadn’t dared to dream that I could love someone, anyone, in the longest time. To date, perhaps. Maybe even a fling if I was feeling unusually adventurous, but to reciprocate feelings? To cherish and be cherished? ‘til death do us part, or even for an instant? I was promised this happiness for over a decade and had all but given up hope on ever seeing it come to fruition, but now…

Tears start to well up once again. All this time wasted fretting over my own worth, squandered. I was this close to missing it. I was this close to losing any hope of love and affection ever again. I almost died, never knowing peace or fulfillment, when what I was looking for was this close to me for so long…

"What the frick just happened?!”

Nakajima’s voice interrupts my reverie, and both myself and Tenko turn to face her, the moment passed. The disgruntled maid picks herself up off the ground, tearing off the strips of magic tape. She crumples them more than strictly necessary, cursing under her breath. I do her the service of dismissing it magic, but it doesn’t alleviate her mood.

Nakajima jabs her finger in Tenko’s face, who flinches back. “Did I just lose the Crunchy Bowl to friggin' Eurotrash while I was winning, despite having a bigger role than her until now?" she yells, stamping her foot in rage. "This is discrimination against maids!” She points even harder. “It's discrimimaidtion!”

As I’m not the immediate subject of her ire, I scratch my head in bewilderment. “I’m sorry, the… ‘Crunchy Bowl?’” I ask quietly.

Nakajima whirls about and exhales very loudly. “Gawd are you really that dense? Don’t make me say it, it’s embarrassing!” she whines. Her outstretched hands slap her own face, dragging her cheeks down with them. “And I don’t even understand why I’m doing this! Any of this! I feel like I have to add ‘no homo’ to everything I say, or I’ll go crazy!”

Possible understanding dawns. I take a tentative step towards Nakajima, who realizes that *I* realize and immediately regrets saying words. I still need confirmation, so I probe her, asking “you mean you…” okay, gently now, “like me, like that?”

She was preparing for this, but she still wasn’t ready for my query. Her face falls, and she covers it to hide her blush. “Oh, well, um, uh…” Nakajima can’t look at me, not willing to let her expression be seen while she’s tripping over her words. “Yyyyeah? I guess? Maybe?” She tries to trace shapes in the air that might look like a heart. “Y’know, it’s like… like, I heart you and stuff…” Her indignation immediately comes back, and she gets ready to rant, starting out with “man, this is so unfair! I mean, I’m happy that you’re alive, I guess? But I’m still super pissed that I lost!” And prepares to lay out why it’s unfair and such things.

“Never again,” I murmur, the beginnings of an important thought trying desperately to form in my mind. A grief seed pops from my inventory and cleanses the tarnish from my gem, leaving it pristine once more. “Never again will I permit despair to grasp my heart in its talons as it has.” This is not that thought, however. While the others give me strange looks, neurons I didn’t know I had active scream at me. Give me a sudden flash of insight. And I try to give voice to that line of reasoning before the idea is gone.

Without warning, I run over and grab both of the maddened maid’s delicate hands, the normally devil-may-care woman’s complexion going as pink as her hair. “I see now! You’re afraid, and you want an out if you can get one!” Embarrassment gives way to shock. I doubt she expected to be read so easily, but then again, I didn’t expect to get her either. I keep following the logic to see where it takes me, earnestly explaining, “you found someone who you feel like finally understands you on a level that you didn’t think possible, and these feelings are *new* and *scary* and you feel like you’re not the one in control, so now you’re afraid. Afraid of losing control and embarrassing yourself, but also afraid of losing that person, and feeling all alone again.”

Her golden eyes grow wide, and they shimmer as if an emotional landmine just exploded. I pull her closer, clasp my fingers around hers, and try to speak in a more soothing tone. “And because of that, you’re conflicted. But you’re also still trying your very best. For maybe the first time in your life, you’re trying your very hardest to connect with someone and be a good person. And you’re afraid that it’s not enough. So committing to your feelings becomes difficult, unless you can pretend you were merely joking. And now that you feel like you’re losing, you’re trying to downplay how serious it is to you. But it still hurts so deeply.” I wipe away my own tears that I’d forgotten about, giving her the warmest smile I can muster. “I’m sorry that I hadn’t seen it sooner. But Amber, I’m touched by the kindness and love you didn’t even know you had inside you. And I won’t take it for granted. I promise.”

Pulling Amber into a hug, a tight one that lifts her off her feet just the way she likes it, I turn back to Valentina and smile sheepishly. “I think I owe you both an apology,” I start. “And an explanation. *Several* explanations, really.” I cough, as Amber goes limp in my arms, making repressed sobbing noises behind my back. With a gentle clearing of my throat, I smile my brightest smile. I tell them, “but I owe you two, and certainly give you two, my heart, my adoration and my overwhelming affections as well.”

A nervous laugh. I nuzzle my head against Amber’s midsection, the contact stimulating happiness in my brain in ways I never thought possible from such a simple gesture. I take a deep breath, catching the scent of her strawberry shampoo, and do not calm down at all. “I mean, I’ll try to restrain myself, but this joy welling in my heart threatens to overflow, and I want to share it with you! Physically, emotionally, spiritually, I want to make you even happier than you’ve made me! If you’ll still have me, of course.” Another nervous laugh. Even though we’ve put our feelings out in the open, my blush threatens to outshine the gleam of my own soul gem. This giddy feeling is almost overwhelming, and if I lose my focus I’ll be swept away. “Does that make any sense? Haha, I don’t even know the words coming out of my mouth anymore other than I love you-”

“I’m sorry to interrupt-”

I spin on my heel to face Other Nakajima - now Nakajima I guess, but probably better to call her Jade - in surprise. “Have you been here the entire time?!” I ask incredulously. She has a video camera going…

“-but we need to make an emergency landing. In Mitakihara”

The good feelings quickly disappear like so much smoke as anxiety crashes down on me like an ocean of bricks. A sick feeling fills my guts. “So, uh, is it too late to jump to my death?” I float. Angry fists strike me ineffectually in the back, and Valentina and *the other maid* give me dirty looks. “Sorry, that was a bad joke.”

A loud drone of oriental drumbeats rings out from Tenko’s pocket. She looks at it briefly, then looks back at me, then back at her phone. She apparently realized something that she can’t share with the class just yet. She answers brightly, "Greetings, Spiritual Liege, this is Tenko-” I can hear what I assume is Chinese profanity all the way from over here “-and we need clearance to make an emergency landing in Mitakihara-”

“And don’t tell anyone that doesn’t need to know anything more than they need to know!” I shout after her. I *really* don't want to deal with more people from my past than necessary right now.

“-and Heather requests that as few people know about this as possible.” Yelling. “Yes, she’s awake. She’s why we need to make an emergency landing. The aircraft door was removed.” More yelling. “Yes, that was also her doing.” Even more yelling. “Excelsior! I’ll be sure to tell her.” Click.

“Tell me what?”

Valentina takes a deep breath. She eyes me with pity. “I’m afraid you will need to speak with Acting Warmaster Tomoe to explain why you detonated a missile above Japanese airspace.”

“Oh.” Of all the people who dislike me, Mami Tomoe probably ranks in the top ten. I don’t know if she ever cursed out anyone besides me, and I’m honestly afraid to find out.

But there was more. “The Great Sage of the Outback, the Spiritual Liege, and the Star-Spangled Sharpshooter - that is, the Warmaster of the Eighth,” she explains before I can ask, “will be there on video feed.”

“Oh, fuck me.” Getting chewed out by one Warmaster is bad enough. Getting chewed out by several is utterly mortifying!

Valentina chuckles lightly. “Well,” she asks, nudging me in the ribs, “do you feel sufficiently punished now?”

“I feel like Purgatory would have been gentler than this, yes,” I respond dryly. “I’m going to need some proper clothes if I don’t want to draw attention, and-”

There’s stirring from behind me. “Hey, Heather-Feather?” Amber calls out gently. I get the littlest spark of joy hearing her call my name like that, which really helps my situation right now. “Do you need that hug yet?”

I gently, gently, ever so gently set her down and try not to look too embarrassed. I fail, but it’s the effort that counts. “I think I do, yes,” I murmur, closing my eyes and letting myself be embraced by her. Her warmth, her scent, all of it gently washes over me. I can hear her quiet breathing, staggered as it is from all the excitement from before. I gently stroke her silky soft hair, nuzzling her cheek against mine. My troubles, in this instant, are the furthest thing from my mind.

I crack an eye open. Valentina and Jade give me A Look, and I know I’m going to have to figure out this Love Shape (Right Angle?) sometime soon, among other things…

…But for now, I’m going to savor this moment for as long as it lasts. We’ve earned it.