The Riddle of Witch Flesh: Part 4

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It's time to continue with this story. There is still much to record, and so much more I should rather be thinking of instead.

Let's see: Where I've last left off, a Vanus of the Twelfth, whose name I've had yet to learn, was staring at the abyss.

With a commendable presence of mind, one of the Vindicare girls around had managed to raise her gun the moment she understood what's happening. I saw her fire off the hip earlier, and it was because she now took a split second to properly aim at the crumbling Gem, that she was too late. We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble right there. The newly formed Grief Seed vanished into thin air, and her shot had passed through an already dead body.

As fast as Barbara's storm went by, the wind had started picking up again. The sky took on an increasingly darker tone, and it was obvious a Barrier was being set up. But, aside from another dead body we now had on our hands, the Witch herself was nowhere around.

Strange. If they Witch out right before you, you normally appear at the center, or at least very close near her. This seemed like there would be a whole Labyrinth to go through. In place of an antenna on the rooftop shack stood a telephone pole. Where you could earlier see roof bracing were now high walls of barbed wire. Instead of a field of laundry poles, there was a whole load of semaphores and traffic signs - the incomprehensible, long kind, with a ton of different colors, that you normally see on railways. And indeed, rather then a plastic tube for wires smelted into the roof ground, we suddenly had a pair of rails under our feet. In addition to dust and dirt, ground was now littered with gravel, the sun had turned into a blood tinted moon, and sooner than you could blink, we were in a brand new world yet again.

A lot of Barriers take on the properties of the place where the girl had Witched out, but this one was pretty particular about exactly how it wanted to look. This reality bending power doesn't come from the mind. According to Panna, the power of a Witch depends less on the personal competency of the girl, and more on her karma.

The research of karma is something Librarians are fascinated by - it's apparently the magical equivalent of rocket science, but simply put, it's metaphysical weight, or objective importance. It seems to be difficult to judge and measure. This raises the question I'd ask a lot later: Was this pale, lanky druggie important somehow?

Even if that was so, she is now a statistic in the Archive. Sometimes this job makes me and our other Eversors feel like a daybreak garbage squad of the magical girl world. Waking up almost every day, knowing that you'll have to clean up other people's mess again, never knowing how much of it will be actual feces. I am the boss, so I've even got the incineration part down.

This time, though, things were different.

"So, Popelka, this one is on you." I've told her, moving on the track's side, but still keeping the sudden high ground of the rail embankment, since it was so demonstrative. "Do you want to have your girls taking her out too? You know you're done with the first hunt now, so you can really just kind of heel turn and go home, if you want."


She turned to the recovering squad. "Yeah, I'm definitely going to take the overtime here, myself. Not like I've got anything better to do. You others, though, bail if you feel like it." She raised both her hands, and made gestures to illustrate both choices, which made her look all the more like an instructor. "Being proactive is good, but judging your capabilities right matters a lot more. With Barbara, you've just seen some of the most insane stuff that Witches can do. It's all downhill from here. This is a fresh Barrier and I hear the train coming from this side of the rail, so you've probably just got to go in the other, and you're out. But don't actually go into the tracks, pretty sure they are the worst place to be here."

As a matter of fact, there was only one pair of those. Clearly, the train could only go one way.

They've all seemed to be deeply considering it. Screw all that "Ma'm, best of the best ma'm!" garbage you'd hear elsewhere, but still. I may never have managed to fully accept that for all their quirky talents, the Twelfth is still a bunch of wimps. There are so many tomboys, too! These costumes the Vindicare are wearing are spiffy, but you can still mostly recognize the Twelfth's dressing theme. It's much more striking with Eversors. Uniforms, sportswear, work clothes, casual clothes, even Kamile's costume was a frilly tracksuit.

I mean, what kind of a girl fulfills her childhood hopes by putting on pants? I'd hate to step on thin ice here by bringing sexuality into it all, maybe they just happen to get costumes like that. Each seems to have their own explanation for it. It sort of creates a romantic image of gentlemen that guard the princesses, those being Vanus. If only they could follow the image through with strength of character, or at least a basic sense of responsibility.

In the end, two of them left, proposing they'd stay nearby anyway, guarding the entrance against any Familiars that would spill out.

Well, that was one problem solved. I appreciated having nine girls do my work for me, since I'd have to rely on magic much more with only one hand. Another concern to deal with - that my arm was wrecked, and few of the girls had gotten some cuts in Barbara's barrier as well. And aside from cleaning the wound with flames, I suck at healing. If Panna was more lax with her Venenum students, we could have those battle auxiliary Venenum, but no such luck.

Jarmila Rank Leader2.jpeg

My normal approach would be toughing it out and using the limb like nothing's wrong. But nine girls were looking at me now, and that would set a terrible example. Can't expect that from everyone. Fortunately, there was an option I had just for this situation, even though it felt tempting to ignore it again.

Panna's potions are indeed something I try to not think about. Like, well, a lot of things. The sight of a Warmaster riding the Love Potion, working off her four months, and becoming more and more of a wreck, until she can't hold it together anymore and expands the list of high profile Witches, that really burns itself into your mind. I think we never actually were supposed to see any of them, not us Rank Leaders, not even most of the Librarians, but damn, I did. That's how I found out that Panna can screw up like every other person.

I did have a makeup case with some of her stuff in it, but it still felt completely reprehensible. You would kind of expect Panna to put some contingency mind control drugs in it, or use the normals-can't-see-this excuse, due to which you have to always carry it around if you're ever going to use it, to put some kind of a tracking device inside.

See the back of the case below. Now tell me, am I paranoid?

Vászon's alchemical mending cream - Apply onto and into the wound. Enhances blood, skin, and basic tissue recovery. Effective within a minute, so do it fast. - Intended for use on: skin cuts, nicked veins and arteries, cleanly cut muscles. - Not intended to be used on: torn muscle fiber, severed tendons, or wounds that reach internal organs. - NEVER use on broken bones. If the wound is so nasty that you can't avoid touching it, the cream absolutely must not get into the marrow. - Uses next to none of your energy, but is set to lose magical properties if no Gem is nearby. Always carry on your person upon receiving. - Side effects: Immediate hunger, fat loss, muscle mass loss, weight loss, heavy sweating. Leaves scar tissue. After use, eat a big meal, and visit the medical bay or consult the nearest Venenum to have the wound checked.

I've figured it should be alright to use, bone wasn't sticking out, though it was hurting like fractured at least. The bruised and torn skin bled a lot in one spot, probably opened a vein there, that could have been a problem. Then again, making sure you won't bleed out seemed to be the point of this.

It's kind of a mixed blessing, but sustaining the same wound many times can really help your kinesthetic sense. You don't know pleasure until you've had your soul caressed, and much like that, you can hardly call yourself a masochist if you don't even know the pain of having your brain cut.

Having known the extremes also makes you duller to the mundane. Rubbing it in hurt too, but like I am saying, pain is something that gets old. It almost put me off when I've given the case to the wounded squaddies, and they were still making all those silly grimaces and moans when all they had to do was touching a bit of their own flesh.

Finally, the drag was done with. "Let's get a move on. It's your turn to shine now. Can't suffer a Witch to live. You've already been baptized sub utraque specie there, so to say, through both water and fire. I am sure you can handle this. If anything, it will be much easier the second time".

If only I could be this charismatic without the costume on. It really makes it easier to say what I want in an impressive way. It's probably all psychological, I just feel much more confident like this. Which, in the end, may have to with my wish.

"Will those tracks on the ground move, or can she leave them? Damn." Popelka seemed really worried about positioning, and complained that the rail hill was too high to see over, forcing us to keep somebody on the top, which ended up being her.

In the distance, we soon saw her first Familiars, who took a convenient while to appear. Apparently a bunch of winged wheels. They couldn't have been any strong now, and couldn't really beat the group's firepower. Coming from only one place, the tracks, before they've realized they can fly, that didn't help them either.

Good, wouldn't like to be on the front line, there. Blocking attacks that are based on centrifugal force sucks. It's why I use a flail. The wheels would have played rough if they ever got close enough.

Wheels. I was reminded of High Marshal Raleigh. Now, we basically see the Blessed Lady as a grim reaper, because she appears around divinations regarding death. They have a whole, fairly pointless, advanced mythology relating to her, and long story short, one of her saints is associated with wheels. The thing is, they approach it in a really naive fashion. Shouldn't religious people know that wheels are martyrdom, and loss of man against fate? I am the ignorant savage of the Twelfth, and even I know this one. You see wheels on the art in churches, basically all the time.

Petra w2.jpeg

I didn't manage to get a hit in very often. They only ever came from one direction even further in, seeing that the rest was walled off with wires, the corridor around the tracks slowly narrowing. So, they got drowned in curtain fire, and I eventually just kind of withdrew back, so I wouldn't stand in their way. They've managed to progress economically, blasters stepping in when a group would try to break through. It was a bloody hallway, really. With time, maybe, the Barrier could accumulate switches, and turn into a proper Labyrinth, but all the way until we hit the station, it was fairly straightforward.

The station not only had quite a few of the winged wheels waiting, but also had steep concrete walls right around the still only one-way rail, which was worrying. There was barely enough space for half the squad to form a line. In the distance behind it, the sky had carried a small trail of witch letters, that I think were supposed to be the train's hooting.

Soon enough, we could also see her outline, and that's when the weapon users had understood just how massive she is, and started worrying whether they really did well by coming along. "She looks so fast. I don't think my throwing stars will do anything here, ma'm. What do we do when she gets here? Just hit it with everything we've got?"

Popelka spared the girl no look, instead gesturing the blasters to come forward. "Yeah. This is pretty much exactly why I've recommended you that grenade training. Grenades are good. Now get back."

Curious. My complaint about blasters not knowing how to shoot guns now stood on its head. Popelka is clearly really trying, so it's strange her squad can get away with being that impractical. Can't she just, like, order them to learn certain stuff and bring certain equipment? Martina is quite the iron lady as well, at least with subordinates. Could it be the Librarians filling their heads with bullshit about personal development?

Petra w1.jpeg

The train Witch had approached soundlessly, but with an overwhelming amount of Witch text all around it. One of the blasters almost fell, and another had to catch and support her, from the sheer volume of letters and wind pressed against us, before it was even in range. There was no earthly way of knowing whether in this station, it was stopping.

The first gunshots and bolts had next to no visible effect on it, but an explosion of pink petals from the blaster with best range had visibly managed to tilt it.

"That's it! More on that side!"

Pure green light, followed by a pair of fireballs and a bolt of golden lightning smashed into her, her locomotive head already completely fallen to the side, but unable to stop anymore. The rest of her body kept pushing her forward. She was vomiting Witch letters everywhere now, the sky and even the rail corridor's walls being almost lost to sight.

I've wanted to yell that she's sliding to the right and to get on the other side, but there was no time to do even that, so I've just grabbed the girl farthest(?) in the danger zone, and jerked her out of the trainwreck's way. Immediately after, the letters overwhelmed us completely, and once they were gone, the whole Barrier was, like it never existed.

I have been scared that we'd get hit by the tail, and wanted to jump, but that wasn't even necessary in the end. No wounds on anyone else, either.

Her Grief Seed had kept the momentum she had, though, and flied quite far into the distance. We had to search for it for solid half an hour, and then we had to fish it from a rain pipe as well.

Who was she, and why did this happen? It boggled my mind all the way through. It may have been the tedious task of scanning every inch of the bordering apartment complex from the rooftop that emptied my mind, and let suspicion seep in like it never did before. I've had it with hypocrisy and being always left in the dark. I was really drawn to the idea of finding out just what her story was.

Basically, she was a good example of all that I hate about the Twelfth. The amount of recruits and transferees, and the 70% witch-out rate. You almost never see anybody being pressed into losing the fight, though, like with bullying or such. I even try to stomp that right out when it turns up, despite it generally being the victim's fault for letting it happen. There obviously was another way this was carried out, and Panna knows why she keeps it out of our sights and minds. Having stayed in the business for years made it feel almost natural, that girls come and go, but for some reason this one was the straw that broke the camel's back, and resulted in me eventually taking action.

For the rest of the day, and since then even until now, I'd be melancholic and contemplative. And emotional, and quite a bit more honest than usual. After five years of having to steel my mind and guilt tripping myself into trying ever harder, something broke.

It broke subtly, and without me noticing.

She really did make a good martyr after all.