Magical Juggernaut Heather Crunch III: Subhuman

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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!