Magical Girl Applejack 3

Dec 27th, 2019 (edited)
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  1. >Two years ago, you were a Magical Girl.
  2. >On a mission that couldn’t have gone more to shit if you planned it to.
  3. >Seriously, if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear something was out to get you.
  4. >Fate or whatever the hell else you call it.
  5. >Knowing your luck, it probably is.
  6. >Good thing you don’t believe in it in the first place.
  8. >What started as a bodyguard job for an assertive if bratty young girl named Silver Spoon has since deteriorated into a full-blown clusterfuck.
  9. >A sizeable group of insurgents has infiltrated the Grand Gala Hotel about ten minutes ago, abruptly cutting short the gaudy charity event.
  10. >You’re still not sure about their objective.
  11. >Seeing as they started to slaughter every single guest in sight as soon as they breached, you suspect it’s nothing good.
  12. >You managed to escape the immediate assault along with Silver and Trixie—the Magical Girl you’re partnered with for this mission—but it’s only a matter of time until you’ll run out of luck.
  13. >Feeling your way through the bowels of the hotel towards the garage, the chances of actually finding the company car intact are dwindling by the second.
  14. >You’ve been surprised by small hunter squads twice.
  15. >To make matters worse, the enemy Magical Girl who seems all too happy to give you a taste of her skills as a shotgun surgeon is still lurking somewhere ahead, in the maze of kitchens and murky pantries.
  17. "What do you think?"
  18. >Trixie takes another look around the corner.
  19. >"We watch for maybe five more minutes, we’re gonna know."
  20. "We don’t have that kind of time."
  21. >The storeroom you’ll have to cross is a sea of black, and Trixie knows as well as you that at least three of the enemy shock troops are stalking around in there.
  22. >You’ve seen the demon glow of their visors flash in the darkness once already.
  23. >"You’ve called HQ, right?"
  24. "Twenty minutes for the QRF."
  25. >You check your smartphone again.
  26. "That was eleven minutes ago."
  27. >"Well, we’re way out in the sticks. They’re coming through the garage?"
  28. "Probably."
  29. >"Wanna wait it out then? Find some hard cover and dig in?"
  30. >Glancing around the corner again, you shake your head.
  31. "Those guys we left back there will be missed at some point. And we don’t have the gear to hold out long enough. Not against… whatever this is. Getting through is our best bet."
  32. >"Fuck it then," Trixie rolls her shoulders. "Sick of sitting here with my thumb up my asshole anyway."
  33. >Your partner shakes her arms and legs, performing a weird stretching routine using Gorefather, her giant monstrosity of a chainsaw, as a counterweight.
  34. >"You stay here with the little…"
  35. >She glances toward Silver.
  36. >"…with the client."
  37. >"I don’t care," the girl didn’t miss the jab. "Call me whatever you want. Just get us out of here."
  38. >Trixie can’t help but laugh.
  39. "I don’t think they’ve noticed yet. You should be able to get the drop on them."
  40. >Bringing the chainsaw in front of her, your partner nods.
  41. >"Easy-peasy. As long as the cunt with the shotgun doesn’t show."
  42. >With that, she unceremoniously fires up Gorefather’s engine and throws herself into the room.
  44. >For a moment, the shrieking motor noise is drowning out everything.
  45. >Then the gunfire starts.
  46. >Then the screams.
  47. >The saw picks up speed, singing its grisly battle song, and with each of its shrieks another rifle falls silent.
  48. >It’s not long until only a few panicked bursts remain.
  49. >One of the insurgents actually comes crashing around the corner, frantically trying to get his gun between him and the rampaging psycho dressed like a Disney princess.
  50. >He falls over backwards, startled by your presence, and you end his pathetic display with a well-placed hammer blow to the face a second later.
  51. >There are a few more screams until Gorefather goes silent.
  53. >"Clear."
  54. >Trixie sounds bored.
  55. >"Fucking lightweights."
  56. "Are you alright?" you turn to check on Silver, only to find her stifling her voice with a hand over her mouth.
  57. >Her face and chest are dripping with blood.
  58. >It takes another second to connect it to the man you just relieved of his skull, and to the spray of messy aftermath that must have caught your client.
  59. "Sorry," you try to touch her shoulder only to be slapped away.
  60. >"Fucking hell! Hammers and saws and fucking shotguns! Aren’t you people supposed to be magical?"
  61. >Silver is trying to wipe the gore from her face, which only manages to smear it even more.
  62. >"Shouldn’t you have, I don’t know, glow sticks that vaporize people or something? Instead you went and raided the fucking hardware store."
  63. >"You’ve been watching too many movies," Trixie steps back out, chuckling at Silver’s impromptu makeover. "Now keep it down. There’s more of these fuckers creeping around."
  64. >As if she was returning from a beer run rather than a murder spree, your partner seems pretty chipper.
  65. >Like this was nothing but good sport for her.
  66. >Like she wasn’t dripping with the remains of the half dozen guys she just turned to mulch.
  69. >The cleared storeroom offers the same sight as the ones you went through previously: scattered foodstuff and dead bodies.
  70. >Only this time they’re insurgents instead of guests.
  71. >It’s only slightly less disturbing—thanks to your partner’s knack for making a mess of things—but it’s still an overall better picture.
  72. >At least these assholes deserved it.
  73. >Kind of.
  74. "Here," you hand Silver a shotgun lying among the corpses. "You know how to use one of these?"
  75. >She doesn’t answer, snatching the weapon from your hands to check its chamber.
  76. >Threading her arm through the sling, she goes fumbling through the previous owner’s tactical vest for spare shells.
  77. >She may have hesitated if she wasn’t thoroughly covered in blood already.
  78. "If anyone comes at you that isn’t me or Trixie, you aim for center mass and keep shooting until they stop moving or the gun runs out."
  79. >That makes her stop.
  80. >"What if it’s one of the other guests?"
  81. >"Not your problem," Trixie hands her a few more shells she found under what may have been a torso, "if they’re stupid enough to come too close that’s their fault."
  82. >"But isn’t that–"
  83. "Don’t."
  84. >Silver narrows her eyes at you.
  85. "We can’t. I know what you’re going to say but we can’t afford the risk."
  86. >"You can’t risk being decent human beings? Can’t risk giving some poor fucker a fighting chance in this shithole?"
  87. "If it makes you feel any better, you can say that it was one of us if anyone comes asking afterwards. Just tell ’em we went overboard trying to protect our asset."
  88. >"Better yet," Trixie shoves more shells into Silver’s hands, "just shut the fuck up about it, huh? It’s not like anybody can retrace this shit anyway. What’s one more dead civilian?"
  89. >Your client takes a while to reply this time, mustering the gun in her hands and the blood-stained head of your sledgehammer.
  90. >"You’re not going to help the other guests escape, are you?"
  91. "We have a mission," you gently push Silver to get her moving towards the exit on the other side.
  92. >"I know but I thought… Aren’t Magical Girls supposed to be saving people?"
  95. >After crossing a few more side rooms and moving down a flight of stairs, you enter the underground service tunnels connecting the hotel proper to the subterranean facilities and the parking lot.
  96. "It’s a maze down here," you take a moment to appreciate the map lopsidedly taped to the wall, tracing routes with your finger. "We can’t afford to get lost."
  97. >It’s hand-drawn, with more than a few paths simply ending in question marks.
  98. >Some run all the way to the edges of the paper, disappearing into torn corners and smudgy coffee rings.
  99. "What kind of hotel has an underground like this?"
  100. >"I memorized it earlier."
  101. >Trixie gestures down a hallway branching right, brushing past you to take point.
  102. >A tangle of labels is spray-painted along the walls of the tunnel, identifying strands of gas, water, and power lines running abreast.
  103. >"We take a left about halfway down. Past three of the blue gas valves and before the fourth. Then another left at the end of the next tunnel and the first right afterwards. Car’s parked in the north-west corner of the garage, twenty meters from the doorway."
  104. >She waves Silver to follow her, leaving you to pick up the rear.
  106. >Even with the description, you’re glad you don’t have to take the lead.
  107. >Rooms and tunnels fork from the hallway like spiderwebs, with bulbous, sickly-yellow luminaires growing along their brickwork like tumors.
  108. >Some stretch out for hundreds of meters, others aren’t even lit to begin with, making it impossible to tell just how far they’re actually snaking away into the darkness.
  109. >A few are wide enough to accommodate derelict rail tracks and fleets of abandoned freight carts.
  110. >"This used to be a hideout for some sort of trading clan by the name of Glaw until a while ago," Silver catches you craning your neck to follow a curved corridor. "I had my people look into it. It’s pretty murky but apparently they were involved in some shady shit. These tunnels run all the way to the next estates a few kilometers away."
  111. "Escape routes?"
  112. >"Or ways to move goods unnoticed. We have underground loading docks at some of our warehouses, too."
  113. >"So they were running guns?" Trixie pipes up from the front.
  114. >"I don’t think so. That would’ve come up pretty easily. No," your client shakes her head, following a strand of utility lines into the darkness with her eyes, "this is something else. Looks like they mined for something."
  115. >"And the hotel?"
  116. >"As far as we found out they bought the property through a private realtor five-or-so years ago. Tunnel network and all."
  117. "They probably use the parts they need and just leave the rest alone."
  118. >"Still," Trixie muses, "those Glaw people just up and left? After all that work? Something must’ve made them give up the position."
  119. >"Maybe it wasn’t viable anymore," Silver shrugs.
  120. "Maybe they found what they were looking for."
  122. >"Our turn," Trixie announces, pointing towards the next tunnel branching left. "Stay low."
  123. >She gestures for the two of you to get closer to the wall, sneaking ahead.
  124. >Even if there haven’t been any enemies down here so far, there’s no reason not to assume the intruders have detached a squad or two to block off possible exits.
  125. >The moment Trixie peeks around the corner is the moment your instincts go into overdrive.
  127. >You’ve had the feeling before.
  128. >Back when Silver was arguing with the guy named Moira at the party.
  129. >Just before the explosions.
  130. >It’s not something you can put into words—or explain, for that matter—but any Magical Girl worth her salt will be able to tell you about it.
  131. >About that tingle at the base of her spine.
  132. >That sudden flash of adrenaline.
  133. >Like a precognition, making you turn around to stop a knife or drop to the floor to dodge a bullet.
  135. >Maybe it’s bullshit.
  136. >A fairy tale passed from one MG to the next so many times that everyone actually believes in it.
  137. >Maybe it can all be explained.
  138. >Maybe all that happened this time was you catching a glimpse of red in the corner of your eyes.
  139. >It doesn’t really matter.
  140. >What matters is that Trixie is wrong to be concerned about the tunnel in front.
  141. >It’s the one in your back you have to worry about.
  143. >You turn around, making six insurgents freeze in their tracks about fifty meters away, their visors mustering you with laden, unblinking concentration.
  144. >If you weren’t seeing them, you’d have a hard time believing they were there to begin with.
  145. >How can half a dozen armed men be this fucking silent?
  146. >Silent enough that none of you noticed.
  147. >Who knows how long they’ve been following you.
  148. >Or why they didn’t open fire.
  149. >When they start moving again, it’s with that same dead silence that must have allowed them to get this close in the first place.
  150. "Trixie!"
  151. >Your partner snaps around.
  152. "Run!"
  154. >When you push silver towards the corner, Trixie has already vanished around the bend.
  155. >You’re just a couple of steps away when she comes crashing back around.
  156. >"Another fucking team!" she points. "They’re coming from the garage as well!"
  157. "Fuck!"
  158. >"W-what do we do?" Silver is staring down the hallway in panic. "Why aren’t they shooting at us?"
  159. "Any ideas, Lulamoon?"
  160. >Trixie pauses for a second.
  161. >You can all but see the map forming in her mind’s eye.
  162. >"We keep going this way!" she starts running, waving you to follow her straight down the tunnel and past the intersection. "Move!"
  163. >You can already see the other group of men as you sprint past.
  165. "It’s too many, Trixie! We can’t deal with that. Not in here."
  166. >"It’s a fuck-up. What do you wanna do, cry about it?"
  167. "Where does the tunnel go?"
  168. >"It’s a dead end. There’s a storeroom or something but that’s it."
  169. >"We’re trapped?" Silver’s voice is pure panic.
  170. "It’s a place we can defend."
  171. >"Bullshit! You can’t defend shit! You can’t even get me out of here!"
  173. >The look over your shoulder shows nothing good.
  174. >The enemies are still not using their guns, but the two groups have joined up, forming a squad well over a dozen strong.
  175. >Most of them have stashed their rifles, opting for combat knives and telescopic batons instead.
  176. "Something must be down here," you pant, "something that keeps them from firing."
  177. >"Good!" Trixie points towards a door on the right. "There’s the room."
  178. >She’s the first to reach it, rattling the handle.
  179. >"Locked!"
  180. >"What now?!" Silver whines.
  181. >You answer by smashing Angron into the lock from full sprint, easily shattering the bolt.
  183. >The room is a small break room: a few tables, folding chairs, a couple of high shelves.
  184. "Get in the corner," you point Silver towards the far end while Trixie flips a table for her to hide behind. "Remember what I told you about the gun."
  185. >"W-what do I do?"
  186. >"You shoot any fucker coming through that door who doesn’t look like a high-school girl gone Blair Witch," Trixie barks. "Stay low and don’t come out until we’re back."
  187. >"What if you don’t come back?"
  188. >"Then you’re fucked," your partner guns her chainsaw. "Might want to save the last shell, know what I mean?"
  189. >She puts a finger gun to her temple before stepping out to greet your pursuers.
  190. >"Your decision."
  191. >You follow her after another second, giving the young girl cowering behind the overturned table one last glance.
  192. >If you thought she wasn’t looking her age before, she’s definitely incapable of hiding it now.
  194. >Back in the tunnel, you’re greeted by the sight of the enemy operatives slowly advancing on you; a sea of red eyes and black armor plates creeping down the corridor.
  195. >Trixie has Gorefather in a two-handed grip, slowly leading the tip of the roaring chainteeth from one wall over to the other.
  196. >"There’s not enough room to swing," she growls. "Stay behind me. Out of reach. I’ll do the best I can and you protect my openings. Make sure none of these assholes get between us."
  197. "We’ll be dead if they decide to shoot after all."
  198. >"Well they haven’t so far. No reason we can’t get lucky every once in a while, right? You see a cunt going for his rifle, you take ‘em out. I don’t care if you have to bite or lose an arm or whatever."
  199. >You pat the girl’s shoulder.
  200. "Go."
  202. >She immediately jumps forward, closing the gap to the frontmost enemy and thrusting her chainsaw like a spear.
  203. >He manages to dodge, with two of his colleagues countering from the sides and trying to get at Trixie with their knives.
  204. >She jerks Gorefather left, catching one of them in the side, leaving you to take care of the other.
  205. >Your reach isn’t quite far enough to get to his body but you manage to hit his hand with a lunge.
  206. >The knife goes flying out of his fingers.
  207. >He’s still standing.
  208. >Another guy is coming up behind him, swinging a baton.
  209. >"Motherfuckers!" Trixie brings Gorefather back over.
  210. >Although it doesn’t have the space for a large swipe, the saw still does its part.
  211. >Two insurgents are quick enough to duck under the screeching thing, the third is relieved of his head for his tardiness.
  212. >The spinning chainteeth leave a line of spatters on the wall.
  214. >You get a better angle for your follow-up this time, driving Angron straight into the skull of one of the ducking enemies.
  215. >Someone manages to drag his knife across your knuckles in return.
  216. "Fuck!"
  217. >While Trixie hacks at the men on the right, you switch to her left, using your upper body to deliver an arcing, horizontal strike.
  218. >Something squishy gives way under the force of the impact, prompting you to pull back and swing again.
  220. >Despite feeling the satisfying crunch of more cracking bones travel up the handle, the enemy rows aren’t thinning out.
  221. >You don’t know how long you can keep up.
  222. >Angron has pretty much mostly lost its weight for you over the years, but you can feel your arms beginning to slacken from the rapid blows you’re dishing out.
  223. >The blood running from your throbbing fingers isn’t helping either.
  224. >What’s worst is that two enemies have used the opening to slip past.
  225. "Back to back!"
  226. >You barely manage to block a knife coming your way, then another.
  227. >Your fist meets its reflection in one of the enemies’ gas masks.
  228. >A baton crashes into your thigh, almost making you buckle.
  229. >Missing the guy she was aiming for by a hand’s width, Trixie drives Gorefather into the wall, making it chew concrete in a shower of bright sparks.
  230. >Another enemy uses the chance to get past.
  231. >You’re quickly becoming encircled.
  233. >Just as you’re about to yell at your partner to make a run for the break room, the popping of automatic gunfire starts to echo down the tunnel.
  234. "They’re shooting! Get–"
  235. >You’re interrupted by a bullet zipping past your head and the insurgent closest to you dropping to the floor.
  236. >"Don’t move!" Trixie shouts.
  237. >More shots are followed by more grunts and screams and a more enemies falling over.
  238. >Some are clutching a leg or an arm in pain, others are entirely motionless.
  239. >The last guy standing has his knife high in a reverse grip, running towards you.
  240. >He’s two steps away when his visor explodes in a shower of cracked plastic and biologic wreckage.
  242. >When the gunfire subsides, only you and Trixie are left standing, save for a trio of distant figures near the tunnel intersection from earlier.
  243. >"QRF’s here."
  246. >Three Magical Girls are standing before you in formation, the star emblems on their costumes identifying them as members of the office’s prestigious, highly-trained shock troops.
  247. >The Royal Guard.
  248. >All of them are sporting customized ballistic masks with numbers etched into their foreheads and tactical vests ripe with grenades and magazines.
  249. >Two carry automatic rifles, the third—the leftmost girl—is holding a large sniper rifle across her chest.
  250. >You’ve led them back into the room Silver had been hiding in after very carefully peeking around the corner.
  251. >She still damn near took your head off.
  253. >"What a mess," the girl in the middle shakes her head, changing her magazine.
  254. >Her voice is slightly muffled by her mask, which bears the number '03'.
  255. >A shock of white hair is gushing from behind it.
  256. >"Anyone hurt?"
  257. "We’re good," you make it a point to hide your injured hand. "Fleetfoot?"
  258. >The girl nods.
  259. >"Got to take some of the newbies for practice. Flitter and Cloudchaser."
  260. >She points left and right in turn, to her teammates whose masks show the numbers '19' and '20'.
  261. >"They haven’t been with us long but they’re real meat-eaters. Is your principal alright?"
  262. >You turn to look at Silver.
  263. >She’s leaning against the table she was hiding behind earlier, next to Trixie, and is still clutching her stolen shotgun.
  264. >She looks like she would like nothing more than to clamp onto your partner’s arm.
  265. >"She’s fine," Trixie waves the Royal Guard off. "Can we get the fuck outta here?"
  266. >"Change of plans, Lulamoon. HQ is concerned about this incident. We’re supposed to snatch that rouge MG."
  267. >"I don’t give a shit."
  268. >"That’s alright," Fleetfoot turns back to you, pointing upwards. "There’s a second team coming through the house and another is waiting for you at the garage. I’ll take Flitter and make my way up to join the hunt. You guys give us a couple minutes to sniff out any leftover enemy personnel down here, then you get your asses to the cars together with Cloud."
  269. >She points at the girl with the sniper rifle—Flitter.
  270. >"Got it?"
  271. >"Y-yes, Ma’am!" comes the slightly cautious reply.
  272. >"Got it, Cloud?"
  273. >"Roger."
  276. >"When the fuck did you become a Royal anyway?" Trixie gives Cloudchaser’s mask a flick.
  277. >The armored girl has joined her and Silver after her squadmates left, but not before handing you a roll of gauze for your hand from one of her pouches.
  278. >"Last I heard you were fixing to become team leader in one of the purge outfits."
  279. >"I was. But then my sister"—Cloudhaser points to the door the other two left through—"decided to contract behind my back a few months ago."
  280. >"Shit."
  281. >"She was scouted by the Guard during basic and I put in for a transfer the day after. They let me join but I’m back to being a bloody rooky in exchange."
  282. >Trixie chuckles, slapping the girl’s shoulder.
  283. >"I’m sure she appreciates it."
  284. >"That’s not the point, Trix. That girl still thinks I can rescue her from whatever shit she may end up in. She thinks she’s invincible with me watching over her."
  285. >Cloudchaser shakes her head.
  286. >"Shouldn’t even have told her about this shit. It’s my fault she made that stupid contract to begin with."
  287. >You understand where she’s coming from.
  288. >Risking your neck for some bullshit op is one thing, but knowing your sister is out there doing the same?
  289. >You can barely even stand waving goodbye to Rainbow when she’s leaving for mission briefing.
  290. >"Bein’ in the Royals has its upsides though," Cloudchaser catches herself growing silent, poking Trixie with her elbow. "Now I get to be the one saving sorry shits like yourself when they bite off more than they can chew."
  291. >"Cunt."
  292. >The Royal Guard howls rough laughter from behind her mask.
  294. >"Would’ve been great if they sent Heartstrings along," Trixie muses. "I’d pay good money to see her fuck this bitch up."
  295. "It’s fucked up enough already even without an Eversor running around."
  296. >"What’s an Eversor?" Silver repeats the word as if to try its taste.
  297. >"It’s a Magical Girl."
  298. >Cloudchaser draws a line over her throat.
  299. >"The kind that specializes in killing other Magical Girls."
  300. >"Is that… Do you need someone like that?"
  301. >"Sometimes."
  302. >"It’s not easy to snuff MGs," Trixie lectures. "Even for other Sparklies. And it’s really only needed if one’s turned traitor."
  303. "Eversors are taken out of the normal rotation early after contracting to keep them from growing too attached to the other girls."
  304. >"Yeah. You can’t be conflicted about killing your mates if you never had any to begin with. There’s not many of them around though. For some reason most girls can’t take the lifestyle for long."
  305. >Silver makes a face.
  306. "Sounds pretty tasteless, huh?"
  307. >"I think it sounds lonely."
  309. >"So this other girl… The one with the shotgun," Silver pipes up again after thinking for a while "Where did she come from? I mean, it sounds like most Magical Girls know each other. You all made the contracts, right?"
  310. "There’s a few loners but most girls end up joining one of the offices, yeah. Not too many options out there for high-school girls dumb enough to actually sell their soul."
  311. >"So what about her? Do you know her?"
  312. "Her name is Spitfire. She’s been around for a while. Trixie actually had some missions with her back in the day."
  313. >"Then why is everyone acting like she’s a stranger?"
  314. >"Because it makes it easier to forget that she isn’t."
  315. >Trixie’s smile is different than usual.
  316. >If you didn’t know any better, you’d almost call it… sad.
  317. >"Come on," Cloudchaser slaps her back. "Let’s get out of here."
  320. >The garage is a field of smashed vehicles and crushed glass.
  321. >The enemies tasked with cutting off the escape routes have evidently been drastic, although not quite as thorough as they should have.
  322. >Some of the cars are still intact.
  323. >A few rows of ice-bright spotlights flood the parking deck with harsh white, drawing the cars’ shadows onto the concrete like ink stains.
  324. >The smell of gasoline is heavy in your nose.
  325. >"There," Silver is the first to find the huge monstrosity of an SUV you came in. "Thank God!"
  326. >It’s parked on the other side of the room, and it looks like it’s been spared.
  327. >She’s about to make a run for it when Cloudchaser grabs her shoulder.
  328. >"Where are the other Guards?"
  329. >The Royal Guard’s rifle jumps to her shoulder automatically, her cheek nuzzling the stock.
  330. >"Amethyst?" she calls out while scanning the room. "Minuette?"
  331. >No response.
  332. >"Motherfucker!" Trixie pushes Silver between the three of you. "Can we just get this shitty op over with already?"
  333. >"Bravo three?"
  334. >Cloudchaser speaks into her mask.
  335. >"Bravo three. This is bravo two three. Do you copy? Bravo one? Anyone? Dammit! Comms went to shit. All that fucking concrete down here."
  337. >"Cloud."
  338. >The wall Trixie points to is in the opposite direction of your car.
  339. >A figure is slumped against the stone, their chin resting on their chest.
  340. >It’s a Magical Girl—you recognize her costume a second later—wearing the same type of armor and mask as Cloudchaser.
  341. >"Shit!" The Royal Guard is already running, slapping away Trixie’s arm trying to hold her back. "Amethyst!"
  342. >"Jack! What do we do?"
  343. >Your eyes jump between Silver, the car, and the sprinting Cloudchaser.
  344. >"Call it!"
  345. "Follow her! Go!"
  346. >"Fuck!"
  347. >Even using the vehicles as cover doesn’t make you feel less exposed.
  348. >You find Cloudchaser kneeling beside the motionless form of her squadmate, rocking the girl’s shoulder.
  349. >"Amethyst! Wake up! Where’s Minuette?!"
  350. >A shock of spikey violet hair is coming from behind the Royal Guard’s mask, matching the purple skirt and blouse below her armor pads.
  351. >The number on her forehead is '09'.
  352. >"We don’t have time for this, Cloud," Trixie growls, scanning the rows of cars. "Unfuck yourself!"
  353. "Left is clear but there’s a lot of vehicles," you mirror your partner. "Lots of dark zones."
  354. >Cloudchaser has her fingers on the sitting girl’s neck.
  355. >"I don’t think…"
  356. >"She’s dead; get a fucking grip! We gotta…"
  357. >Your partner’s words trail off, her eyes sticking to the collar of Amethyst’s vest.
  358. >You just now realize she’s not actually wearing it anymore, that it has been cut open and draped back over her torso.
  359. "What is it?"
  360. >A series of red markings peek out from below her neckline.
  361. >Pulling the vest away, Cloudchaser reveals the girl’s chest.
  363. >"Oh God!" Silver is the first to recoil, covering her mouth. "What the hell is that?!"
  364. >Amethyst’s costume has been cut, too, and her torso is riddled with choppy red lines.
  365. >It takes a moment before they reveal themselves for what they are: symbols that have been carved directly into her flesh.
  366. >"I’m gonna be sick," your client breathes from behind her fingers, turning around a moment later to the sound of splashing liquid.
  367. >You continue staring.
  368. "Any… any ideas?"
  369. >Trixie shakes her head.
  370. "I don’t recognize the patterns."
  371. >"Same."
  372. >Even though you can’t make heads or tails of them, the runes send shivers down your spine.
  373. >As if they were twisting away under your sight, blurring and mutating when you try to take a closer look.
  374. >As if your mind itself was refusing to let you.
  375. >"Applejack."
  376. >Silver’s voice is a dull whisper.
  377. >Your head is swirling.
  378. >"Applejack."
  379. >Something is speaking, way in the back of your mind.
  380. >"Applejack! It’s her!"
  382. >Slowly, you manage to turn away from the cruel cuts, and your stomach tightens up when you do.
  383. >Following Silver’s gaze, you find an orange-haired Magical Girl flanked by two of the heavyset, demon-eyed insurgents.
  384. >One of them is holding a knife to the throat of the missing Royal Guard.
  385. >The maw of a shotgun is pointed squarely at your face.
  388. >"Lose the guns."
  389. >Spitfire’s voice is glacial.
  390. >Rough.
  391. >Cold.
  392. >Slow.
  393. >Her flashy sunglasses sparkle like obsidian, mined in some dark, damp place pronounced in a language you've never heard before.
  394. >"Drop it," she rasps again, and a clatter tells you that Silver managed to loosen the grip on her shotgun.
  395. >Cloudchaser is more composed, slowly unclipping her rifle from its strap to set it down and push it away.
  396. >Her mask is hiding her face, but the leopard-wet growl of her breath is all you need to infer her feelings.
  397. >"Hammer."
  398. >You chuck Angron towards the next car, its head chipping concrete on the landing.
  399. >"Saw."
  400. >Trixie hesitates.
  402. >"Don’t do this to me, Trix," comes Cloudchaser’s grunt of a stage whisper. "Don’t make me choose."
  403. >The Royal Guard’s eyes haven’t left her captured teammate—the girl named Minuette.
  404. >She’s been stripped of her ballistic mask, revealing a face twisted with pain and sporting heavy bruises.
  405. >Her hair is white and blue, clinging to her cheeks in wet strands.
  406. >The knife at her throat is straining, eager to bury itself under her skin.
  407. >"Please."
  409. >You can’t tell who it came from, but somebody breathes an almost inaudible sigh of relief when Gorefather hits the ground.
  410. >It might have been you.
  411. >"Now what?" Trixie spits.
  413. >The girl with the shotgun speaks next.
  414. >"Why are you people here?"
  415. "Protective detail," you answer before anyone else has the chance, nodding towards Silver. "Girl’s had trouble with some competitors."
  416. >"How many of you?"
  417. >"Kill team’s just arrived," Cloudchaser points upwards. "Let Minuette go and I’ll try to convince them to take it easy on you. Even though you killed Amethyst."
  418. >What could be a smile plays on Spitfire’s lips.
  419. "We know you can’t use that gun down here. There’s really not too many options. But you were one of us once. That counts for something. Let’s just–"
  420. >In hindsight, you shouldn’t have tried to stand up.
  421. >The knife digging into your shoulder reminds you.
  422. >The guy to Spitfire’s left lets go of the handle, leaving the thing stuck as you stumble backwards.
  423. >It doesn’t hurt as much as the gushing blood would make you think but you still have to bite back a scream.
  424. >The slap across your face is harder to take, bringing you back to your knees with your ears ringing.
  425. >"Jack!"
  426. "M’fine… I’m…"
  427. >Your vision is blurry.
  428. >You may have blacked out for a second.
  430. >You can vaguely make out Spitfire’s voice, along with her silhouette pointing her gun at Silver and Minuette.
  431. >"Her and her. The other three of you come with."
  432. >"Jack goes free, too!" Trixie is speaking now. "What help is she gonna be anyway? Look at her!"
  433. >There’s a pause before the rogue MG lets out a sigh.
  434. >"Come on then."
  435. "Wait…" you manage to slur out "…this isn’t…"
  436. >The insurgent that was holding Minuette sends her to the floor with a punch to the jaw; the other knocks down Silver with a blow to the head.
  437. >The last thing you see before your senses shut down is a rifle butt rushing to meet your face.
  440. >When the soft, warm darkness surrounding you turns light again, you’re not in the basement anymore.
  441. >The smell of gasoline and moldy stone is gone, replaced by fresh linen and stinging antiseptic.
  442. >You’re on a stretcher, looking at a ceiling of white cloth.
  443. >A girl is riding the edge of a folding chair next to your gurney, manhandling her smartphone with furrowed brows.
  444. "Trixie…?"
  445. >She must have transformed out of her costume at some point.
  446. >So did you, apparently.
  447. >Although where your partner is wearing an olive-green bomber jacket over a white t-shirt, you’re sporting a thick layer of gauze around your shoulder and an IV leaking God knows what into your arm.
  448. >Trying to sit up only results in pain pounding from your sternum.
  449. "Where the fuck…"
  450. >"Medical tent," Trixie grumbles, still grimacing at her phone like it was displaying unbidden pornography. "You alright?"
  451. "I’m fine."
  452. >"You’re a bad liar."
  453. "What’s going on?"
  454. >"They brought in the works after that girl from the Royals died. Half the office running around out there."
  455. >She nods towards the tent’s entrance.
  456. >"They’re still sweeping the grounds although I’ve no idea what they’re trying to find. Most of the grunts are dead."
  458. >It’s slowly coming back.
  459. >The explosions.
  460. >The garage.
  461. "The girl!" you jerk up only to be pushed back before you can hurt yourself a second time.
  462. >"She’s fine, Jack. She got knocked out and they extracted her when they were getting you. Couple of scratches but nothing serious. She’s annoying the nurses in the next tent as we speak."
  463. "But how…"
  464. >For the first time since waking up, you take the time to realize who you’re talking to.
  465. "What happened to Spitfire?"
  467. >Trixie is quiet for a moment.
  468. >For some reason, you’ve never really been able to read her.
  469. >Most people are easy enough—you can tell if Dash blew another week’s worth of cash on some flashy mobile game by her face alone—but the girl with the pale skin and frost-kissed hair has always managed to elude you.
  470. >As if her emotions were failing to make it to the surface.
  471. >Or she was just that good at hiding them.
  472. >"She let us go."
  474. >It’s your turn to pause.
  475. "Why?"
  476. >"I dunno. She just… she said something about having no business with us or some shit. That we were only gonna hold her up. She left us in the garage and no one’s seen her since. Must’ve gotten away."
  477. >You can’t place it but something is off about Trixie’s face, enough to make something tingle at the back of your skull.
  478. >"What?"
  479. "It’s just… strange is all. We’ve been in this business for a while. How often do you hear about MGs just letting people off the hook? Especially high-value targets like enemy sparklies."
  480. >"Well it happens, doesn’t it? She wasn’t expecting to run into us in the first place."
  481. "What was she doing then? Did she tell you?"
  482. >"Standard purge run," Trixie waves you off. "Just like we thought. Got paid to kill the guests and that’s it."
  483. "Bullshit."
  484. >"I’m telling you, that’s what it was."
  485. "What about the high-caliber security? Spitfire alone would’ve been more than enough to deal with a bunch of drunken VIPs. Remember how they wouldn’t shoot down in the tunnels? And the fucking carvings?"
  486. >"Well there’s a reason she’s no longer working for the office, right?"
  487. >Trixie twirls her finger next to her temple.
  488. >"Her cheese slid off her cracker hardcore, Jack! But that’s about it."
  490. >Before you can reply, a buzz brings Trixie back to her phone.
  491. >"I gotta run," she groans. "I’ll get the little bitch to keep you company. Supposed to tell her you came around anyway."
  492. >She’s already on her way out.
  493. >"Try not to move too much and you’ll be fine, yeah? I’ll see you at headquarters, I guess."
  494. "Trixie, what–"
  495. >"Don’t analyze it to death, Jack. You got your client out. That’s enough of a win, isn’t it? Let it go."
  496. >With that, the unreadable girl leaves you alone.
  498. >"Applejack!"
  499. >And you haven’t even had time to process what she said when the next visitor comes rushing through the curtains a minute later.
  500. >She stops herself from jumping onto your bed for a hug but only just, settling for grabbing your hand instead.
  501. >"Thank God you woke up!"
  502. >You try and pat Silver Spoon’s head, although you don’t quite manage.
  503. >Your arms aren’t really following.
  504. >Must be the infusion.
  505. >"When they told me about your injuries…"
  506. >For the second time this night, the girl’s real age is reflected in her face.
  507. "Don’t worry, kid. I’ve been doing this for a while."
  508. >Her eyes move from your bandages over the criss-cross of knobby scar tissue snaking up your arms, down to the calloused fingers she’s currently clutching.
  509. "I’m pretty broken as it is."
  511. >"I’m sorry," Silver shakes her head.
  512. "S’not your fault. Even knowing what you told us back in the car…"
  513. >You don’t really know how to finish the sentence.
  514. "What about you? Trixie said you took a hit."
  515. >The girl touches her forehead, where a butterfly closure is fighting to squeeze shut a small laceration.
  516. >"I’m fine. It’s just that… it doesn’t make any sense."
  517. "I hear ya. Most fucked-up security gig I ever had."
  518. >"No, I mean…"
  519. >Silver is trying not to look at you.
  520. >"… Miss Lulamoon."
  521. >As if she was afraid the girl would come through the side of the tent to take her head at any second, your client’s voice drops to a mumble.
  522. >"She’s lying."
  524. >There it is again.
  525. >That itch at the top of your spine.
  526. "About what?"
  527. >"One of the goons hit me and I blacked out," Silver explains. "Just for a second though. When I came to, Spitfire was still talking to the other two and I just kept still."
  528. >She looks a little guilty, like she was admitting to spying on her friend’s confession.
  529. >"I couldn’t hear it all but I’m pretty sure she was telling them she wanted to retrieve something from the basement."
  530. "Something what?"
  531. >"It sounded like it’d been there for a while. That it was old. And valuable. She said it was the reason they came to the hotel and why they couldn’t risk shooting."
  532. "Why would she explain all that?"
  533. >"I don’t know. All I know is that all three of them left the parking lot with the two guards at some point. Spitfire said she’d show it to them if they agreed to help her get it into one of those small railcars," Silver nods to herself. "Miss Cloudchaser and Miss Lulamoon just showed up again at some point when I was already with the nurses and told me they were let go."
  535. "It’s…"
  536. >You have a hard time coming up with words.
  537. >"Do you think something else is going on, Applejack? With these two?"
  538. "I… really have no idea."
  539. >Silver’s hand finds yours again.
  540. "Don’t worry. Nothing’s going to happen to you. Just… just keep it to yourself and you’ll be fine. I’ll handle it. After I’ve… had a little nap."
  541. >"Why do you always do this?"
  542. >The girl gives you a moment to appreciate her scowl.
  543. >"I’m not worried for myself! Somehow you people never know when it’s time to think about your own skin. As if you were fine with losing your life if it just meant your mission was successful."
  544. "That’s out job."
  545. >"That’s a stupid reason!"
  546. >It’s the only one you’ve got, if you’re being honest.
  547. >You wish you had something more, a valiant motivation like the heroes had in the cartoons you used to watch with your granny a lifetime ago.
  548. >You wish you were that noble.
  549. >But you’re not.
  550. >At the end of the day, you’re just way too messed up to be good at anything else anymore.
  551. >"All these Magical Girls," Silver points outside. "It’s like you try and push yourselves too far on purpose. Like you want to punish yourselves."
  552. >That makes you chuckle, which doesn’t draw as much pain as you thought it would.
  553. >Whatever is dripping into your arm is finally starting to do its part.
  554. "Maybe we do. For ending up like this in the first place. For being so blinded by that wish that we didn’t even think twice."
  555. >"But… it’s not a bad thing to wish for something, is it? I mean, if I had the chance…"
  556. >She doesn’t finish, but she doesn’t have to either.
  558. "Not all wishes can be fulfilled, Silver. That’s just not how it works."
  559. >The girl stays quiet.
  560. "You cannot wish your parents back to life."
  561. >"How can you be sure? Maybe you can. Maybe no one’s ever tried before."
  562. >The smile you wanted to give her must have come out wrong.
  563. >For some reason, it makes her stare at you with wide, glistening eyes.
  564. >"Did you…?"
  565. >If you weren’t slowly being flooded with drugs right now, you’d probably be upset.
  566. >It’s bad luck to tell others about your wish, after all.
  567. >Even if it didn’t come true.
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