Wakaba groaned as hands that felt like the warmth of the sun checked her body for broken bones. Her head hurt so much. All she wanted to do was go to sleep. Her entire body felt like it had been taken apart and put together but without a few key pieces.
“Are you alright?” a young, female voice said.
“I don’t know,” Wakaba said.
Wakaba finally opened her eyes to see a face that was around the same age as Momo’s. The girl had short hair with a side ponytail and a red and white outfit that looked a great deal like a sailor school uniform. The girl seemed to radiate light.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Akari. Who are you?”
“Are you alright? I don’t think there are any broken bones and there isn’t any bleeding.”
Wakaba sat up and looked herself over. Nothing felt broken. She could see that she wasn’t bleeding. Her clothing was a little dirty, but didn’t appear to be ripped. Even her ponytail was in place. Her key was still around her neck. The only thing missing was her bokken.
“Yeah, I think I’m fine. What about you?”
Akari nodded. “I’m okay.”
Wakaba started to take a look around them for the first time. The ground was hard with only painfully sharp grass growing out of it. Around them was an ocean of white canvas tents. There was a tall castle nearby. The castle was surrounded by a moat and the camp surrounded the moat. Around the camp was a forest of trees growing so thickly together that Wakaba could never move between them. From above a poisoned moon cast down green light.
“Are we in Europe?” Wakaba asked Akari while pushing herself up off of the ground.
“It does look kind of like some of the castles I’ve been to.”
There was a shout from somewhere. Inhumanely big men in armor that looked like it belonged on demons starting coming out of the tents. At first it was just one at a time, but the speed quickly increased to two, three, four, too many at a time to account. They shouted and screamed in gargling noises that sounded appropriately foreign to the two girls.
Then there was a boom and a cannonball came whistling through the air. Wakaba grabbed Akari around the shoulders and dove for the ground as the cannonball ripped through a nearby tent.
Wakaba looked at Akari, expecting her to be on the verge of crying. She did see fear in Akari’s eyes, and honestly you’d have to be stupid to not be at least a little scared in this situation, but she saw more confusion and determination than anything else.
“Don’t worry, everything is going to be alright,” Wakaba said. She reached blindly for the familiar chain around her neck and pulled it off. In her hand was that special, green key that was made only for her. “Ignition.” The image of the Vivid System flickered in and out of her vision. Wakaba turned the key. “Texture on!” The Vivid System flickered one more time and then vanished. Wakaba’s key fell onto the ground.
Here she was in a camp, being shot at, with a younger girl, and no way to transform.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” Luna kept calling out again and again. She hoped to hear an answer from Akari, Ginka, Seira, anyone would do.
She did the only thing she could do, keep walking down this cracked road, surrounded by buildings that went up further than she was capable of seeing. On the street level there were stores facing outward. The signs where written in a hodgepodge of languages with only the occasional Japanese or English words.
Since Luna had woken up she had not encountered another living being. She hadn’t even encountered anything remotely like a Daemonia. She did not encounter a single vehicle except for the battered and broken ones laying scattered all around her. Occasionally she would think she would see something moving, but it would always end up being a random lightbulb turning on to share its gaunt light with the world.
“Raaaanaaaa.” It came from the shadows.
“Hello? Did you call my name? Where are we? This doesn’t look like any city I’ve been in before?”
There was movement. It didn’t stop. It was slow and rhythmic and seemed to be coming closer. Something about this was so wrong, so off. It was like she had seen it before, but had also never seen it before. The thing that had called out stepped into the light of a neon sign. Its flesh hung off of its loose muscles and ivory bones like ribbons from a dress.
It was like every late night movie she had stayed up to watch with her friends in a brand new hotel room while huddled together under blankets. It was a fear both very real and very outlandish for her at the same time.
It was a zombie.
Luna was scared, but Luna was not helpless. Calling on the power of the Moon arcana to let herself change. Her wolf ears made her hearing much sharper. Her reflexes and speed increased. She could feel that little bit of Daemonia inside of her, eager to sink claws into this zombie.
With a gesture, vines sprouted from the ground, trapping the zombie in their grip. The zombie moved and groaned, but it could not escape. That had been easy enough, but now other zombies were gathering around her. She trapped more and more with her vines. When one got dangerously close she would let the claws come out as a last ditch effort to protect herself. It just wasn’t enough. Her powers were great in a team, but on her own she just didn’t have much power in a situation like this.
Then a strong hand lifted, almost tossed, Luna up into the air. She landed on a person’s shoulder with the air knocked out of her. All she could do was look down at the street falling away from them as her rescuer jumped up higher and higher, bouncing off the sides of buildings. Eventually, they crashed through a window and into an abandoned, garishly pink office.
Luna was dropped onto the ground. She scrambled to her feet to see her rescuer.
“The name’s Sakura Kyuko,” she said as she finished her snack.
Aoi pushed the branches out of her way as best as she could. There were so many that it was impossible to get all of them. The rest she just had to use her body to push out of her way. Every step was slow going and there was no sign of any type of trail, clearing, or any other form of respite. Aoi had tried climbing the trees, but they had gone up and up with no end to the trees or the branches.
She had also tried to transform. That didn’t work. Not being able to transform meant one of three things. The first was that some part of the Vivid System was malfunctioning. The second was that there was something wrong with the Manifestation Engine. The final, and the one she feared, was that she wasn’t on Earth anymore, or at least not her Earth. If she wasn’t on her Earth then she didn’t think she’d be on Rei’s Earth, that would be too lucky.
“Hello, is anyone there?” a female voice called out.
“Me! I’m over here!”
“Aoi. Futaba Aoi.”
Aoi could hear the branches creak as they were pushed away and the snap as they were released. She could hear the footsteps. When she could finally see the other person they were almost right on top of her.
The other girl was about the same age as Aoi and their hair and eyes were similar colors, but that is where the similarities ended. Aoi was in decent enough shape, but the other girl looked like she was nothing but bones and toned muscle. She was almost like a predator in her build.
“You look normal.” She sounded a little relieved.
“Do you know how we got here?”
“I remember a flash and then I found myself here. I’m Seira.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Seira.”
As the two girls shook hands, movement caught Aoi’s eye. She didn’t have time to register what it was. All she had time to do was grab Seira’s shoulders and let herself fall, bringing Seira with her. Something in between a branch and a tentacle stabbed the air above them, at about head level.
Seira’s eyes were wide and she was breathing a little faster, but otherwise she seemed remarkable calm. She just pushed herself up, crouching over Aoi.
There was a flash of light. Aoi had to blink a few times before she could see again. Something seemed different about Seira but it took a few seconds to register what was different. Her hair was longer, and two toned. She also had crystals growing out of her body.
“Stay down,” Seira ordered Aoi.
“Alright.” Without her key working there was nothing Aoi could do anyways.
Another branch tentacle launched itself at them. It was split by a crystal arrow in a shot that would make William Tell sit up and take notice of.
Homura tuned out Akane’s incessant chatter. The girl had so much energy. The hot sun beating down and then reflected back up at them in the almost pure white sand was making Homura sweat in her wool school uniform. It only seemed to make Akane talk more. If Homura was being completely honest with herself then she would admit that Akane wasn’t talking that much more than any normal person. Right now, Homura was just too cranky and miserable to care.
In the distance she could see the telltale shimmer of water. It wasn’t real. Homura had to remind herself that the water was never real. Every time they thought they had seen water it turned out to be a mirage.
Why wasn’t there something like a Demon that Homura could just fight and have it over and done with? Even a Witch or two from the old world would have been nice about now. All of this walking around a featureless, unremarkable desert was doing nothing to help.
Homura had all the magic and powers of a magical girl and right now she felt completely powerless.
Mami walked through the maze of mirrors with the only light being a small magical one that she had conjured. The walls were covered with floor to ceiling mirrors. Even the ceiling and floor had mirrors. It was so disorienting that sometimes she walked with her eyes closed and her left hand running along the wall.
Someone was giggling.
Mami spun around and saw only herself in every direction. She wasn’t giggling. None of the hers that she could see were giggling. This place must be getting to her. She had never been in anything like it, but the thought of a space that was distorted and wrong gave her both a sense of déjà vu and sent a shiver down her spine.
The giggling came again.
Mami turned to her left. In the pile of hers reflected over and over there was a single her not like the other. It was giggling. It tapped the shoulder of another her and the second one started laughing. The giggling spread and grew into laughter.
Mami backed up. She transformed instantly and without any of the usual flourishes she normally did. She only stopped backing up because her back had hit the wall. She summoned a musket into hand and brought it up. At this range she wouldn’t need to use the sights.
The wall behind her thumped. She could barely feel it and the sound was even fainter. The laughter rose, but unlike before this was a sudden increase and not a gradual one. Mami thought she felt the thump again. It was just the tiniest bit erratic but close to the same level and spot each time.
Mami pushed off from the wall, spun around and fired at the wall. The bullet blew a hole into it. On the other side she could see darkness. In that darkness there was some light source. It was blue tinted. Mami moved a step closer and squinted.
It was a girl! She was wearing something that was black and white. The blue light was coming from her feet. It was like the girl was trying to swim upstream against a current.
Mami shot out a ribbon to the girl. The girl grabbed it and wrapped her hands around it. Mami braced herself and started pulling. Together, they slowly brought the girl inch by inch until Mami was helping her crawl in the hole. A broken piece of glass cut the girl on the arm.
“I think you have me mistaken for someone else. My name is Rei.”
“Sorry, you really do look a lot like a friend of mine.”
“Have you seen any other girls? Dr. Isshiki said that my friends would be here,” Rei said.
Mami shook her head. “I’m sorry. You are the first person I’ve seen. I’m Tomoe Mami. You’re looking for your friends and I’m lost. Maybe we should work together for the time being?”
“Himawari, what are you doing with that anyways?” Ginka asked.
Himawari and Ginka were sitting together on a park bench in an abandoned carnival. They had escaped from the demonic clowns for now. Himawari was messing with a small computer that they had found. It was blue with a symbol that looked like a heart with antennas on top of a cross.
“I’m scanning for a certain type of energy.”
“Scanning with that little laptop?”
“The shell is early 90s technology and aesthetics but the computer itself is very advanced.”
They could hear the clowns getting closer. Their screeches and squeals would have been perfect for a children’s show, not calling for their blood.
“Ginka, I need you to fight them.”
“Got it. Just try not to take too long, okay?”
“I’ll try,” Himarwari said. Her eyes weren’t leaving the screen even as Ginka’s battle raged around her.
Ginka used coins, shields, and her battle axe. The clowns were easy to kill and dissolved into black smoke. There were just so many of them. Whenever she killed one she would catch a glimpse of another running to join the fray.
Himawari, confident in her thrice checked scans and calculations, removed her key from around her neck.
“What are you doing?” Ginka yelled in between axe swings.
“Ignition. Texture on!” Himawari transformed into her familiar yellow and white outfit. It was good to be back in it again. “Just a little more.”
She sent out the Naked Collider, but not to be used against the clowns. She sent it up and into the air. It would work as a booster for the transmission she was going to be sending.
“Everyone, you can transform now. Something has weakened the barrier that was keeping us from drawing energy from the Manifestation Engine. There should be barriers near you. Destroy them.”
Three girls in different locations used their keys to transform successfully. In four different locations girls combined their efforts to destroy walls, ceilings, trees and any other barrier that was in their way. Alone, it was not possible, but in pairs working together, it was easy.
The world cracked around everyone and fell away. All twelve girls were standing near each other, fog around them, before an old mansion.
“Rei,” Akane yelled. She ran to her friend and embraced her in the biggest hug she could manage. Aoi, Wakaba and Himawari were not far behind her. Rei wasn’t even given a chance to explain that she had come back to visit and Dr. Isshiki gave her a new key to help find the girls that had suddenly disappeared.
Homura watched. She could feel a dull pain in her chest as she watched Akane and Rei.
“So, what just happened?” Kyouko asked. Herself and Luna were the only ones that did not get the transmission from Himawari.
“We combined powers to destroy the walls trapping everyone,” Mami said.
“I’m so glad all of you are alright,” Akari said.
“I had help from Kyoko,” Luna said.
“You aren’t going to lose me again,” Ginka said.
“What about you?” Seira asked.
“I’m fine,” Akari said.
Mami was just a bit jealous of the other girls. She had always dreamt of having that kind of relationship with her fellow magical girls. Homura was always a bit of a loner. Kyoko and Mami were only just starting to repair their friendship and both were still dealing with the loss of Sayaka.
Homura brushed her hair back with one hand.
The front gates opened with a groan, inviting the twelve girls inside. Together, the twelve entered. They were very talkative, telling their teammates about who they were partnered with and what they had faced.
“That’s a cute little computer,” Wakaba said.
Himawari was tapping away at the keyboard. “Yes, its previous owner left some really useful programs running and unlocked it for anyone to use. It is showing the way to a large concentration of power.”
Following Himawari’s directions they went further and further inside the mansion. It was far bigger than it had looked from the front door. Past abandoned dining rooms and dark bedrooms they went until they were in what was, according to the computer, the center.
The room had shelves lining the walls. Sitting on the shelves were dolls. Some of them repeated, but most of them are unique.
“Oh, there is a Creamy Mami doll,” Mami said, “I was such a big fan of her when I was little.”
“Here is Sailor Venus,” said Akari.
“They’re all magical girl characters,” Kyoko said.
“Not all of them are Japanese characters,” Luna said. “I recognize this one from an Italian cartoon.”
One of the dolls moved. At first it looked like a larger, life sized doll, but then it was soon clear that this was a real, life person. She was sitting in a large, ornate chair with a gem bigger than her head right above her on the high back. She wore a knee length, yellow dress that was trimmed with lace.
“Welcome to my doll collection,” she said.
“You must really like dolls,” Akane said.
“Dolls? No, these are my precious friends. I keep them here and I keep them safe from all sadness and pain.” She smiled at the girls. “Now, it is time that you joined them.”
Maybe it was the house, maybe it was the girl, or maybe it was this whole situation, but all the girls had been tense and on edge, so when the girl in yellow attacked they were ready to defend themselves.
A large shield and the Naked Collider absorbed the initial attack. When the girl summoned a jeweled rod that glowed with power and attacked, Akari and Wakaba were ready with swords to push her back. The blue computer that Himawari held beeped. She checked the screen.
“Destroy her chair.”
Akari and Wakaba kept the girl from retreating back to the chair. Kyoko leapt over all three of them and with a flurry of blows, knocked her back toward Luna. Luna was ready and bound her in vines.
“I won’t let you destroy everything. I’m only trying to protect you. Love Electric!”
At her command the entire area around the chair glowed with power as a barrier of electricity formed around it.
Homura, Mami, Akane, Rei, and Seira all had ranged weapons. They opened fire on the chair. The electric barrier stopped some of their onslaught, but enough got through. As the chair was destroyed piece by piece the dolls around them began to flicker and then went back to normal. It just wasn’t enough.
Aoi looked over at the girl. She was still holding the wand. With the Naked Hammer she struck at the girl’s hand. The rod was dropped to the floor. Aoi lifted the hammer high over her head and brought it down. The electric barrier dropped with the wand’s destruction.
With the barrier gone the chair was decimated in seconds.
With the chair gone all the dolls disappeared. Instead, they could hear the voices of dozens, maybe even hundreds of magical girls all suddenly back to normal and confused.
“We did it,” Akane said.
There was celebration and hugs all around. They helped the other magical girls as best as they could and once everyone was on the same page, the brightest members worked together to find a way to send everyone back to their proper worlds, but not before Sailor Mercury got her computer back.
Once everyone had gone home and the girl in yellow taught the error of her ways that normally would have been the end of things. Unfortunately, doors that were opened were not so easily closed.
Mami was in the kitchen of her apartment. She double checked to make sure that she had enough food on the tray. The noises coming from her living room were a tad bit alarming, but she also wasn’t too worried about them.
She walked in with the snacks to see pillows flying and a form of capture the flag that looked like it involved throwing Kyubey around. In her head she could hear him protesting about not being a toy, but there was almost a note of resignation in it.
Rei and Homura seemed to have a personal pillow sniping vendetta against each other. Himawari had ducked under a table. Kyoko was using a large cushion as a shield and was defending herself and Luna with it. Akari and Akane had more energy than any of the others, always underfoot and grabbing pillows before others could. Wakaba was dual wielding pillows. Seira and Ginka were back to back giving as well as they took. Aoi ducked behind a chair as a pillow went flying.
Mami smiled. This was how things should be.