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Black★Rock Shooter stood in the middle of the battlefield. Scattered fights between good friends-turned-bitter rivals raged all around her. But Dead Master, Strength and the rest could take care of themselves, right now Rock needed to focus on the people in front of her.

One was dressed in a white collared dress shirt underneath a short, black trench coat; with a short skirt, thigh-high stockings and simple shoes--all jet black--covering her from the waist down. Her back-length hair danced in the air as she swung her scythe into an attack position, the skulls on the end of the snath clattering against each other.

The other was clad in a long hoodie not unlike Strength’s, just minus the massive muffler, with black thigh-highs and black armored boots adorning her legs. Slung over her back was a sheathed katana, and a massive, pitch black sword--at least twice as long as she was tall--seemed to grow straight out of her left arm.

Death Scythe and Great Black Sword, two of the most powerful melee fighters in the world, and both very firmly on Dragon Slayer’s side of the monstrous civil war that had enveloped the World of Colors. Rock could only imagine what sort of havoc all this technicolor bloodshed was wreaking in Mato’s world, or what sort of insanity was going on out there to cause all this to happen in here. She wasn’t quite sure which realm had more influence over the other, just that she had to fight to keep others from hurting Mato, whatever form that pain might take.

She dismissed the ★Rock Cannon and summoned her Black Blade in one fluid motion, settling into a stance that kept the sword’s tip pointed at the enemy. Unparalleled might at long range wasn’t going to help her when her assailants weren’t interested in fighting from a distance. 

Death Scythe made the first move, launching herself forward with her long legs and swinging her scythe in from Rock’s right, intending to lop off both Rock’s arms at once. Rock batted the scythe off target with the Black Blade and followed up with an off-hand jab at Death Scythe’s ribs. The blow connected, but Death Scythe spun away as it hit and used the imparted momentum to bring her scythe around from the other side, aiming the beak of the weapon at Rock’s spine.

Rock barely managed to dodge in time, dropping to the ground so the curved blade only took off a few strands of hair, and threw the Black Blade behind her at where she guessed Death Scythe would land. The attack missed, Death Scythe saw it coming a mile away and casually leaned out of the way, but its intent had been distraction, rather than damage. The half second Death Scythe spent dodging the sword was all Rock needed to summon her ★Rock Cannon and whirl around to face her opponent, launching stone bullets the size of soda cans at the reaper’s head. 

Wait. “Opponent” singular?

Rock whipped her head around to look behind her just in time to find Great Black Sword flying through the air in her direction, with her namesake weapon thrust out in front of her and a murderous gleam in her scarlet eyes.

Sacrificing elegance for speed, Rock ceased her barrage and threw all her strength into bringing the ★Rock Cannon around to knock Great Black Sword off course. Blue and red sparks filled the air as the two weapons collided, the onyx blade missing her face by mere centimeters.

She only just recovered from the swing when Death Scythe leapt towards her, mouth open in a silent scream as her telepathic battle cry echoed across the landscape.

Dead Master disentangled her scythe from Metal Powered★Sumako’s belt and gently kicked the girl towards her weapon, a large sword that was currently buried point-first in the ground a few meters away. Sumako’s heart was certainly in the right place, but her fighting skills left a lot to be desired, especially when pitted against a borderline battle goddess like the Dead Master. 

Dead swung her scythe in an arc to sling all the--was that squid ink?--off the blade. The stuff seemed to drip from Sumako’s hair like water from a leaky faucet. After readjusting her glasses with her free hand, she turned her attention away from her opponent--normally a fatal error, but Sumako telegraphed her attacks with everything short of a neon sign and an air-raid siren--and stole a glance at the wider battlefield.

Strength was busy fighting Underworld Vulcan, Ninja Zero Two, Black★Devil Girl and Black★Matagi all by herself, using one Ogre Arm for each opponent, and actually seemed to be winning.

Chariot was skating circles around Demon Cannon User and Maid Gunner, who were spinning around and basically doing everything they could to try and shoot the wheeled girl. But whenever a shot seemed on track to actually hit--which was rare given the ease with which Chariot bobbed, weaved, ducked, and zigzagged out of the way--her enormous shield would appear in a flash of light and send the bullet ricocheting into next week. It was almost comical how infuriated the two gunslingers were getting at their inability to actually hit their target. And to add injury to insult, whenever the two would look away from the roller-skate queen and direct their attention at each other, telepathic shouts of changing tactics and harsh language flying faster than their bullets, Chariot would take the opportunity to zip inside their guard and pepper them with precision sword strikes.

Black★Gold Saw was locked in combat with Dragon Slayer--which was only appropriate considering they both wielded swords as big as they were--and both of them were flitting about the battlefield like angry butterflies, the impact from any one of their strikes powerful enough to send the other flying several meters.

And on the other side of the battlefield from Dead Master, marked by the bright white star that hung in the sky over wherever she stood, was Black★Rock Shooter, arguably the most powerful of them all. Unfortunately that power came from her single-minded drive to protect her Mato from all that would do her harm, at the expense of everything else. Including Rock’s own well-being. She had been fighting and training without stopping for so long during this war that even that lovely flame in her eye was starting to sputter and dim, which was definitely not a good sign, especially when being double-teamed by Dead Master’s overachieving cousin and the one girl who could swordfight Rock to a standstill.

Dead took a quick look at her opponent, who was still trying to pry her sword out of the ground, and took off in the direction of Rock’s battle, reasoning that Doku and Kuro would be more than enough to keep Sumako busy.

Black★Rock Shooter braced the flat side of the Black Blade against her right shoulder to block Great Black Sword’s latest attack, a pole-vault-powered lunge with Death Scythe’s scythe as the pole, and slid back several meters from the impact. She would’ve gone farther if she hadn’t fired the ★Rock Cannon backwards as a makeshift retro rocket.

It had been at least three minutes since Death Scythe and Great Black Sword had doubled down on the tag teaming, and even Black★Rock Shooter had a hard time keeping up. Three minutes may not seem like a lot from an outsider’s perspective, but when those three minutes are spent with two enormous bladed weapons flying around centimeters away from various easily sliced-up parts of your body, it was a long time.

Taking on any one of these fighters would’ve been child’s play for Rock, she had only been properly defeated twice in recent memory. Once, a long time ago, to Black★Gold Saw, who would probably be the most powerful one in this world if she wasn’t so concerned with being a good role model to those tiny hooded figures; and once to Mato Kuroi herself, who had to intervene when Rock had let her protective instincts run just a little too wild one time about a year ago. 

Technically Black★Rock Shooter hadn’t been defeated by Mato, but Rock didn’t like thinking too much about the girl who had met her end by Rainbow★Friendship Cannon, so she let it count, if only because Chariot wouldn’t shut up about it otherwise.

The sound of Death Scythe’s scythe hurtling through the air like a boomerang brought Rock back to the present, and with barely a second to spare she fired the ★Rock Cannon point-blank into the ground to shoot herself out of the way.

All this running and jumping was beginning to tire her out, so while Death Scythe was busy recovering her weapon, with Great Black Sword covering the reaper’s route, Rock lifted the ★Rock Cannon straight up into the air. The seams and panel-lines in the weapon started to glow with a blindingly bright blue light and the barrel exploded into a dozen separate components, extending into a much longer, skinnier weapon. The three rails that ran the length of the barrel slid forward and morphed into smaller barrels arranged around a central core. A tripod and an ammo drum bigger than Rock’s torso appeared from thin air and a mighty *CLANG* echoed across the battlefield as she dropped the ★Rock Vulcan into firing position. 

To their credit, Death Scythe and Great Black Sword were only frozen with fear for a couple of seconds before they recovered the sense to leap out of the way of the stream of stone projectiles being fired in their general direction.

They ran for several meters, barely ahead of the wall of rocky death that filled the air behind them, when they realized that splitting up might be a good idea.

Great Black Sword carried onwards along the path the pair had been running along while Death Scythe used her scythe to pole-vault over the rock-bullet-death-stream and dashed in the opposite direction. Rock ran the numbers in her head and decided that Great Black Sword was the more dangerous of the two, and so continued chasing the swordmaster. 

She had almost made it one revolution around back to where this had started when Great broke off her circular path and started running towards Rock and her gun. Rock swung the Vulcan left and right, trying to beat Great at her own zig-zaggy game, when through the thunderous roar of the gun and the soft clinking of the spent shells that were forming a small mountain around her, she heard the faint sounds of rushed footsteps.

Blindly swinging the ★Rock Vulcan around, hoping Great Black Sword’s luck would run out, Rock looked behind her to find Death Scythe charging towards her. She heard a *clank* from where Great had been and when she looked back in that direction she found the swordmaster perched on the barrels of the ★Rock Vulcan, swinging her namesake weapon at Rock’s head.

Rock ducked just in time, but in her haste to not be decapitated she yanked down on the ★Rock Vulcan’s handle, turning the weapon into a lever with the tripod as the fulcrum, and flung Great into the air. Great Black Sword executed a perfect somersault and entered the descent with her blade pointed straight down at Rock.

With Great Black Sword promising death from above, Death Scythe meters away and threatening the same from ground level, and no time to swing something as cumbersome as the ★Rock Vulcan around to effectively block either, Black★Rock Shooter snuffed the dwindling fire in her eye and braced for impact, hoping Mato wouldn’t feel too much of this.

When the twin impacts hit, they weren’t what Rock had expected. For one they were dull thuds instead of sharp pinpricks followed by soul-rending pain. For another they were more spaced out and in different places than Great and Death’s positions had suggested. 

One on her shoulder, the impact ripping her hand off the ★Rock Vulcan’s handle and sending her flying sideways; the other across her whole back followed by a skid and a gradual stop.

Rock hauled herself up into a standing position and opened her eyes. Instead of two bloodstained blades, or two gaping holes where blades had once been, she found only the two familiar scars she had started the battle with. Sure they were accompanied by numerous new scrapes and bruises, but nothing on the level Great Black Sword’s or Death Scythe’s weapons should’ve been capable of.

She looked up to survey the battlefield, looking for her opponents, trying to gauge where they’d be coming from.

Well she found them alright. Right in front of her.

Death Scythe was on her knees, eyes wide and hands clamped over her mouth in horror. Great Black Sword looked kinda shocked, but not overly distressed. And between them, instead of the empty air Rock was expecting, was Dead Master. Dead Scythe held in her outstretched hand. Great Black Sword’s namesake weapon going in one side of her body and out the other.

Black★Rock Shooter’s eyes widened in horror to an extent no one thought was possible. She stumbled forward a few steps before falling to her knees in front of Dead Master.

Dead Master dropped her weapon. The clatter of black steel against the dirt seemed to be the only sound the air could stand to transmit. Rock reached her own hand out to meet Dead’s. Their fingertips brushed against each other, and Dead Master managed a small smile before the light faded from her eyes.

Tears started to well up in Black★Rock Shooter’s eyes. It was more emotion than anyone had seen from her. Anyone but Dead Master, at least. The two of them had always been close, and ever since the events of last year they had only grown more inseparable. And now one half of that indestructible duo was gone.

Black★Rock Shooter knew, somewhere deep in the back of her mind, that Dead Master would eventually reincarnate. But that didn’t matter right now, not when she had just seen Dead Master die right in front of her. Again.

Something inside Black★Rock Shooter begin to crack.

Great Black Sword planted a foot on Dead Master’s chest and wrenched her namesake weapon out of the girl’s body, swinging the blade in a wide arc to get the dark green blood off. “Accidentally” splattering Rock across the face with some of it before Dead Master’s body had even hit the ground.

The cracks started to spread.

Death Scythe grabbed her cousin’s body and held her close, still not fully comprehending what had happened.

Black★Gold Saw, apparently done with her fight against Dragon Slayer, dashed in from out of nowhere. She planted one armored boot on the ground, spun around in a circle, and hit Great Black Sword with the flat side of her King Saw like it was a giant cricket bat, sending the swordmaster hurtling into the distance.

That job done, Black★Gold Saw turned around to face Rock, kneeling down to get to eye level.

Rock slowly lifted one hand to her face, and stared as it came away drenched in Dead Master’s dark green blood and her own tears.

Black★Gold Saw held out a hand to Rock. An offer of consolation, something to ground the girl’s quickly fraying psyche in the here-and-now; whatever it was, Rock just stared through Black★Gold Saw as if she wasn’t even there. Her watery eyes focused on Dead Master’s body.

Something inside Black★Rock Shooter snapped.

Blue fire began pouring out of her left eye. But this wasn’t the elegant, hauntingly beautiful flame that Dead Master had complimented so many times. This was an angry solar flare, only stopped from burning down the whole world by the reality that Rock’s eyes weren’t big enough to let it.

Red sparks started to mix with the angry blue flames.

Shining blue pupils turned furious crimson.

In the back of her mind Rock thought she heard Mato trying to say something. Whatever it may have been, she wasn’t sure. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now.

Nothing except the pain.

The flame in her eye flared and turned a deep, crazy violet.

Black★Rock Shooter looked to the shining white star over her head, that last bastion of sanity in the angry purple sky. 

And she watched it shatter.