A/N: I'd like to make a shout out to the primary inspirations behind this fic, before we start; Infinity (MGLN) by Moczo for sheer quality of writing, characterisation and humour; Game Theory (MGLN) by Aleph whose spectacular worldbuilding I am merrily cribbing off at every turn and To The Stars by Hieronym (PMMM), which I consider the quintessential Puella sci-fi fic, again for the worldbuilding and the exploration of what it would be to be a Puella Magi in Madoka's new world (though I admit I diverge a bit on how daemons work for this. I loved the idea of the Labyrinths too much to let go of them...).
Hopefully, I can live up to these fine works.
A/N (03/06/14): Additionally, cleaned up and edited the earlier chapters (including fixing all the wonky German with the aid of Gnarker from SB, though the other languages are still liable to be terrible). As the observant may have noticed, we also have chapter titles now as well!
Please enjoy, Guessy.
Ragazza Magica Renza Veneti
Chapter Zero: Prologue Im Caglica
It looked like a car accident.
Or at least that was her best guess. The wreckage spiralled in every direction; extending deceptively as far as the eye could see. Plastics, wood, metals, condensed mana shells; every make of every type - including a good many she honestly couldn't recognise - spiralling and colliding each way and every way. Between spaghettying roads and street poles that seemed to have fused into great iron trees, the vehicles spun and drifted and collided like an endless sea... where she was deep underwater.
Renza shuddered. It was always disorientating, breaching into a Daemon Barrier. The glimmering tear in non-reality was already sealing behind her back; the point where she'd broken in, white, pristine streets of the Polincia Boulevard included, vanishing away into nothing, as if it had never been there.
Appropriate. The real world had ceased to have any relation to this place.
She stood; where she'd breached the barrier in realspace apparently translating to a crayoned impression of a dirt path inside the Barrier. There was signage, all seeming to be pointing her towards the centre, but none of their text was readable; all strange, curvic symbols; no language she recognised.
She shook her head, distracted. Long coral-blue hair fluttered unnaturally in the distorted air; kept pulling for attention in the corner of her eye.
She flicked it out of the way. Yes, it was long, probably too long given what her friends kept telling her, but she had a personal a reason for that. Eyes scanning the false horizon, she tensed...
Nothing shot at her. No bolts of light screamed out to meet her. Looked like they hadn't caught her breaking in.
She scratched the back of her neck. Pinned above her hair on a flouncy white ribbon, a polished gem rested, in some many ways more than it appeared. She'd thought it had been a Device the first time she'd held it; that notion had been disabued quickly.
Fingers tapped lightly against it; a smooth, hard, glassy surface she could feel through the conjured the gloves. She'd transformed before she broke in - common sense, really - and with that, any last pretence of still being in Valezorro had faded away.
As a civilian E-Rank, she'd never honestly tried supporting a proper Barrier Jacket; she could only imagine if this Puella form was anything like it. A deep, royal blue dress a little too fond of ornate white lace and ruffles, which paired well with the floofy disconnected sleeves... and terribly with the solid, entirely practical white boots. It wasn't customisable, despite many attempts trying. At least it hadn't come in red...
For as long as you didn't look at it too closely, it could hopefully pass for a fancy Mid-Childean style Barrier Jacket; either of a more civilian bent or just someone with too much free time on their hands. She certainly hoped it would. Of course, why she was wearing a Barrier Jacket would raise it questions all by itself, but it was easier to lie about that. Keeping the secret here was... tricky. Girls supposedly had it easier on Non-Administered worlds but she didn't plan on heading off to any of those any time soon. For better or worse, Caglica was home.
Which was why she was here, defending it.
"Kyubey; the situation?"
"Ten, in the centre of the barrier." The telepathic return was calm and unhurried, sounding a bit like a small, whispering child at the back of her mind. "The miasma is thick though; it's best not to linger."
"I'm on my way."
This was always the best part.
Renza leaped, and in seconds was covering distance in a blur, jumping car to car, truck to truck, bouncing off the lamp-posts and knocking the motes of light they carried out into the twisting sky. Each kick redirected her, a constant game of coral-blue pinball that just flowed.
Even for a Puella Magi, she knew she was fast.
She felt it; a subtle tug at the tip of her spine where her soul gem rested. Instinctively she looked down, skidding on the ribbon roads to slow her momentum for a proper look.
Ten people, just as the Kyubey said, sitting in the centre of an oversized roundabout; a crayon sketch of black asphalt and white painted lines as if viewed through a bucket of water. Too-tall figures surrounded them, made of white cloaks and bald heads ending above the jaw in a glowing, abstract, pixelated mess. Daemons. Just over a dozen crowded around the inert civilians, standing tall at twice the size of a man, emitting a low, brassy hum like priests in reverence. She wondered if the ancient Priest Kings looked something like this. Renza could hear their droning even from her lofty heights.
...She wondered if it was a Puella thing. It wouldn't be the first time her new nature had surprised her.
Something to look into later, anyway. She crouched down into a coiled spring, a mental command calling a pair of ornate silver axes into her hands; erupting from her floofy sleeves in clear defiance of their inability to logically fit up there.
The metal was a familiar, natural weight; her grip solid and ready. She er, wasn't completely sure why her wish had seen fit to provide her with axes of all things (it seemed a little brutish; swords were infinitely more heroic), but she'd never had the courage to ask.
She focused, counting properly this time. 13... 14 Daemons. The chanting drone built steadily in pitch and volume, and the faint, sickly smell of miasma began to creep up even to her distant vantage point. Kyubey was right; the civilians wouldn't last much longer.
Still... a little over a dozen that were unaware of her presence, and she had a decent high ground. Risky, but this could work. She swallowed.
The civilians enthralled didn't leave her much choice, anyway.
"Kyubey, take cover."
Dropped wasn't the right word. She launched; her platform of a multicoloured plastic semi shattering under the force as Renza lanced forward; a blue and silver missile. She flung the axes in her hand outwards, sending them whistling away in symmetrical spinning arcs converging on the monsters below. Two more pairs took flight similarly before she drew her final set and prepared for landing.
Not that she'd slowed down, or anything.
The first hint of her arrival was a resounding sonic boom that shook waves through the distorted air of the motorway barrier. Followed shortly by the largest concentration of daemons abruptly detonating in a conflagration of sound and noise as a royal blue rocket slammed down from the heavens. The wave of scything axes, thrown to strike all their targets at the same time, followed next, sweeping down at the six furthest from Renza's crash site. Ten in total fell in the first strike, their disrupted forms breaking away into pixels and flakes of pure white light, their drones rising to a distorted scream as the rubble cascaded around them.
Absolute annihilation, in an instant. In a world of horrific powers and fragile wielders, he who struck first made king.
...But now for the tricky part.
The four remaining reacted immediately, dispersing and flowing backwards in a retreating formation, building distance and spewing forth lances of deadly energy in unpredictable gutts and bouts that pierced through the clouds, zeroing in directly on her position.
And Renza's crater was big.
Still reeling from the sheer power of her dive, she forced herself out with a burst of magic in her legs, feeling the heat of the return volley passing way, way too close past her head. The daemons were aware of her now, backing away and splitting up, trying to pen her down in a vicious crossfire until one of them could land a finishing strike or the torrent of lances could tear her to ribbons.
The back of her neck felt very exposed.
Skidding against the false-asphalt, she charged; desperate to catch at least one of them before they could relocate to their advantage. Her magic made her good for one thing; mad, crazy dashes and crashing into things. Race in, race close, hack it to pieces, keep going. Generally a pretty good strategy, except for the part where daemons could cheat.
The nearest daemon she lunged for sank straight down through the ground; her axes whistling through nothing but air.
Acting quickly, she slid into a roll that bled off momentum - with the daemons' uncanny accuracy, doing anything in a straight line would be suicide - using the motion to disguise her tosses as the axes flung out from her hands to zero in on her next target.
Trying to get clever and take two out at once simply wasn't worth it. Her designated victim swept out of the way of the first axe and almost dodged the second, taking a spinning hit to its side that sent it reeling and rolling away through the ground. A definite strike, but no clue if she'd actually killed it.
No time to get one either. The next barrage came down and she was already moving; attention switching to the attackers that remained. The one she'd winged would be down for at least a few minutes, and she had to find the one she missed first before it could snipe her in the back. For the next five minutes, 'Out of Action' was good enough. The future was miles away.
The two she could see stood on the opposite side of the roundabout. The enthralled crowd of civilians - office workers and engineers, from what Renza's spared glance could guess - sat directly in the centre, still listlessly staring into nothing and mindless of the artisan carnage around them. Charging through that would be suicide for her and death for the civilians; the daemons wouldn't kill them off-hand whilst they were being drained, but she knew taking out a Puella would hold far greater priority. So she took to the ribbon roads.
Each landing redirecting her velocity with a flick of her foot, she danced and weaved amongst the spinning cars and road signs like a mad, coral pinball as volleys of light turned everything behind her into painted slag. She ricocheted her way through the mayhem, swinging out from the side with axes ready, coming back around to the opposite end of the roundabout to find-
The daemons, of course, had moved as well.
Whilst she could not dash past the civilians for fear of casualties, the daemons had no such compunctions. The two she'd been trying to flank in the first place had taken the quite simple route of crossing between the civilians themselves, putting her right back in the same situation as when she'd started. The third reappeared as she watched; straight up in the middle of the crowd, spitting out lances alongside its fellows as if daring her to charge. There was no sign of the fourth.
Heading for the roads had been a mistake; the only thing she'd gotten was further away. She couldn't pull back for another skydive either; they'd only follow her and she wouldn't get the distance. And that stars-damned bastard in the centre knew it.
Well, fine. Fuck him. Her axes didn't fly in straight lines.
Nothing said they had to fly in predictable arcs, either.
With outstretched arms, she flung. The axes she'd been carrying flew out in curved trajectories, spinning around a car and a battery carrier carved from wood. They arced in on the two at the back as if a distraction, making their targets shift positions without a skip in their barrage. More fool them.
Renza couldn't make them dance about like gnats, but she'd found through trial, error and a lot of broken fenceposts that she could tweak her axe trajectories in mid air. Put simply, the curve of the arcs along which they flew could be controlled to great effect by making small adjustments in their spin. It only worked inwards; trying something crazy like a reverse shot would fail immediately as it robbed them of momentum and dropped them out of the sky. But making them arc faster? Yeah, she could do that.
The pair whistled past the central daemon with barely a flutter of its cloak, the lone figure content to completely ignore them in favour of upping its barrage in support of its targeted allies. As a consequence, it missed the axes' abrupt increase in speed, slicing around in sudden, spiral curves. They crossed once, behind its head, before spinning around in an ever tightening circle that put them in a direct collision course with-
The creature had just enough time to veer backwards in what Renza sincerely hoped was panic before the twin axes smashed straight through its face. Yes. That had definitely been satisfying.
The last two dropped out though the floor with a parting volley of bolts, depriving her of targets. She let her control on the axes fade, letting them careen off above the civilians to finally crash somewhere within the automobile sea. The captives in question hadn't even blinked.
She didn't miss a beat. Landing in the centre of the group, she punched a hand into the ground and raised a... well.
In a circle around the would-be victims, the illusionary matter that made up the pavement erupted in a shower of crayon bits and plasticine. Giant, zweihander axes with heads the size of car bonnets - copied from a Belkan museum actually; it's where she'd got the idea - replete in silver and blue, rose up in a criss-crossed, interlocking formation, creating a protective fence that...
...no. Calling it a Shield, in the Mid-Childean sense, would be an insult to Shields. The defence was purely physical and, as she knew from bitter experience, littered with gaps painfully easy to snipe through. But it was something. With the amount of debris careening around - a lot of it her own fault - it was better safe than sorry. They were what she was fighting for after all.
The last two daemons arose on opposite ends. She leapt.
First, she had to break their fire. Two axes flung out, one at each target. There was no way they were going to hit, and sure enough they didn't, but it forced them to move and disrupted their line of fire. Those precious seconds got her out of her own axe-dome.
Second... well, it didn't really matter which she went for first. Her leap left her closer to one over the other, so she went straight for that. Obviously this meant the other would be that much further away afterwards, but what could she do?
The daemon she descended on sank immediately, but she had the answer to that. Faster than it could flee, an axe flew out; at such short range it caught it right at the base at the intersection with the floor. Roughly equivalent to a punch through the lung, she guessed; the giant's sheer size doing it no favours. Clean kill; it broke in half and was dissolving even as she crashed into it herself scant moments later.
So one left.
Renza panted, beginning to feel the strain. A pressing weight build on the back of her neck; a symptom of her soul gem running low on power. Were it at her front, she could at least keep an eye on it.
Something triggered. An instinctive reaction flared and she spun into an immediate roll, axe lashing out behind her as she spun.
At her back, the last daemon broke in two. White flakes drifted out like a collapsing snowledge as it died with a mournful tone.
...Renza laughed, the stress bleeding out. The past two times now, the final daemon had done the exact same thing. With the her soul gem where it was she... well, it rather invited being shot in the back.
The little whispering voice.
"Ah, Kyubey! Are you alright?"
A little white creature about the size of a cat, with doubled up ears; one set feline containing the second set, long and floppy, ending with floating metal rings that nonchalantly disregarded the lack of anything to hold them in place. It scampered along the tattered, not-quite-asphalt ground before flowing up her leg and up onto her head in fast, practised motion.
It felt warm, but barely weighed a thing.
"Fine, thanks to you." It's mouth, she knew, would be completely static in its fixed, calculatedly cute smile as the creature surveyed the battlefield. "Your tactics are improving."
"Ehehe, thank you!"
The axe-wall now redundant, she let it drop and came over to examine the civilians, one eye watching the false sky.
"This Barrier is taking a while to-"
The Kyubey's warning barely came in time. A spear of light flashed beneath her, exploding her inner thigh in a stream of bright red gore that flashed before her eyes.
Time hung, for a moment. It didn't even seem to hurt.
Then the pain crashed down around her, her legs collapsing like a doll on cut strings as her entire leg caught fire in agony and she was colliding with the pavement and the white creature leapt off her head and -
There was enough left in her to immediately roll aside, scraping past the follow-up volley that lashed craters into the not-concrete in a hail of light, sparkles and crayon powder. Behind her, in the vague direction pointed by her failing legs, right where she'd cut the last one in two, a daemon rose.
A flutter of pixelate flakes caught her attention; a small, granulated gash trailing sparks of light from its side. Recognition came immediately. The one she hadn't quite killed at the beginning. The one she'd winged five minutes ago. She wanted to sob, pain eating through her limbs as red so much red ran away and pooled beneath-
The little Kyubey's distraction nearly cost it dearly; the daemon diverting its attentions immediately and spitting further fire and light, forcing the smaller creature to scamper and flee with spears of energy stabbing at its tail. Renza gritted her teeth, holding in a scream.
A giant axe, bigger than a bus, erupted out from the floor and shattered the daemon like a snowglobe; a cloud of white, pixelated flakes that drifted away into nothingness in peace and serenity.
The axe toppled on its side with a ground shattering clang.
Her final attack. Still working on it after figuring out that wall thing. S-Supposed to be flashier than that...
The little voice sounded close. Behind her head.
"I've collected some of the cubes. Hold still; I'm going to shut down your pain response."
Something soft and warm touched something deep inside her, in some indescribable place. Her legs went numb.
"Don't try to stand."
For several moments, she just lay there and wheezed. Controlled her breathing. Air in, air out. Breathe. Around her, the barrier cracked and faded. The insane diorama did nothing as apocalyptic as collapse in on itself; it simply faded, drifting away, erasing itself in a blur of pixels. She was lying on the top of a building in the Economic District, amongst the glittering white spires and masts, bleeding red bright and lush out from her leg as the barcas skimmed along the canalways below on their light antigrav and gulls called somewhere overhead and that group of enthralled office workers she'd forgotten about were starting to stir-
Not even a mental command, more like an instinctive tug and her dress cascaded away in a peaceful flutter of blue petals. An equally blue, egg-like shape resolved in her hand for a moment, blurred and unresolved, before shifting into a silver ring on her finger; something normal and irrelevant.
And so Renza Veneti became an ordinary girl with a hole in her leg and a soul in her hand, passing out with a smile.