Reaching for Eternity
Chapter 4: Memories of Sorrow
Yuka's blades sliced towards Aina. The fire mage twisted away, responding with a burst of flames; deflected by Yuka's barrier. Yuka launched another flurry of attacks, slashing with the sharpened back side of her hook swords. Again Aina dodged the swords. Her final move left her bent backwards; reaching back she put her hands on the ground and kicked upwards. The unexpected move broke Yuka's concentration. Instead of putting up a barrier she tried to dodge. The brunt of the kick missed, but the stiletto heel of one of Aina's boots sliced into Yuka's cheek. Yuka's hand instinctively went to her cheek, leaving her open to a kick to the stomach which sent her flying into the fence around the edge of the roof. Before she could stand she was enveloped in a blast of flames.
"Yuka!" Yoshino called out in desperation, before she realized that she could still feel Yuka's presence just fine. The fire vanished—revealing Yuka back on her feet—a crimson barrier flickering out of existence. Yuka turned her head and winked at Yoshino, before launching herself back towards the fire mage, ready to get some of her own back.
As she watched the battle, Yoshino began to realize something was off. She was starting to feel the effects of Soul Gem corruption, even though she wasn't using any magic. It was most noticeable whenever Yuka used her shield; as if a tiny bit of the corruption was accumulating in her own gem, instead of Yuka's. Her attention was drawn from the mystery when her internal radar finally detected what she'd been waiting for. She concentrated for a moment, confirming what she expected. Smiling, she focused on a specific target and sent a message.
That done, she turned towards the other end of the roof, where a new figure stood under the moonlight.
The brilliant blue Soul Gem—pure and untouched by corruption—shone in Clarisse's eyes. It took her a moment to process Yoshino's words.
"No hold over you? Despite your wish, do you truly believe you are free from fate?"
Yoshino's gem flashed, reforming into the rune-encrusted silver ring. "Yes, yes I do." Yoshino sat back in her chair, her eyes meeting Clarisse's. "Just look at how you've been acting. I've managed to fluster you, embarrass you and then make you mad. You can't say that that is normal now, can you?"
Clarisse refocused on the present; once again she sat atop a water tower, her cheek pressed against one knee. Yoshino had been right; she'd been acting like a child. There was no way a newly contracted Magical Girl should have been able to manipulate her that way. However she wasn't entirely sure that Yoshino was the only cause. She'd been feeling out of sorts ever since that meeting with Akemi. Old memories had been drug up, old wounds she'd thought closed decades ago reopened.
Combined with whatever power Yoshino gained from her wish had been enough to throw her off. She was aware of it now though, she wasn't going to let Yoshino play her again. Of course, she had to wonder why Yoshino spelled it out for her. She would have figured it out on her own eventually, but Yoshino just gave away an advantage. In her place she certainly would have continued to exploit it as long as possible.
"I won't fight them for you. I should just stand up and leave right now." Clarisse sat back slightly ostentatiously. "This isn't my city, and it isn't my fight. I have somewhere I need to be."
"Fair enough; in fact I had no plans to ask you to fight. If it comes to it, I will take care of that. I have something else I want you to do."
'Something else' indeed. Clarisse's mouth twitched at the memory. She still could have refused to take part, but this was the least she could do. Besides the agreement was she would only act if Yoshino's part of the plan worked. So here she sat, waiting.
Her head jerked upwards in surprise, turning to look in the direction of the massive magical energy explosion. For a moment, in the distance, she thought she saw a flash of blue and red, but then it vanished. Yoshino what did you do?
Yoshino had been rather reluctant to discuss precisely what her plan was for a distraction. At first Clarisse thought she was just going to go hunt demons and make a lot of magical "noise" to try and draw out the rogue girls; however that release of energy felt more like a contract. She strained her magical senses but it was just too far away for her to detect anything else.
A bare few minutes later, she received her sign.
Yoshino eyed the new girl. If one were to construct the polar opposite of Hinata Aina, it was very likely that the girl before her would be the result. Full figured, with blue outfit that covered her entire body, with the exception of her hands and head. Lanky blue hair fell to below her shoulders, similarly colored eyes hiding behind her bangs. She began to approach, her long skirt swishing around her ankles, briefly revealing low-heeled boots.
A buzzing began in Yoshino's head. She opened her telepathy, and instantly regretted it. The silent girl was emitting a constant stream of telepathic mutterings—most of which were incomprehensible—but the few Yoshino was able to sort out nearly made her blanch. As the girl came closer the louder the muttering became and the harder it was to block out. Raising her naginata, Yoshino called out to her.
"My name is Yoshino. Leave this city now and you won't be hurt." The girl didn't respond, though Yoshino barely saw something flicker in her flat blue eyes. Otherwise her only reaction was to summon her weapons. Appearing to condense out of the very air two spears of ice formed; each two thirds the length of Yoshino's own Naginata.
Unlike the up close and personal brawl still going between Yuka and Aina, Yoshino's fight against the ice mage was a dance of attacks and parries, their long weapons blurs as they strove for an opening. Yoshino parried a thrust of one of the spears, only to just barely avoid the second coming in right behind it. Countering with a low slash, the blue-haired girl responded by leaping into the air. The move took Yoshino by surprise, but not nearly as much as the sudden storm of ice fragments that descended on her.
Diving out of the attack's zone, she escaped with just a few holes in her outfit and a bleeding cut on her right shoulder. Still lying on the ground she mentally extended her naginata, its extension faster than any physical thrust. The ice mage clearly had not expected an attack from that distance, nor for Yoshino to be able to tell precisely where she was without even looking. A grunt of pain told her she'd hit her target.
Dropping her weapon, Yoshino jumped to her feet. Turning she saw the ice mage grasping her left side, blood leaking through her fingers. A moment later she saw the girl's face, twisted with pain and rage. The telepathic mutterings—which Yoshino had managed to tune out thus far—suddenly amped up; as if someone had turned a radio on to a distorted station, with the volume on max. The telepathic attack—there was no other term for it—disoriented Yoshino for just a moment. Taking advantage of the opening, the girl charged, a sword of ice in either hand.
By the time Yoshino recovered the girl was nearly upon her. Summoning another naginata, Yoshino blocked one of the strikes; the second slipped through, piercing Yoshino in the side. A twin to the wound Yoshino herself had inflicted. The ice mage reversed her sword, beginning a slice aimed right at Yoshino's neck. No. It can't end like this. Yoshino tried to dodge, but it was too late, her soul gem filled with too much corruption. Help! HELP ME YUKA!
A burst of red light erupted around Yoshino; the ice sword struck it and shattered into a thousand pieces. The ice mage staggered backwards from the recoil of the impact. Before the blue haired mage could recover, a metal hook suddenly wrapped around her throat and she was violently wrenched backwards. Propelled through the air, the flailing girl slammed into the red-headed fire mage, who was just standing up out of a massive impact crater in the rooftop. The two girls tumbled over each other, finally coming to rest at the base of the fence surrounding the edge of the roof.
Yoshino had watched the events stunned, still shocked at her survival. Her gaze—following the flight of the ice mage—came to rest on her rescuer. Red dress ripped and burned, blood streaming from her left arm and right temple, and at the top of her cleavage an arrowhead shaped Soul Gem turned almost black with corruption.
"Hey, I got them. Aren't you proud of me…?" The words trailed off as the battered redhead collapsed.
Landing on the roof of the abandoned building, Clarisse was unsurprised to find the rooftop door unlocked. In fact the chain that had been holding it closed was half-melted on the ground. The fire mage then; Yoshino was right. She didn't detect any Soul Gems or other magical signatures in the area, but it didn't hurt to be cautious. Carefully she opened the door and headed into the shadowed stairwell.
It didn't take her long to find her objective. The top floor of the building was a single hallway with just a few doors. The second one she checked opened into a rather large room that was clearly being used. Moonlight streaming through the windows revealed a mess of take-out food containers in one corner. On the other side of the room was a large, ratty mattress laid out on the floor. Atop the mattress was a still figure, Clarisse couldn't tell if they were asleep or unconscious.
Approaching the bed, Clarisse found the girl Yoshino had described to her. She lay on the dirty mattress, arms and legs bound and a strip of white cloth gagging her. She was also completely naked. Though from what Clarisse could see the girl wasn't physically injured, without any obvious bruises or cuts.
"Alright, let's get you out of here." Clarisse moved closer, and as she came around to face the girl, she discovered at she was completely awake, her eyes wide with terror. "Oh dear, I wasn't expecting you to be awake."
Clarisse knelt down next to the mattress, trying to look as unthreatening as possible. "Hey there, Mai." The girl twitched slightly. "My name is Clarisse; I'm here to save you. Ok?" Mai nodded jerkily. "I'm going to untie you now." Clarisse moved her hands to the bonds around Mai's wrists and ankles. Zip-ties. I guess good old fashioned rope is passé nowadays. With a tiny burst of magical energy she cut the ties.
With her hands free, Mai immediately attempted to cover herself, though she didn't really accomplish much. Reaching up behind Mai's head, Clarisse untied the gag, then pulled a wadded up ball of cloth out of the girl's mouth. As it came out it unfurled. It was a pair of panties. Those utter bitches. She saw Mai's eyes widen as she saw what had come out of her mouth, the girl started to shake, tears gathering in her eyes.
"It's ok, they aren't here. They won't hurt you anymore." Clarisse reached out with one hand, to try and comfort the girl, but she was met with a shriek. Mai scooted back across the mattress, till her back was against the wall.
"Don't touch me!" Mai had curled herself up, clearly trying to stay as unexposed as possible. Clarisse looked around for something to cover the girl with, but the bed had no sheets, and other than a pile of shredded clothing that looked to have once been a school uniform the room was devoid of possibilities.
Instead she took off the dark purple cloak that covered her lavender Magical Girl outfit. She'd added the cloak some time back, when attempts to alter the base outfit itself had failed. She felt it lent her an air of gravitas the slightly frilly purple dress lacked. Sitting down on the mattress, she offered the cloak to Mai.
"Here, use this." The girl grabbed it and quickly covered herself. "You don't have to talk about it, but no one will judge you for what happened. It's not your fault."
Mai raised her head, brown eyes filled with pain. "How can you know? How can you say that? After what they…they…" her voice faltered, but she pushed onwards. "What they did to me." Tears welled up in her eyes and she buried her head in her knees.
Clarisse once again reached out with her hand, but this time she stopped herself. What right did she have to try and comfort this girl? This was her fault. She could have stopped this. Yoshino was right, just because you can't stop every bit of tragedy and injustice doesn't mean you shouldn't try to do what you can.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Clarisse focused inwards, feeling for a certain reaction in her Soul Gem. It was there—faint—but it was enough. Opening her eyes she looked at the girl, still huddled in Clarisse's cloak.
"I'm sorry." Clarisse kept her eyes on Mai as she spoke. "I know that seems trite and meaningless, but I am truly sorry. I could have stopped them. I could have rescued you before they did these things. I cannot go back and change the course of time, but I promise that when you wake, this won't even be a dream." Mai's eyes widened, but before she could speak Clarisse poked her lightly in the forehead and she fell into a deep sleep.
Clarisse reached towards Mai. A pale yellow glow began to emanate from the girl, glowing brightest on her chest; right below Clarisse's outstretched hand. The light grew brighter and brighter until finally Clarisse reached into the light itself. Emerging from Mai's body was a thick leather-bound book. Its cover was embossed with golden runes, its pages similarly edged in gold. She opened the book, revealing page after page of runes. Flipping through the pages, she soon found the one she was interested in.
Looking down at the page, Clarisse began to read aloud. As she read her voice began to modulate and change; taking on a higher, more youthful sound. A soft light surrounded her, a pale yellow matching that which still surrounded Mai. As she finished reading, the runes vanished, leaving behind a blank page. Closing the book, Clarisse laid her hand atop Mai's forehead. Memories flooded into her mind. Everything Misawa Mai had experienced. All the terror and pain—everything that had been done to her—it settled into Clarisse's mind, becoming indelible parts of her own memory. Placing the book against Mai's chest, it once again slid into the light. As the book vanished into the girl's chest, the light faded away.
Clarisse stood, looking down at the girl now sleeping peacefully on the mattress. Scooping her up into her arms, she carried the girl out onto the roof.
"Alright, let's get you home."
Yuka's Soul Gem was nearly pure black. Only the barest tinge of red could still be seen. Yoshino pulled out the few Grief Cubes she had left. They needed to be enough to get them through this. She slapped half of them onto Yuka's Gem and the other half onto her own. Shooting a glance towards the other end of the roof, the two elemental mages still seemed to be knocked out from that last impact.
She felt the corruption drain from her gem, like a fog lifting from her vision. She hadn't even known it was there, but now that it was gone she felt refreshed and alive again. Checking Yuka's gem, it was still heavily corrupted. Just a few moments longer and she would have succumbed.
"Oh Yuka. I never intended for you to go that far." A hand reached up and touched her cheek.
"Don't say that. This was my choice. And without me you would have died. I'll be fine soon." Yoshino took her girlfriend's hand and held it tight.
A twitch in Yoshino's clairvoyant sense drew her attention. Looking over she saw that the fire mage, Aina, was trying to stand up. Yoshino pulled the Grief Cubes off her gem and slapped them onto Yuka's.
"I'm going to go finish this." Yuka simply nodded in response.
Yoshino dashed towards the fire mage, running as fast as she could. Aina had barely managed to get onto all fours when a devastating kick slammed into her chest, sending her flying into the fencing around the rooftop. The fence barely held together—Yoshino was surprised the girl hadn't gone right through it—despite the amount of force she'd used.
Aina crashed down onto the roof; the impact actually jolting her back to full consciousness. Unfortunately for her, Yoshino was already standing over her. Grabbing her hair, Yoshino lifted her head up.
"That was for Yuka." Yoshino then slammed the fire mage's face right into the concrete, an audible crunching noise indicating she'd broken the girl's nose. "That was for Misawa." Yoshino yanked her head up again, and then smashed it into the ground a second time. Pulling the girl's head up again, Yoshino roughly twisted it around to face her. Aina's face was coated with blood; her nose pulped beyond recognition, blood streaming from numerous cuts and abrasions. Above the devastation a pair of red eyes burned; burned with pain, fear and anger. Yoshino did not flinch from their gaze. Summoning her naginata, Yoshino held its blade to Aina's Soul Gem.
"You are going to leave this town. If I ever catch you here again I will kill you. Understand?" The bloody face nodded, though Aina's eyes were still filled with burning hatred. "Grab your friend and get out. Now." Yoshino released Aina's hair, causing the girl to fall to her knees. Aina struggled to her feet and moved haltingly towards Mikuru, who was just now starting to stir. Helping the blue-haired girl up, the two haltingly made their way to the edge of the roof, where there was a melted hole in the fence. Aina turned and gave Yoshino a baleful stare, and then the two leapt off the roof.
Yoshino's burst of adrenaline finally wore off. Only clinging to her naginata allowed her to stay on her feet. A pair of arms wrapped around her from behind. It was Yuka, of course.
"Did I go too far?" With the rush over, Yoshino was regretting letting her temper show that badly.
"Not at all." Yoshino felt Yuka's breasts pushing into her back as her arms tightened around her. "I know how afraid you are of your temper, but those two deserved what they got. They got of lightly, if you ask me." Yuka relaxed her arms, allowing Yoshino to turn around. Their lips met in their second kiss of the night, though it felt as if ages had passed, instead of less than an hour.
Breaking the kiss, Yoshino pulled back a bit, an odd expression on her face.
"What's wrong?" Yuka's voice conveyed her confusion.
"It seems we have an audience." Pulling away from Yuka, she turned towards the rooftop door. Standing atop it was Clarisse van Rossum, Kyuubey perched on her shoulder.
"Oh don't mind us. You two can continue as you were." Yoshino felt her cheeks heat a bit; and she could tell—without even looking at her—that Yuka was doing the same.
"Ah, yes. I should introduce you two." Yoshino cleared her throat. "Yuka, this is Clarisse van Rossum, she's a Magical Girl who has been a big help tonight. Clarisse, this is Uchida Yuka, my girlfriend and partner. As you can see she just made a contract tonight."
"That is quite apparent. I thought I felt a contract reaction, though I've never felt one that intense." Clarisse lightly jumped down onto the roof proper. "You two certainly look like you went through the wringer." Her gaze traveled around the devastated rooftop. "I've seen worse, but most of the time we don't conduct battles on the roofs of elementary schools."
Finishing with a good long look at Yuka, and the tattered remains of her dress, Clarisse raised an eyebrow. "Are you going to continue like that or do you plan to repair your outfit? I don't object, but I wonder if Yoshino is fine with you showing off like that." Yuka's face turned as red as her Soul Gem, a flash of red light returning her to the clothes she was wearing before.
Yoshino crinkled her forehead slightly in irritation. "Clarisse, did you find her?"
"Yes, she was exactly where you said she was. I've returned her to her home. They should find her sleeping peacefully in bed in the morning. She will have no memories of what happened."
Yoshino considered asking for more details, but something about Clarisse's voice made her certain she wasn't going to get any more information out of the older Magical Girl. "Well, with Misawa rescued and those two chased off, I think we've accomplished the mission quite nicely."
"Except for the part where you two look like death warmed over." Clarisse reached into a pocket of her dress, and pulled out a dozen Grief Cubes. "Here; neither of you two will stand a chance at fighting demons unless you get yourselves fixed up, and I know you are out of cubes."
Yoshino gave Clarisse an odd look, but accepted the cubes anyway; she was right after all. She then handed eight of the cubes to Yuka. "You need these more than I do. Make sure you are mostly healed up by morning; we don't want your parents getting suspicious." Yuka nodded in response, placing the cubes in the pocket of her shorts.
"Ok, I'm going to take Yuka back to her house. Clarisse, head back to the mansion. My mother will be suspicious if you aren't there in the morning."
"Wait, hold on." Yuka held up her hands. "Can't I go to the mansion as well?"
Yoshino gave her an odd look. "As much as I like the idea, how would we explain you ending up in my bed in the morning? You have to still be at your house when your parents wake up, that's the only way this will work. Hopefully soon things can change, but until that happens, we have to continue on as we are."
Yuka put on a pouty expression, but nodded her acceptance. "What about this mess?" She gestured at the ruined rooftop.
Yoshino shrugged. "It will be a mystery. Don't worry; I can make sure they get the funds to fix it." With that she scooped Yoshino back into her arms. With a nod at Clarisse, she jumped off the roof.
"Hey, you don't have to carry me. I'm a Magical Girl now too, you know."
A few minutes later, Yoshino landed inside Yuka's room. Setting Yuka back on her feet, Yoshino turned to leave, but was stopped by a hand on her arm. She found herself being turned around, and she was met by a kiss from Yuka.
"Weren't you going to give me a goodnight kiss?" Yuka's voice was impish. "My place is with you. Don't make me wait too long, ok?"
Yoshino kissed her back. "Goodnight, my love." She stepped back, turned and jumped out the window.
Yuka walked over and shut the window and closed the blinds, plunging the room into darkness. Holding out her left hand, she summoned her Soul Gem. A ruby light filled the room. Setting the Gem down on her nightstand, she surrounded it with the cubes Yoshino had given her. Lying down on her bed, she stared into the ruby-red egg, watching as the swirls of darkness within it drained away. Her eyes were especially drawn to the flecks of blue, floating like tiny moats in a ruby sea.
Sleep, when it came, was fitful.
Yoshino's night was not much better. However despite only a few hours of sleep she was surprised at how rested she actually felt.
It's part of being a Magical Girl. Clarisse, who sat across from her at the table in the mansion's kitchen. We still need sleep, but we can get away with a lot less than before. It will catch up with you eventually if you keep it up though.
Clarisse and Yoshino were eating breakfast, along with Yoshino's mother. By all appearances she had no idea that Yoshino and Clarisse had left during the night. The conversation over breakfast had largely been irrelevant small-talk, with Clarisse surprisingly adept at deflecting her mother's more probing questions.
"So, Clarisse, do you plan on staying in town any longer? You are welcome to stay as long as you need." Yoshino paused slightly while taking a sip of her Earl Grey, but decided it was an innocuous question. Her mother had bought their story the night before with little question. Thankfully she didn't enquire too deeply into just where online they had allegedly met. Her mother wasn't a Luddite by any means, but the vagaries of the internet were somewhat beyond her.
"Thank you, but no. In fact someone will be coming by to take me back to Mitakihara later today. If it's ok with Yoshino I'd like to ride into town with her on her way to school." Yoshino of course had no problem with the suggestion; in fact she had planned on bringing it up herself.
"Of course that's not a problem. Arisawa can drop you off wherever you need." Yoshino looked up as the man himself entered the kitchen. "Ah, we were just talking about you, Arisawa."
The mustachioed man made his way over to Yoshino. "Young Mistress." Yoshino's eye twitched slightly. "This message was just dropped off. It's from the lawyers." He held out a white envelope with Yoshino's name written on it. Taking it from him, she used a knife to slice it open.
Inside were several sheets of thick paper, she ran her eyes down the pages, taking in the information. Arisawa and her mother looked on with interest, Clarisse with slight confusion. Putting down the papers, she took a sip of her tea.
"Now isn't this the most interesting development." She grinned unabashedly.