Earlier that day…
As the sky's hue slowly faded from dark blue to orange, just a few small curtains of pale green were blocking out the light of the sun's rays. The only light that was in that room was the radiating glow of a laptop monitor, reflecting into a pair of cyan eyes that were trying not to show weakness. Perhaps after that much time, they might have become damaged beyond repair, were it not for the magical enhancements placed upon them.
How long had she been looking at this... 'search engine' thing anyway? Christine did not know – her mind was starting to shut out the idea of being successful.
...but in any case, she had to continue trying. She had a job to do: finding out about the enemy as much as possible. And surely System-M, being this incredibly complex society of all sorts of people from all sorts of lands, even planets, would have left its trace somewhere. Granted, she doubted most of their 'soldiers' would dare speak of its name in public; but if it was true that they only recently came to Sethera, there must be some kind of outside information. Rumours, pictures, anything. And even if Sethera's line of technology and communications was... difficult to handle, she couldn't just stop to relax and—
"Chrissy? Are you awake?"
The voice called from outside her room door, following two knocks. Christine momentarily wondered why her partner was calling her at this time, before glancing at the clock on her screen... thing ...and realizing it was about 8 AM.
"Ugh...give me a few minutes, Rosa," she replied groggily.
As Christine trudged over to the closet to find her casual clothes, she wondered when was the last time she cared for any sort of schedule. For the last 300 years, she had no obligations, no duties, no motivation beyond survival. Truth be told, having to suddenly accept this title as 'Leader' was still somewhat jarring. Yet, she chose it, rather willingly so. It was far better, and less miserable, than her previous lifestyle.
She took a few looks in the mirror, making sure she would at least be presentable to her teammates. Her pale-beige hair was neatly combed and hung barely above her shoulders. There didn't seem to be any creases on the white parts of her top, nor the black lines, and the red bow was more or less straight. The black skirt was likewise stainless. And finally, that round-ish hat was sitting rather nicely on her head.
Christine softly chuckled to herself. The last time she could recall finding herself caring this much about her appearance was when she was a child of royalty. Hopefully, she hadn't completely lost her elegance and grace after so long. She shuffled over to the door, and opened it wide to greet her partner, instinctively rubbing her eyes and letting out a small yawn.
"Didn't sleep well?" Rosamunde asked her friend with a raised eyebrow.
...so maybe she lost a bit of that grace. Just a bit.
"I was..." She mumbled in response, "I just woke up at around 6 to do some... research. You know, on System-M."
Christine was hoping her partner would ask about that and move from the topic of her lethargy. Unfortunately for her, Rosamunde smiled with that look – the overly-concerned one she always put on before she was about to lecture someone.
"You know, being Magical Girls doesn't mean we can push our bodies as hard as we want. At the very least, you should've slept more for today – what with us walking all around the city, you know?"
Christine started searching for a sarcastic joke in response. She was trying hard to act more casual around people nowadays, and she knew her old partner was an easy target of confusion for such jokes. As she did, she noticed her orange-haired partner was wearing her red gardening apron over her t-shirt and jeans at that moment. That was when the joke hit her.
"Don't talk to me about not sleeping enough when you wake up just as early to do your gardening."
She found herself smiling mischievously, as Rosa seemed genuinely flustered by that comment.
"I-I wasn’t! I mean, I was, but I slept enough!”
"I’m sure you did..."
"Well… you’re the leader of an entire team now. You should set an example, at the very least!”
“Indeed, but commoners should not consider becoming my subjects if they cannot even clean their own doorsteps.”
Though Christine meant that response to also be in jest, she noticed her partner was standing rather still, staring back for a second with her mouth slightly open. Then she noticed an eyebrow lifted slightly.
“…that was a joke,” Christine immediately clarified, “Did you really think I was going to make them all bow down to me as their supreme ruler?”
Rosamunde failed to hide her awkwardness in the silence.
“No! Really! I—I didn’t mean it that way, Chrissy! I mean—”
Christine laughed, and continued to do so quite loudly. Both girls began to walk down the hallway, with the now meek gardener following her friend behind rather slowly. Despite being embarrassed in a small way, she seemed to resume being calm, and with a genuine smile on her face.
“What I really meant…” She quietly elaborated, “I meant I wasn’t expecting you to be this cheerful, in… I suppose this way…”
Her old partner turned around with a curious look. Rosamunde continued to smile.
“I think I like you better this way.”
Though she admittedly began to expect a louder reaction, Christine simply smiled (maybe smirked?) a bit before turning back to walk again.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” She waved her hand casually, “Anyway, are the other girls waiting for us yet?”
“I only saw Anzai and Cecile walk in earlier – just as sleepily, I’d imagine.”
The leader only nodded, even if what she was imagining her teammates to be made her resist a chuckle. She and her partner walked down and down a few more hallways and floors, till they reached the one closest to the ground, and a door that was slightly ajar. The inked words placed inside the plastic sign read “Requiem Heralds”, and unsurprisingly, there was a gaudy flower wreath also hanging from the door. Christine ignored it and opened the door slowly, pleased to hear not a single sound.
The room was rather simple – welcoming, yet office-like. The wallpaper was a mix of bright and pale yellow, and its surfaces lined with filled chest-level bookshelves. A few strange table top ornaments (at least, that’s what they would look like to an ordinary person) sat on top, just in line with the desktop computer placed in the far right corner. The ceiling light was not switched on, as the slowly growing sunlight from outside the windows illuminated the centre of the room. A long but low coffee table sat in the middle, with moderately-sized stools and bean bags of red and white and black surrounding them. Sitting on separately placed bean bags were two young girls – one of which looked wide awake and focused at her cell phone, the other of whom was quite lethargically sipping some brown-white liquid from a plastic cup.
The former heard the door open, and immediately looked up from her device.
“Good morning, you two!”
Cecile waved her hand low, but with clear enthusiasm.
Anzai lifted her head and her hand slowly. Her messy pale brown ponytail drooped against the bean bag, and her eyes had clear black eye bags under them. The leader felt the need to address that.
“Why the eye bags?"
"Ugh... nothin' much really, just homework..."
The leader gave a sympathetic nod. It didn't go unnoticed by her teammates.
"You too, Christine," noted Cecile, "you look pretty beat. What's wrong?"
Rosamunde immediately intercepted with a response.
"She had late night business too. At least, that's what she told me."
"Woman, kindly refrain from implying I was being lazy."
Her leader's retort surprised her. Christine had to forcefully widen her smile even more to prove she was just joking again. Thankfully, the two younger members seemed to understand her attempts. Anzai casually waved her cup around.
"Dont'cha worry 'bout it, leader."
"Yeah, it's not like you stay up watching sappy shoujo anime, like a certain someone.”
Cecile was giving a rather knowing stare and smirk towards her best friend, who immediately stood up with all her energy and indigence.
"Hey hey hey!” She defensively started pointing, “You haven’t even tried watching those yet!”
“No, but I have standards,” came the reply, complete with a flicking of her otherwise neatly-combed black pony tail.
The playful bickering and comparison of tastes continued for some time. Christine could tell that her partner was somewhat confused (and truthfully, so was she), but she herself was enjoying the cheerful morning. The activity of childishly arguing with girls like her over useless things was another joy she seemed to have forgotten over time...
In fact, it almost made her forget something else.
"By the way," she cleared her throat and interjected, "Have either of you two seen Chika or Yuujou?"
The busy conversation stopped, and both young girls looked up to their leader and shrugged. Cecile stood up, instinctively walking over to give a more wordy response...
And then the door slammed open with great force.
The voice was as loud as it was sudden, as well as strained and almost too fast to comprehend. A tall young woman was huffing as she held the door open, her black braids all frazzled, and her black cap failing to conceal her overly concerned face. She only became more concerned, and jumped back a bit, when she saw her young teammate behind the door, rubbing her forehead.
"C-Cecile-chan!" The young woman gasped, "I'm so sorry!"
"I-it's alright Chika; I'm used to this at home..."
A sheepish laugh was exchanged (as well as Anzai snickering at her best friend's misfortune), but their frazzled new teammate still looked apologetic. Christine began to word a response, involving telling her teammate that with the time considered, she was far from actually being 'late'. And it was just then that their last, and least self-aware teammate, slogged through the door.
“I’m tiiiiired…” She dragged her words as much as she could, “Whyyy did we have to meet up so earllly…?”
“Deal with it, Yuujou,” Anzai quickly spat, “Being Magical Girls isn’t about happy fun times and smelling the roses.”
“I know that, geez!”
“Then look alive, ya lazy hog.”
Though they were a distance away before, and though Anzai only appeared to be smiling (in her usual enthusiastic demeanour), both young girls were then a hair’s inch away from strangling each other’s faces.
…however on the plus side, it seemed like that argument was enough to bring Chika out of her excessive self-concern. She quickly pulled her two younger teammates apart, nervously telling them to cease the constant staring and focus on whatever they were called for that day. Which was good, considering they had certainly kept the rest of the team waiting.
As Christine ushered her teammates to the centre of the coffee table, she placed whatever she had gathered on the table hastily – notes, newspapers, folders. There was a lot that they had to do that day…
“…so before we actually carry out today’s mission, let’s go over the intel we’ve gathered over the past few days. Especially in regards to what the Magical Girls from the Wishes Shop have done recently.”
The Wishes Shop – an enigmatic ‘business’ run by its equally enigmatic owner, Regulator Keibey. While he dons his shop with the disguise of being a sort of private social-services business, he all but speaks hyperbole when he claims his job is to make wishes and dreams come true. His employers, the aptly-named Magical Girls, are all in fact his contractees, who have gained mystical powers and use them to destroy some unseen foes, in exchange for having their wishes literally fulfilled. Although, he seems to be reconsidering that method of approach…
But nevertheless, the Requiem Heralds, this team of six Magical Girls similarly contracted to Keibey, are very much allied and willing partners of this strange man. Besides their actual contracts and their personal desires, they are not a standalone team. They are a sub-section of the ethereal protection organization that also recently came to Sethera – Visionary Requiem. And their President and direct leader, though she had a… rocky start with the Contractor, is likewise willing friends and allies with all from the Wishes Shop.
Hence, though they are without a lot of information, both teams have a shared goal, and a shared enemy. As well as shared information, what little they have.
“The only General of System-M who has shown her face publicly so far is The Executioner, after she made an intentional scene when we appeared.”
Christine dragged over a somewhat blurry photo to the centre of the table. One of their enemies’ cold gaze, as well as her dark figure and the big streak of white in her hair, was at the very least visible. In the background was the burning rubble of Sethera’s Blue Quarter.
“Of course, we then heard the other day that Flora and Civis from the Shop ran into another General, but unfortunately she quickly escaped before anyone else could spot her. And now, they’re telling us that they suspect a third General’s going to come into play…”
“Oh great,” Anzai made her frustration apparent, “That’s 3 out of 6 Generals now, right?”
Her leader nodded gravely. Amongst the strewn papers was a small folder, and a page was turned to a specific one with a profile. There were no pictures, but the name was bolded and enlarged greatly; perhaps even more so than the other Generals profiled.
“…Marinelle the Wicked, the self-proclaimed General of Certainty, is who they are suspecting.”
Since the rest of the girls had to strain forward to look (sans Yuujou, who was idling tiredly by the side), Christine began tracing her finger over the smaller words – the more pertinent and concerning info.
“Apparently, her M.O. is always tied to The Executioner, who is apparently the General of Uncertainty. The girls at the Shop say here that she’s known for approaching victims of accidents, natural disasters and other catastrophes with contracts promising protection and secure livelihoods…”
“Yeah, protection from disasters that they themselves caused.”
Christine realized that the bitter remark, surprisingly, came from the otherwise level-headed Cecile. She decided to pursue the real cause another time – it was more important that her teammate seemed to realize what exactly they enemies were doing.
The leader dragged a much bigger piece of paper to the centre. It showed a rough map of the floating kingdom of Sethera, with the City of New Camelot smack in the centre. The city itself was split into four distinct quadrants. Christine drew specific attention to the aforementioned Blue Quarter, the home of the Kingdom’s Royal Navy. However, directly outside that Quadrant’s walls were a massive section of desert, southeast to the City…
“The Badlands…” Christine mused, “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where their forces are hiding. From what Alyss and the rest have heard, civilians are prohibited from entering, and only outlaws live there, possibly even under the sand…”
“B-but that seems too obvious…” Chika chimed in, “What if they were expecting us to make that conclusion, and it turns out to be a trap?”
The leader considered those words, and sighed. Her teammates were certainly thinking and had good points, but…
“Even if it was, we can’t afford to not leave a stone unturned.”
“Speakin’ of unturned stones, the heck’s up with all this news about travelling musicians and all that?”
Everyone’s attention abruptly turned to Anzai, who was flipping the newspaper almost hurriedly. She ignored the front page about the Blue Quarter’s decimation, and turned very specifically to a page advertising some apparent celebrities that had come to the city.
“Miia Nylund, Sakari Laakkonen, foreign singers and talents…”
Though she let her teammates read the papers, she somehow looked revolted.
“They both look like hacks.”
“…what does this have to do with our mission?”
Rosamunde finally spoke, in an apparent calm and mature-sounding protest. It seemed to make the young girl who brought it up first now shrink away a little.
“L-look, it’s just a gut feeling,” she elaborated, “This City’s pretty old-school in terms of everything, so I don’t understand why a bunch of pop idols would just randomly pop outta nowhere unless they had fans. Plus, that Sakari guy’s one of the few who went missing during the Blue Quarter attack!”
“That just means he can’t perform,” Yuujou then spoke up too, “Why so hung up over it? Were you looking forward to him~?”
Anzai slammed her hands indignantly against the coffee table. It took her a few seconds for her to realize what she did.
“…uh, what I meant is…”
She sheepishly began picking up strewn papers from the floor.
“Take a good look at those articles. Not once do they mention they’re even actually holding a concert – it’s just publicity crap. But according to Alyss, there have been people, specifically dumb kids in the Golden Quarter and the Red Quarter right here, spreading rumours that they are. Doesn’t that seem a little suspicious? At all?”
Most of the girls seemed to be silenced in affirmation. Even Yuujou was nodding just a bit. Only Rosamunde stood aside unconvinced.
“But they’re just musicians and singers. How in—?”
“Oh you would be surprised.”
Adding to the young woman’s confusion, Anzai was staring right back at her, with a similar glare as she did with Yuujou. For the first time in a long while, Rosamunde could feel sweat crawling down her back as a result of social—
Christine clapped her hands twice and everyone then remembered. They had a job to do first.
“Whatever the case is, we’ll have to split into groups for today’s investigation. Given our numbers, we should preferably be in pairs, so that’s three pairs…”
She looked around at everyone’s expectant faces. They’ve only known her for a little while, and yet she knew more or less what they were like.
“Cecile and I will go to the Blue Quarter to investigate the incident’s aftermath.”
The young girl responded with nodding. She was tapping something in the pocket of her black skirt – probably the cell phone from earlier. Good.
“Rosa, Chika, you two will go to the Golden Quarter to find out about those aforementioned rumours, as well as any other suspicious activity, considering the Shop’s last run-in with the other General.”
“O-Of course!” Chika promptly responded, with an awkward smile and a clenching of her fists. “You can count on us!”
Christine noticed too that Rosamunde was doing her usual formal smile and slight bow. It kind of worried her – would her old partner even know how to interact with their more… ‘modern’ teammates?
Well, she could worry about that later. She had to make the last pair, and she could already see Anzai’s horrified and unwilling expression.
“Anzai, Yuujou, you two walk around the Red Quarter—”
“Just the t-two of us?” Anzai began to stammer nervously, “W-why not we also ask the girls from the Wishes Shop for—”
“I heard they are going to be busy today with something,” the leader bluntly replied, “So stick to each other at all costs.”
Yuujou was still standing outside the circle, pouting. Anzai was mumbling something under her breath in an annoyed tone. Both of them stopped their actions rather quickly once they realized their leader was still staring at them intently.
“Besides, I wasn’t finished,” she continued, “Since the Red Quarter is next to the Green Quarter, and since Anzai herself brought up the possibility of these musicians being affiliated with our enemy, you two will have to go there and see if they are transferring any equipment, or the like. If there is anything that can lead us to the rest of System-M, it might be there. So keep a focused eye out, do you both understand?”
Christine promptly sighed. It seemed like amidst all their professional planning and vital jobs, her teammates were still young, and young in their friendship with each other…
That day was going to be a long day indeed.