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Bloom!

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Prologue – Elsewhere

“Mother, you won’t win.”

The golden-haired princess’s defiant words rang hollow, eliciting little more than a small smile from the dark empress. “My dear, I already have. There are but a few rebellious souls left. What chance do you imagine yourself having against me? Give me the Heart. Cease your foolish struggle and bend your knee. Embrace my dark blessing and take your place by my side, where you were always meant to be.”

The princess had but three bodyguards left. They were her most loyal servants, her most trusted friends since childhood. They were still with her, standing against the darkness that had very nearly consumed their whole world, threatening to swallow the last ray of hope it had left.

“Oh, shut up!” Defying the woman she had once called her empress, one of the three stepped forward. The magma gauntlet on her hand blazing with fury, she sent a flaming punch her way, the ensuing inferno powerful enough to melt stone.

It had no effect on the dark empress, not that anyone had expected it to. She didn’t even have to raise a finger; the shadows that surrounded her merely absorbed the flames, snuffing them out like a candle. By this point, with all that she had consumed, no attack that any one of them could muster would do her any harm. There was a cruel smile on the empress’ black lips as she raised her hand, and—

“Please run, your highness!” said the youngest of the princess’s bodyguards, gripping her wand tightly as she created a protective barrier around the trio. “We’ll... handle this!”

“Bet, Lyn, Ione...” the princess said, her voice choked up. “Please... do your best.”

“Yeah. We’ll be right behind you.” Ione gave her an encouraging nod and a gentle smile before reaching to shape the stone walls between them, drawing them together and sealing the passageway between the princess and her mother, trapping the three bodyguards with the dark empress.

Her words were a lie, of course. They stood no chance against the darkness they faced. All they could do was to buy the princess some time.

But it was enough. Their sacrifice hadn’t been in vain.

Prologue – Here

It was hard to believe the summer was over. The unseasonal weather might’ve played a part: September morning as it was, the sun was burning hot and bright in the sky, people outside seeking shelter in the shade. Still, the backpack weighed heavily on Sofia’s shoulders as she stepped out of her room, reminding her that the holidays truly were done with.

It wasn’t that Sofia Sylte was a bad student. She got good enough grades and she took the time to study for most exams. But the last summer had been fun and carefree, and it had seemed to go on forever: camping out in the mountains with Fleur and Dot, going out for milkshakes whenever she felt like it, squabbling with her brother over the right to use the backyard hammock—as insignificant those things had seemed at the time, they were all now precious memories to her, of days gone by...

Sofia sighed, looking herself over in the hallway mirror. She was wearing her favourite t-shirt and a brand-new pair of shorts. Her curly, cinnamon hair that always seemed to resist her efforts to comb it was held roughly in shape with a headband. Her new pink earrings looked cute and suited her well.

A bit short for her age and fond of cutesy looks, people tended to mistake her for a younger girl than she actually was, but she didn’t really mind. Fleur would’ve been furious, though. She always took the effort to look mature, and treating her as a child was the surest way to provoke her.

A little smile appeared on Sofia’s face as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. Maybe she was being overdramatic. The summer was over, sure, but there’d be plenty of time to do something fun even during the school year. And besides, she had her two best friends in the same class as her. School wouldn’t be so bad.

“...Aren’t you going to be late from school?” Oliver asked, still in his pyjamas as he walked down the stairs. “What are you staring at yourself for, anyway?”

Embarrassed, Sofia took a step back and frowned at her big brother. “J-jeez. I’m going! Leave me alone!” So much for good mood.

 


 

Dot yawned. Fleur shook her head, looking her friend over. “Did you not sleep last night? You should see the dark circles under your eyes.”

“But Fleeeur. Having to wake up this early is awful. It’s inhumane! School shouldn’t start before ten!”

It was the first recession, the morning class already over. Grinning sympathetically at the Dot, Sofia shrugged. “It’s going to take some time to get used to waking up this early again. And besides, that class was kind of boring. I feel like yawning too. ”

Her two friends had always stood in stark contrast to each other. Fleur was smart and beautiful, and she knew it. Her raven black hair was long and straight, often adorned with a ribbon. She preferred skirts over trousers, and she had been the first girl in her class to begin using makeup. She was a traditional beauty, so much so that the boys of the school had always been a bit too intimidated to approach her. Sofia had gotten quite a few love letters from them, not meant for herself, but rather to be passed over to Fleur. She had to admit, it kind of stung.

Dot, meanwhile, was less than perfect in comparison. She was clumsy and inattentive, and her grades were poor. Her choppy, bob cut orange hair was often even more of a mess than Sofia’s own, as easy as it looked to maintain. She laughed a lot, and loudly, to the point where teachers often grew annoyed with her for disrupting class. Her tastes were perhaps the most peculiar part about her: her favourite backpack bore images of 1980s era wrestling superstars, and at home, she had a collection of strange plush animals that just about everyone else in the world would’ve described as hideous.

Thinking about it, both of them were quite eccentric in their own fashion. Sometimes, Sofia felt like the only normal one in the group.

“Oh, I like your earrings, Sofia,” Fleur said, changing the subject. “Are they new?”

Sofia grinned. “Yeah! I got them from my mother, for my birthday. Aren’t they cute?”

“Hmmm,” Dot said, pursing her lips and looking Sofia over, circling her around. “I haven’t seen you wear earrings before. Are you turning into Fleur...?”

“What’s that supposed to mean, anyway?” Fleur asked, raising an eyebrow. “Plenty of girls in our class wear them, I’m hardly the only one. Maybe you should try it too, pay some attention to your appearance for once.”

“Hu, hu, hu... maybe I will. Maybe I’ll come to school one day looking like the greatest beauty anyone’s ever seen. Everyone will love me, and you’ll be all alone and forgotten, green with envy...” Dot said, smirking and rubbing her hands together.

Fleur rolled her eyes. It wasn’t exactly a credible threat. “I don’t get envious. But I do encourage you to try.”

“Ahahaha...” Sofia laughed, scratching her cheek. “The class is starting soon. Maybe we should go.”

 


 

The girls’ first day back at school on that hot September day drew to a close. Feeling a bit tired, Sofia put on her bunny pyjamas and went to sleep early. As such, like most people in town of White Hollow, she missed the falling star that streaked through the sky at midnight. For those few that caught it, it was a beautiful sight; some swore up and down they had seen it leave behind a trail of stardust, glittering in a rainbow of colours before dissipating into the darkness of the night.

That night, many residents of the town had strange dreams, and Sofia was no exception. She had always had a penchant for childish fancy, but this was the first time she’d had dreams quite this fantastical and vivid. Magical castles and unicorns, beautiful princesses and noble knights... and a rising shadow that encroached it all.

When she woke up next morning, she remembered very little. She wasn’t even certain if it had been a nightmare or not. And by the time the first class began, the memory of last night had already all but vanished from her mind.

Chapter Text

Ever since that falling star trailed through the sky a few nights ago, Heidi Valdez had not been feeling like her usual self. Her dreams had grown vivid, and dark. Strange, disturbing fantasies kept popping into her head, distracting her from her work at the veterinary clinic. She had asked her employer for the rest of the week off so she could sort herself out, and her request had been granted. But as it turned out, spending even more time with her own thoughts with none of the usual distractions around her only seemed to make the problem worse.

Heidi was lonely. She would’ve never admitted herself to it before, but the past days had seen the emptiness within her grow and gnaw at her like never before. She had been in a relationship before, a couple of times, but it had never seemed to work out. Heidi loved the company of her two cats, but she had never learned to love other people the same way. She had long since come to terms with the fact that she’d be better off by herself, so why? What was this crushing feeling of loneliness and desire that had been welling up within her, growing so strong she felt like she was ready to burst?

“It hurts, doesn’t it?” said the girl in the mirror. Green hair, poisonous green lips, a piercing look in her strange violet eyes that seemed to see right through her, wearing a dress made out of poison oak leaves. Beautiful enough for Heidi to almost want to step through the mirror to be with her, but even through the addled state of her mind, she could hear the alarm bells ring. Whoever she was, whatever she was, she was dangerous. If she was even real.

Heidi responded with a blink and a stare, mesmerised and afraid.

“I know it does. You poor thing. This world is no longer good enough for you.” Despite her dark smile, the girl in the mirror spoke in a soothing tone, her voice full of sympathy. It took Heidi off guard. She pitied her, the same way one might pity a small, hurt animal. “But I can help you create a new one. I can help you make things better. With my power, you can fill that hole within your heart, make your deepest desires come true. Observe...”

What else could Heidi do but watch and listen? What else could she do but to smile and submit? The dreams she’d been having, the fantasies that had blossomed forth from the darkest parts of her soul... she never could’ve imagined they could be made real.

 


 

Golden blonde hair. Sofia blinked. Had someone tried talking to her? The words had sounded sad, desperate, but she hadn’t understood them. She wanted to help, but—

“Sofia Sylte. Are you paying attention?”

The girl straightened up immediately, her eyes wide, but she was too slow to react. The piece of chalk, expertly tossed over half the classroom, landed squarely against her forehead. Sofia yelped, more out of surprise than pain, rubbing her head and slumping her shoulders. “S-sorry. I was just, um...”

The classroom burst into laughter.  Fleur, sitting next to her, gave her a sympathetic wince. The teacher crossed her arms, grinning devilishly. “No improvement in your reaction time over last year. Sometimes I wonder if I’m failing to teach you anything at all.”

“Uuu... I’ll get better,” Sofia mumbled, feeling both a little hurt and sincerely sorry. Despite her penchant for sniping inattentive students with pieces of chalk, Ms Swift was an excellent teacher, and Sofia really didn’t want her to think her classes were boring her.

But, for the past few days, things had been a little weird. She had slept oddly and daydreamed a lot, and there had been a constant feeling of there being something she was supposed to be doing. Of someone needing her...?

“Psst. Page 31,” whispered Fleur. Right, it was time to actually try to focus on the class.

 


 

The rest of the school day went well enough. At the very least, Sofia didn’t fall asleep during the subsequent classes, and as much trouble as she had focusing, it didn’t really matter for gym and mathematics—she never could focus on maths even on her best days, after all.

It was Friday, thankfully, and neither Sofia nor Fleur had been in a hurry home. Dot had wanted to show them the latest in her collection of plushies, and with some mild trepidation, the two of them had accepted the invitation.

“It’s... very cute,” said Fleur, as polite as always.

Dot beamed, seemingly not minding the forced smile on her friend’s face.  “Isn’t it? Effie found it for me!”

Looking over the strange plush animal, Sofia couldn’t quite decide what animal it was meant to represent. The ears said “rabbit”, but the green-and-orange colour scheme and six legs said something else altogether. Who made these things anyway, and what was the intended target audience? Other than Dot, that is.

“I think I’ll name him... Grumpkin. What do you think, Effie?”

“It’s, um, a good name,” Effie said, hesitating slightly. “He looks like a Grumpkin.”

Effie was Dot’s younger sister by two years, and she physically resembled her quite a bit. Orange hair ran in the family, Effie keeping hers a bit longer, usually tied to a ponytail. She was skinnier and not quite as developed as her sister was, but she was deceptively athletic. She had made it all the way to the provincial soccer championship match last year with her team, and as of late, she’d taken an interest in martial arts as well, supposedly winning some beginners’ tournament.

In the presence of her Dot and her friends, Effie had always been calm, gentle and thoughtful, the perfect little sister. If the rumours were true, though, that wasn’t all there was to her. Sofia had heard through the grapevine that Effie had gotten into trouble before summer for getting in fight with some of the boys in her class, and apparently, it had become something of a big deal—but Sofia had never asked about the matter from the sisters themselves.

“Yeah. Yeah, Grumpkin sounds good...” Sofia mumbled, exchanging looks with Fleur and Effie both.

“Anyway, mum told me to call you downstairs,” Effie said. “She’s got ice cream and cookies, I think.”

“Hooray!” Dot jumped off the bed, Grumpkin still in her tight squeeze. “Let’s go!”

 


 

By the time Sofia left for home, it was already getting dark. Years ago, Sofia had been afraid of walking alone like this, through the poorly illuminated suburbs in the evening, but she’d long since grown past that. There was nothing to be afraid of in White Hollow. It was a quiet town, where nothing ever seemed to happen.

So why was it that she was feeling so anxious tonight?

“...to me... please, listen to my voice...”

It was like the wind, or a whisper. Not quite sure whether she was imagining or not, Sofia stopped to look around. All she could hear was the distant traffic from the direction of the downtown, the neighbourhood otherwise entirely silent.

“...danger...”

There was a rustle, coming from somewhere behind her. Turning around, Sofia found herself face to face with the strangest woman she’d ever seen, stepping out from behind the bushes.

Wearing a skin-tight bodysuit of white leather, long heels and gloves and a white half-hood that covered the upper half of her head, she looked like she was coming from a costume party of some sort—like a Halloween event held nearly two months early. Dangling from the waist of her suit were half a dozen white leather collars, tied to thin silver strings. The slitted, catlike eyes under her mask had a startling silver tone to them, almost glowing as they reflected the dim streetlight. Her lips, painted glossy silver, were twisted in a cruel smile.

Sofia found herself frozen, for a moment. Something was off about the woman in front of her, and it wasn’t just her looks. She had no words to describe what she was feeling: it was as if there were a hole in reality where the leather-costumed woman stood, a dark cloud, an absence of light.

“I found a live one, it seems,” the woman said, her silver eyes focused on Sofia. “Come here, kitten. Your mistress will take good care of you from now on...”

From the corner of her eye, reflected off a window, Sofia could just barely see the girl from her dreams. Golden-haired and beautiful, and... “Run!”

Instinctively, reacting with speed that surprised even herself, Sofia dodged left. The woman had tossed one of her collars at her, a silver string trailing behind it as it whizzed through the air like a frisbee, missing her neck by a hair’s width. With wide eyes, she rolled onto the grass, her heart beating like a drum. She had no idea what had just happened, but she knew she was in danger. Certain of the fact that she couldn’t let the woman hit her, she clumsily tried to climb on her feet.

“I won’t miss again, kitten. Dealing with unruly little pets like you is nothing new to me,” she said, a glint in her eyes as she threw another collar, aimed sharply at her exposed neck.

Sofia was off-balance; there was no time to react, no time to dodge again. Time seemed to slow down as the white leather collar approached, preparing to wrap itself around its target, its strap opening mid-air. She could vaguely still hear a voice in her mind, the golden-haired girl yelling at her. She wanted her to... say something? To...

“B-Bloom Change!”

The burst of energy released from Sofia’s body was enough to knock the collar off its trajectory. Pink light surrounded her body, coming from inside of her, enveloping her and filling her very being. Those strange feelings that had been bubbling within her chest for the past week seemed to finally burst, but as overwhelming as they were, it wasn’t a bad sensation at all. Confidence; strength; an unwavering sense of justice. She had no idea what was happening to her, she didn’t know what she had done to deserve the power that now welled up within her, but as she opened her eyes and looked at the leather-clad villain in front of her, she knew what she had to do.

“Miraculous heroine, Bloom Hope! I won’t let you hurt anyone!”

“What... what is this?” the woman said, arming herself with a new collar, narrowing her eyes as she looked at the magical girl before her with desire. “I don’t know who you are, but I absolutely must have you now. Soon, you’ll belong to the Argent Tamer!”

Sofia—Bloom Hope—could see herself reflected back through a nearby window, the one in which she had seen the golden-haired girl just moments before. She looked different—she didn’t even recognise herself at first. She was so pink. Her ruffled dress looked like something out of a fairy tale, multi-layered and detailed, bubble-gum pink and white with deeper pink details, small white wings adorning her back. Her cinnamon hair had turned bright pink, long and silky; her eyes were deep magenta, as bright and vibrant as her costume was. Her usual headband had transformed into a silver tiara, adorned with pink gemstones; under her dress, she had an opaque white pantyhose, and on her feet, a pair of heeled pink shoes. She  seemed to glow with an inner, pink light that banished the darkness from around her, filled the night with determination and love.

She knew she should’ve been surprised, even frightened. She shouldn’t have been able to balance well on her shoes, entirely unused to heels as she was. But this felt right, like this was how she had always been meant to be.

“I’ll explain everything later,” said the gentle voice within her mind. Sofia could immediately recognise it belonging to the golden-haired girl of her dreams. “For now, please... please do your best.” There was a pleading, remorseful, tone to her voice, but there was no time now to ask why.

“Right!”

The woman attacked again, this time tossing two of her collars at the pink magical girl. Previously, her attacks had seemed as fast as bullets, but now they were clumsy and slow. Hope jumped out of their way, landing gracefully after a flip, the two collars falling on freshly mowed grass where she had just been.

“That’s not going to work... I think! Give up now, so I don’t have to hurt you!”

“Give up? When there’s such a precious kitten to tame? I think not, my dear. Not by a long shot,” she said, tossing a yet another collar at Bloom Hope. This attack, too, was deftly dodged, the collar hitting the wall behind the magical girl with a thud before landing on the ground.

“She’s not going to surrender, Bloom Hope,” said the voice in Sofia’s ear. “She cannot. Her spirit is warped by the Dark Shard within her. But it’s not too late to save her! If you destroy the shard, you can purify her. It hasn’t yet swallowed her soul!”

Sofia understood enough of the explanation. If she could save the woman from the darkness within her, she’d do it, no matter what it took. It shouldn’t be too difficult: the collars seemed to be the woman’s only weapons, and she was down to the last one. It seemed like the time for her to push her advantage; she’d never beat her if she didn’t go on the offensive. “Dream Wave!”

Thrusting her palms forward, Bloom Hope unleashed her attack. Circular waves of pink energy sprung forth, glittering in the air, impacting against the Argent Tamer who had been far too slow to react. With a scream, the villainess was flung backwards as if hit by a giant mallet. Nothing else seemed affected by the magical girl’s attack, even the grass under her feet remaining undisturbed. “W-wow,” Sofia mumbled, taken aback by her own power. She had landed a solid hit even without trying, her opponent clearly hurt.

With a grimace on her silver lips, the Tamer stood up with shaky legs, the final collar already in her hand. “A kitten that scratches must be properly trained. Submit already!” she yelled, throwing it at her opponent with all her might. But like before, the attack was easily avoided, the magical girl twisting her body out of the way.

“J-jeez! I don’t really want to hurt you, but if I have to... Dream Wa—?!” The magical girl’s voice was cut out in surprise. As she tried to lift up her right arm, something squeezed against it, preventing it from moving. A silver thread; the one that had been attached to the collar the Tamer had thrown just before. When had it...?

“Did you really think that was my only trick, dear?” the woman said, laughing as she stepped closer. Lifting up one hand, she retrieved four of the collars she'd thrown. Spinning them casually, a cruel smile on her silver lips, she narrowed her eyes. “No kitten I’ve ever known has managed to resist the urge to play with some string. Shall we try again?”

“Ugh...” Sofia tried to wrestle her arm free, only to have the Tamer tug at the string, pulling her closer and forcing her to fall on her knees. Without wasting the opportunity, she tossed all five collars in her hand directly at the magical girl. “N-no! Dream Wave!”

Though her right hand was unusable, her left hand was still free. Using it to try to knock the collars off the air, she only barely managed to conjure up a solitary ring of energy. It was enough to knock the most dangerous one off-course, the one that had been aimed at her neck. The rest of the collars, though, landed true, latching onto her wrists and her thighs, tying them tightly. With another tug of her strings, the Argent Tamer forced her limbs apart, picking up a fallen collar of the ground and slowly approaching the helpless magical girl. “We’ve had our fun, but playtime’s over. You’ll be the first of many new pets, my dear. Oh, the fun we’ll have together once I’ve claimed you all for myself...”

The confidence and strength from earlier seemed to be all but gone. The leather collars wrapped around her limbs squeezed tight, spreading her arms and preventing her from moving or attacking the woman. Blind panic was welling up within Sofia’s chest. Just a moment ago, she had felt so invincible, and now she was at the villain’s mercy. What was going to happen to her? Why couldn’t she have taken this a bit more seriously, why couldn’t she have—

“Bloom Hope! Please, listen!” came the voice from within her. The tone was strained, and urgent, but it was what Sofia needed to snap her out of it. She swallowed her fear and listened. “It’s not over yet. She’s underestimating you. Wait until she gets close, and then...”

“Given up, have you?” The Argent Tamer said, narrowing her catlike eyes. “Good girl. There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ll show you the pleasure of calling me your mistress.” Opening the collar in her hands, she brought it closer and closer to the magical girl’s exposed neck.

“...Bloom Charge!” The streak of pink energy from the skies hit the magical girl like a bolt of lightning. The sheer power contained within it was too much for the both of them. For just a moment, Bloom Hope’s costume shined a brighter pink than ever before, illuminating the whole quiet street with her light—but she wasn’t strong enough to contain it. The light dissipated, as did her costume. She was back as her usual self, as mere Sofia Sylte, exhausted and dizzy.

Argent Tamer fared even worse, though. The four collars binding the magical girl burst into pink flames and vanished; the villain herself was thrown back, rolling across the street and hitting a stone wall without even having a chance to scream. For a moment, all was quiet, neither combatant standing up. But then, finally, Sofia staggered to her feet, barely keeping her balance.

Her every muscle ached; her head was spinning. She had to run, she had to...

“Now is your chance,” the voice within her said. “You can help her, Bloom Hope. You can save her!”

The leather-clad woman’s fingers were twitching. It looked like she could pick herself up at any moment. If she did, Sofia would be helpless, just an ordinary girl against whoever or whatever the Argent Tamer was. But once again, she swallowed her fear. She calmed her shaking legs and took a few long steps to reach the villain’s side. She knew what she had to do.

“Bloom... Bloom Cure! Please, heal this damaged soul...”

Sofia’s hands glowed with warm, gentle light. The power wasn’t her own; it sprung forth from the golden-haired girl, passing through her, warming her and soothing her. She reached for the Argent Tamer, towards, within her, and laid her hands on the object that was poisoning her from within. A jagged crystal shard, like a piece of obsidian with a poison green glow, corruptive and vile.

“N-no... my dreams...” the Tamer mumbled, but it was too late. As Sofia wrapped her fingers around it, it cracked and shattered, the shadows melting away from within the woman’s soul. And before Sofia’s very eyes, she returned back to normal: her leathery costume vanishing as it made way for ordinary street clothes, the glow of her silver pupils getting dimmer until her eyes returned their usual brown.

“You... you did it!” This time, the voice came from behind Sofia. Turning around, she found herself face to face with the girl she’d seen in her dreams, so many times this past week. That she never could quite remember.

She was beautiful, in a way that no living human Sofia had ever seen had been. A perfect fairy tale princess in a dress of white and gold, her blue eyes and golden hair so radiant they almost hurt to look at. She didn’t look old; perhaps Sofia’s age, perhaps just a bit older. Still, there was something ageless about her, a sense of gentleness and beauty that made Sofia feel humbled. It was like being face to face with a goddess, rather than human—and maybe she was.

“Y-yeah.” Sofia said, feeling a little timid all of a sudden. “I guess I did...”

“No need to be modest!” the princess declared, smiling brightly as she moved to pat Sofia’s head. As nice as the gesture was, her delicate fingers went right through the cinnamon-haired girl’s head. Only now did Sofia notice the other girl’s body was a bit transparent. She was a vision of some sort, or a spirit; either way, it didn’t look like she was physically present. “You did great! Clumsy as that was, I’ve barely seen anyone with such an affinity for the Heart before!”

“Affinity for the... Heart?” Sofia repeated back, scratching her cheek bashfully. “Thanks for the compliment, I guess. But, you know, I don’t really know anything about what’s going on...”

The princess crossed her arms and nodded, puffing her cheeks a bit. It was a childish gesture; maybe she was younger than Sofia, after all? “Oh. Yes, I know. Of course. Look, don’t worry about it, okay?” she said, a serious look in her sky-blue eyes. “I’m going to explain everything later. I owe you that much, at least, as hard as you have been to reach!”

“Are you going to be in my dreams again?” Sofia asked.

“It’s too unreliable. But manifesting like this is kind of risky, too. Do you have a mirror in your room?” she asked, and Sofia nodded. “Great! We can use that. There’s a lot you need to know, and I need to thank you, and apologise, and...” she shook her head. “I-I’ll talk to you later, though! Tonight!”

The golden-haired girl vanished in the blink of an eye, leaving Sofia alone on the now-quiet street. She glanced at the unconscious woman lying on the lawn; she seemed to be breathing, at least. Suddenly, going home seemed like a great idea: she didn’t really want to be found like this, she would have no clue how to explain any of this.

Without giving the matter any further thought, Sofia began running back home. “Jeez! W-what the heck just happened?!”

Chapter Text

In a place that isn’t a place, a young girl clad in cobwebs tugs at strings of fate, reading them with her small fingers. Feeling every little bump, every little knot and tangle, focusing with touch on what her milk-white eyes cannot see.

“Well, isn’t that interesting,” she says, turning her head to smile at her visitor. She wasn’t expecting one. Even the Moirai can be surprised, it seems. She giggles. “I’ve been busy. My sisters have been taking it too easy as of late. All this work, piling on my shoulders...”

She shakes her head, but the gesture is playful. The truth is apparent. She likes what she’s doing. Her duty is a blessing, not a curse.

“Do you want to see?” she asks. She plucks at a string, producing a bright tone. It’s a beautiful, and a haunting, sound. One that leaves the listener uncertain of what might come next. “...I suppose I’ll have to help you. Here, take my hand.”

It’s a small hand, cold and frail. It’s not a hand suited for weaving. It’s not a hand suited for cutting. But it’s delicate and sensitive, and for her, that’s all that matters. Her fingers wrap around the visitor’s, holding tight.

“This is a strong string. It’s thick and taut. I think... I think that’s a bit boring. Don’t you?” She sighs, her little shoulders slumping. “But here. Look. See how it frays?”

It’s almost imperceptible, but it’s there. Smaller strings branching out of the main one, thin as a garden spider’s web. So small and delicate that even the girl hesitates to touch them, but she finally reaches for one. Tracing her finger across the very first one she can find. Sighing contently.

“Do you see it?” she asks her visitor, squeezing their hand. “Look.”

“The Princess chose her champion well. Strength of will, and above that, strength of heart. As dangerous as things seemed, she really wasn’t in much danger. There wasn’t a lot that could’ve gone wrong, against an opponent as weak as this one.”

Quiet suburbs in the evening. A girl clad in pink fighting against a woman in white. When all hope seems lost, the Princess offers her aid.

“The champion was inexperienced. It was her first battle. You couldn’t really expect a flawless performance, but this was enough, wasn’t it? If only because her opponent  was at least as new to this a she was.” The girl giggles. “It’s like a playground scuffle. Neither of them really even knows how to hurt the other. Neither of them knows how to even begin wielding the powers they’ve been granted.”

“But look,” she says, gently stroking the thin, thin thread. “It could’ve gone differently, too. There was a chance, one ever so small, that the trap would’ve been noticed. What do you think would’ve happened then?”

There is a mischievous, excited smile on the girl’s lips. “Look. I’ll show you.”

 


 

“Bloom Hope! Please, listen!” came the voice from within her. The tone was strained, and urgent, but it was what Sofia needed to snap her out of it. She swallowed her fear and listened. “It’s not over yet. She’s underestimating you. Wait until she gets close, and then...”

“Given up, have you?” The Argent Tamer said, narrowing her catlike eyes. “Good girl. There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ll show you the pleasure of calling me your mistress.” Opening the collar in her hands, she brought it closer and closer to the magical girl’s exposed neck... but something made her hesitate. Time stood still. The girl in the pink dress looked afraid, but not nearly enough. There was a look in her eyes that suggested... something, a quiet resolve that left the Tamer feeling uneasy. And so, she took a step back, her hand slowly sliding down to her waist.

There had been six collars. One in her hand, four around the girl’s limbs, one unaccounted for. Finding the string that connected to it, she gave it a tug, sending her magic through it, and then—

Sofia gasped. The voice in her mind gasped as well. “No!”

The magical girl had expected the attack to come from the woman in front of her, but it had come from behind. A collar she’d already dodged, that had been resting against the stone wall behind her, hit the back of her neck and wrapped itself around it, the corruptive magic within in immediately beginning to flow into her.

“Bloom... Bloom Ch—” she tried to say, but the collar squeezed tight and the foreign magic disturbed her focus. It rippled through her body in waves, each hotter than the last. Starting from her neck, traversing down through her spine, up into her brain, her every nerve end and neuron flaring with strange heat and pleasure. She could vaguely still hear the golden-haired girl’s voice yelling at her, but she could no longer make out the words. Not through the rush of magic, not through the unnatural sensations it was filling her body with. “Bloom... n-no... n-nya..”

“...Beautiful...” Argent Tamer smiled. She had won, and now it was time for her to enjoy the show. The magical girl was changing before her very eyes. Her nails were growing longer and sharper, turning bright pink to match her costume, until they looked almost like  sharp claws. Her human ears shrunk down, a pair of much cuter feline ones springing forth from the top of her head. Pushing out from under her costume came a cat’s tail, pink with a little white tip. She whined as her pupils shrunk, turning into thin slits much like the Tamer’s own.

Sofia’s thoughts were a jumble. She had never felt so good before. She had never felt so wrong before, either. Her back arched as her body shivered in pleasure, her now-sharp claws digging into the dirt. The feverish state of bliss that her mind was being subjected to seemed to banish all rational thought; as good as it felt, Sofia had never been as afraid in her life. She was changing into something else; she was losing herself. She was... she was...

“Good girl,” said the Argent Tamer, tugging gently at the collar attached to her neck. Somewhere during the process, the other four had come undone, lying discarded on the grass. “Come here, kitten. Come to mistress.”

“A-ah... n-no, I don’t...” Sofia mumbled, blinking to try to clear the tears from her eyes. But she found herself obeying. Slowly, obediently, walking on all fours towards the villain who had defeated her. “N-nya...”

“Good girl. There, there...” The confident, arrogant smile on the woman’s face would’ve infuriated Sofia under any ordinary circumstances, but right now, the tone of her voice was the most beautiful thing she’d ever heard. And when she reached out to pat her head, to scratch a little behind her ears, the newly created catgirl felt so good she thought she might melt. “Let’s go home, darling,” she whispered into her ear. “We’re going to make a perfect little pet out of you yet.”

 


 

The Argent Tamer had never been good with other people, but she had always known how to handle animals, cute kittens in particular. This one had been unruly at first, but little by little, she was getting housebroken.

“Come here, kitten,” the Tamer ordered, her voice gentle but firm. The pink-haired catgirl shivered a bit, her hair still wet from the bath she had been given. But she approached her mistress, a little hesitantly, climbing on the sofa with her as ordered.

“Nnn... nya...” she said, looking up into her mistress’ silver eyes. The Tamer smiled, grabbing the girl lightly under her chin, examining her closely. There was still some fear in the catgirl’s eyes, some rebellion, but much less than before. The light in them was starting to go out, and with it, any memory of her former life and identity. She’d still have to wear the collar for a while, to ensure her obedience—but before long, she’d be fully tame.

That night, the girl’s mistress let her sleep in her bed. She had been apprehensive at first, afraid of the woman who’d collared her, taken her humanity away. But the sweet words whispered into her ear, the gentle kisses and scratches, the warmth of her body as she held her close had been too much for her. There simply wasn’t any fight left in her. She found herself nuzzling against her new owner, purring, responding positively to every little touch and affirmation. And though she could still remember her human name when she fell asleep, by the time morning came around, her old life was forgotten, her human self purged by the Argent Tamer’s dark magic.

Chapter Text

“Did you... run all the way back home?”

Sofia panted, responding to her nosy big brother’s question only by sticking her tongue out at him. Taking off her shoes, she dashed upstairs into her room and closed the door behind her. There was nothing in the mirror but her own reflection. Almost beginning to think she’d imagined the past half an hour, she took a breath and said the words. “...Bloom Change!”

There was a flash of pink light; a surge of magical energy that made her feel nearly invulnerable. Looking over herself in the mirror, Sofia—Bloom Hope—looked herself over, this time with proper lighting.

She was cute. So cute it made her heart soar. It wasn’t just her costume; it was everything else as well. Her skin looked so healthy it was practically glowing, her eyes were deep and beautiful like two magenta gemstones, her lips and cheeks had a pretty pink tone to them. Even her hair, normally unruly and messy, fell down in perfect curls, silky smooth and glossy pink. Much like the golden-haired girl, she looked like some sort of a fairy-tale beauty, radiant and charming. Nothing like the plain old Sofia—not even her brother would recognise her like this.

“Well, aren’t you cute!”

“Eek!” Sofia took a step back and let out a shrill yelp as she saw the princess appear in the mirror, quickly covering her mouth with her hands.

“Are you okay up there?” came Oliver’s voice from downstairs.

“I’m... I’m fine!” Sofia yelled back at her brother, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she turned to look back at the reflection. In the mirror, the golden-haired girl was right behind her. As she looked over her shoulder, though, all she could see was her bedroom wall.

The princess smiled, tilting her head. “Oh, I apologise for startling you,” she said in the gentlest way possible, though the twinkle in her sky-blue eyes suggested she wasn’t feeling all too sorry. “Now that we have some time to talk, allow me to introduce myself properly. I am Princess Edeltrude of Melodia. I thank you for accepting my blessing, and I apologise for the trouble I’ve caused.” Her formal, polite words were accompanied by a deep curtsey, so fluid and elegant it left Sofia entirely unsure as to how to respond. Was she meant to curtsey back?

“I’m...” Sofia started, stammering a bit, suddenly blushing furiously. As cute as she looked in this form, she was nothing compared to the perfect elegance of the princess before her. Had she seen her pose in front of the mirror? She shook her head, trying to banish her embarrassment. “I’m Sofia Sylte. I’m... not a princess or anything,” she said, looking down at her feet. That was a dumb thing to say. Of course she wasn’t a princess.

Edeltrude giggled, but her tone was gentle and warm without a trace of mockery. “Well met, Sofia. May I call you that?” she asked, and Sofia responded with a quick nod. “Then, you may call me Trudi. That’s what all of my friends call me.”

“T-Trudi,” Sofia repeated back. The princess gave her an affirming smile.

“Now, I suppose you’ll want an explanation. This must be very scary and confusing for you. I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Edeltrude said, sitting on the bed in the mirror. Again, Sofia turned her head. There was no-one on her bed in the real world.

“Y-yeah. I suppose it was scary,” she said, thinking back to the fight. “Is she really okay? That strange woman, I mean.”

The princess beamed, playfully curling her hair around her fingers. “More worried for her than for yourself? Oh, I knew I chose the right person! The shard within you reacted so strongly to your heart that I just knew you’d be the one who...” she said, trailing off as she saw the look on Sofia’s face. She cleared her throat. “Ahem. Shall I start from the beginning?”

Sofia nodded, carefully walking over to the bed and sitting down next to where the princess’s reflection was sitting on.

“My world—the land of Melodia—is not at all like yours. It’s a land of magic and marvel. You’ve seen it in your dreams, haven’t you? You must have!”

“I think so...” Sofia said, recalling some of the dreams she’d had in the past week. They had been blurry and vague in her mind before, but whether it was due to her own transformation or the princess’s presence, they felt clearer now. Magical forests, filled with faeries and spirits of nature; vast oceans with beautiful mermaids, glittering treasures within their depths. Wonderous objects born of magic and technology, beautiful and arcane. None of it seemed real: it all belonged to the world of dreams.

“That’s right,” Edeltrude said, as if she had read Sofia’s thoughts just now. “It’s a land of stories. A land of fairy tales, of hopes and dreams. It was born out of the imagination of mortals like yourself, a long, long time ago. Our two worlds, while apart, are constantly in influence of each other. Every story, every beautiful song, every happy ending you mortals come up with affects Melodia and strengthens it. And every time things get tough in your world, every time all hope seems lost, Melodia is there to inspire you, encourage you to strive for a better world. It’s been a beautiful relationship. Until... until recently,” she said, her eyes downcast.

“W-what happened?” Sofia asked, shifting uneasily.

“Melodia is not only affected by the positive. Hatred and pain, selfish desires, unhappy endings, the loss of hope—all of those, as well, pierce the veil and change our world. But the darkness was always contained: it was directed into the underworld of Melodia, trapped in the Well of Shadows, kept from influencing the outside world. It was rendered harmless by the magic of our empress. My mother, who has ruled over the world for as long as it has existed.”

Sofia listened on, silently.

“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why she did what she did. But one day, she travelled deep to the underworld and drew upon the shadows. Imbibing them to get their power for herself, corrupting herself in the process—and unleashing the nightmares trapped in the underworld.” Edeltrude shook her head. “None of us were prepared. We didn’t stand a chance. I gathered everyone I could to oppose her, but she crushed us like we were nothing. Warping and corrupting the land itself, the hearts and souls of those who fought her, turning them into her twisted servants.”

The princess’s blue eyes had a glint of steel to them, her delicate hands tightened into fists.

“I escaped, and in doing so, I stole something from my mother. The Crystal Heart–a condensation of mortal hopes and wishes that has laid at the centre of our world since the beginning of time. I thought I could bring it to your world, use it to gather allies and strike back against my mother. But I had not seen that her darkness had already touched it.”

Sofia could see a vision of the Heart in the mirror. Beautiful and multifaceted, a heart-shaped crystal that contained within itself all the colours of the rainbow. But something about it made her feel uneasy, the same way the Argent Tamer had made her feel.

“It was subtle, a droplet of darkness contained deep within. But it was enough. I used the Heart’s power to breach the veil, but with its harmony disrupted, it had grown weak. The moment I arrived in your world, it shattered into hundreds of pieces, and I lost every one of them. Being a thing of crystallised emotion, the shards sought out human souls in this town—and bonded with them.”

“With...?” Sofia asked, reflexively bringing her hand up to her chest. The princess nodded.

“You can sense it, can’t you? There is one within you as well. A large, powerful shard, one entirely untainted by corruption. Its resonance allowed me to find you and transfer a portion of my power over to you. Sofia, you carry within you the hopes and wishes of countless mortals... and of my people, as well.”

Sofia could feel it. A light shining within her, filling her heart with gentle warmth. She didn’t know what to say.

The princess lowered her head. “...But some were not so lucky. Some hearts attracted the shards that carried my mother’s corruption in them. On their own, they do very little, but...” she bit her lip. “Should my mother or her servants reach those hearts, they can unleash the shards’ poison. They can transform the mortal into one of the Lilin, a twisted servant of darkness.”

“So the woman I fought was one of them? A Lilin?” Sofia asked.

Edeltrude nodded. “That’s right. She drew upon her crystal’s power, the same way you draw upon yours. In doing so, however, she surrendered her soul to its darkness. Whether she knew it or not at the time, she became a puppet of the Dark Empress. One driven by the impulse to see other shards of the Crystal Heart corrupted and to spread the shadow to every soul in sight. That... is probably why she targeted you. Consciously or not, she could sense the shard within you, and the desire to see it corrupted was what drove her to attack you.”

“But... she’s okay now, right? I destroyed the shard. I could sense it within her, and I melted it away.”

“That’s correct,” the princess said, a small smile on her lips. “...Thankfully, the shard hadn’t yet completely merged with her. Her soul was still that of a human’s, not a monster’s. Only a sufficiently long exposure to it, or a truly heinous act—like murder—is enough to make the corruption irreversible and make them a true Lilin.”

Sofia scratched her cheek. “So if I hadn’t met her tonight...?”

“Perhaps she’d have found another victim. Perhaps she’d have corrupted their soul, and her own, so thoroughly there would be no going back. And if that had happened...” Edeltrude shook her head. “There’d be no choice but to...”

“I-I understand.” Sofia looked down, a painful sting in her heart. “Then... I’m glad. That I could save her in time...”

The princess didn’t respond. A moment later, Sofia took a deep breath and looked her in the eye.

“How can I help you? Can I help you save the people of this town? Can I help you save your world?”

The princess smiled back, gently, and a bit sadly.. “...Let’s talk later. I want to give you some time to think, first. To decide whether these powers are a blessing or a curse.”

 


 

With all the excitement last evening, Sofia had completely forgotten she had promised to meet Fleur in the morning. By the time she arrived at the meeting place in front of the aquarium, she was already half an hour late. Fleur didn’t look amused.

“Sorry. I’m sorry!” Sofia said, looking sincerely apologetic enough to soften Fleur’s expression.

She sighed. “It’s fine. It happens. I hope you’re prepared, though!”

“Uuu, I suppose I am...”

It’s not that Sofia disliked shopping for clothes. It could be quite fun, even, a good opportunity to kill some time and pick up something cute. To Fleur, though, it wasn’t something done for fun. It was a serious hobby of hers and could easily be a whole day’s affair. Finding bargains, scouting out the most obscure little shops in the town, trying out dozens upon dozens of articles before settling on the right ones. It was, quite frankly, exhausting for everyone involved. Dot had been smart enough to flat-out tell Fleur no, but Sofia couldn’t bring herself to do the same. Their friendship, she thought, was worth suffering for.

“Good!” Fleur declared, sufficiently pleased with the response. “I’ve already got a list of places I want to check out, so this should be a cinch. Come on, let’s go!”

She took Sofia by her hand, dragging her towards the shopping street. “J-jeez, I’m coming, I’m coming...” Sofia said, her cheeks flushed. “I can walk by myseeelf...”

 

It wasn’t a cinch. It wasn’t a cinch at all. It soon became apparent that Fleur’s little list was a suggestion, at best: there were plenty of extra stops and unexpected little detours, and before long, Sofia had lost track of how many shops they had already visited. She had no idea White Hollow even had this many clothing stores. It didn’t help that it was still blazing hot outside, the unseasonal heatwave going strong.

“F-Fleeur... If I collapse, please, just leave me...”

The raven-haired girl pursed her lips, putting down the blouse she had been trying on. “You’re being overdramatic. Besides, this store is air-conditioned. It’s quite pleasant inside.”

“But! But, my legs are killing me! And all of this stuff is too expensive for me to buy, anyway!”

That made Fleur look a bit uncomfortable. Though she never brought it up herself, Fleur’s family was the richest in town by far, and though Sofia didn’t know the details, her allowance must’ve been quite generous. The little basement boutique the two of them were in wasn’t at all within Sofia’s price range, but Fleur was unlikely to have any troubles affording what she wanted. “Well, I...” Fleur said, sounding self-conscious. “There’s just two items left on the list, but maybe we could...”

“E-eeh, that’s not what I meant!” Sofia said, hastily. “I’ve already bought everything I could want, so...”

Sofia’s words trailed off. There was a cold breeze in the air, but that wasn’t what caused her to shiver. She felt what she had felt last night, that sensation of dark emptiness, of something being very deeply wrong.

Noticing the expression in her friend’s eyes, Fleur blinked. “Sofia? Are you okay?”

“I’ll... be right back! Gotta pee!”

Fleur’s mouth was left hanging open as Sofia ran up the stairs and out of the store, silently wanting to sink into earth and disappear. That was the worst excuse she had ever made. She’d never hear the end of this... but there were more important things to worry about now. Probably.

“Aren’t you tired of all this heat? Don’t you just want to cool down a bit?” said the voice around the corner. “Please, allow me to help...”

Turning the corner, Sofia found herself inexplicably stepping onto a wet sheet of ice, falling down painfully onto her butt. With tears in her eyes, she looked up to see what she was dealing with.

This Lilin was even stranger than the one from last night—this one didn’t even look entirely human. A tall woman in a glimmering white dress, her flesh ice blue in hue, she had a small orb in her hands that seemed to contain a tiny snowstorm within it. She had long gloves and long, fur-trimmed winter heels; her lips and her hair were a dark blue in tone, as were her eyes, down to the sclera. Like Argent Tamer had been, she was beautiful and fascinating, but the darkness emanating from her made it obvious that lowering one’s guard around her would be a fatal mistake.

She had already claimed some victims. There were three blocks of ice, two large and one small. With how thick the ice was, Sofia could only vaguely see the shapes within: two women and a dog. Were they still alive? Could anyone survive being frozen like that?

“There’s still hope, for her and for them!” said the princess’s faint voice, once again coming from somewhere within Sofia. From the corner of her eye, she could see the reflection of her golden hair on the rear-view mirror of a car parked nearby... “All you’ll need to do is to beat her!”

“What’s this? Another victim of this infernal heat?” the blue-skinned woman said, casting her eyes towards Sofia. “Worry not, sweet child. I, the Winter Herald, shall banish this lingering summer for all eternity...”

“...Bloom Change!” The Winter Herald extended her orb towards her, unleashing a wave of sheer cold; Sofia transformed and jumped out of the way just in time, her heeled shoes barely finding enough traction on the ice to do so. She did not land gracefully, slipping on ice again as soon as she hit the ground. “A-augh!”

Thankfully, the magical girl’s sudden change had been enough of a distraction for the Lilin for her not to exploit the opportunity. “Intriguing. Most intriguing! You’ll make for a fine trophy.” With a smile on her blue lips, she turned the orb towards Sofia yet again, the snowstorm within raging with twice the fury.

“You’re going to need to cut that out! It’s hot outside, sure, but nobody has asked you to freeze them alive!” she said, thrusting her palms towards her opponent. “Dream Wave!”

Both of the opponents unleashed their attacks simultaneously. Bloom Hope landed a solid hit: the circular waves of pink energy thumped against the Winter Herald’s body, sending her flying backwards with a scream, skidding over ice. Unfortunately for the magical girl, there wasn’t enough time to properly avoid the Herald’s attack, either. Though she managed to tumble to the side to avoid the worst of it, she could still feel the wave of unnatural chill ripple through her.

It was the coldest thing Sofia had ever experienced, as if she had dipped her whole body into a pool of freezing water. Her muscles grew numb, her body temperature dropping by several degrees. Her teeth were chattering as she picked herself up, rubbing her body to try to return some feeling to her limbs.

“W-what is going on?!”

Sofie winced as she turned her head and saw her friend. She’d come out after Sofie, and now, she was in danger. “Fleur! Go back, I’ll deal with this!” she shouted, but perhaps she shouldn’t have. The Winter Herald’s attention was now squarely on her friend.

“A friend of yours? No, please stay. No need to give me the cold shoulder!”

“Fleur!” There was no time to think. Jumping with all her might, Bloom Hope tackled her friend out of the way of the Lilin’s attack. This time, the coat of ice covering the asphalt played to her advantage: the pair slid across the street together, all the way out of the way of the Herald’s attack, finally thumping against the ice blocks containing the poor women and their dog.

Fleur stared at the magical girl, her eyes wide. “S-Sofia...?”

“I’ll explain later! We have to...”

The Winter Herald snapped her fingers, and the three blocks of ice shattered all at once. Fleur screamed again, and so did Sofia. The victims that had been trapped within emerged, but something told her they were not their usual selves.

Like the Winter Herald, the two women now had lifeless, pale blue skin. If they had been wearing ordinary clothes before, they certainly weren’t anymore: the long, white dresses they wore looked like a simpler version of the Herald’s own, a faint snowflake pattern threaded on them. Their eyes were not as inhuman as their mistress’, but their irises had taken on an ice blue tone, their unblinking stares fixated on the two girls before them.

The dog, too, looked quite off. The small Pomeranian’s fur might’ve been white once, but it was light blue now, frost escaping from its mouth as it appeared to silently growl at Sofia. It didn’t look angry, however. Neither did the two women. Looking into their indifferent, cold blue eyes, it was difficult to imagine they had any emotions at all.

“Get them, my minions! Show them the glory of serving the Winter!” yelled the Lilin, pointing her finger at the two girls. The dog reacted first, pouncing silently at Sofia with its teeth bared.

“A-aah! Dream Wave!” Sofia yelled, hopping up and thrusting her hands out towards the dog. It was thrown backwards, still voicelessly, sliding across the ice down the street.

“Don’t hurt it!” yelled Fleur, hastily climbing on her feet. She’d always been fond of animals, but was this really the time for that?

“Don’t resist. Don’t struggle...” one of the pale-blue women said in a quiet tone, both of them reaching to grab the two girls. Fleur, confused and afraid, took a step back and slipped on the ice...

Once again, Bloom Hope reacted swiftly. Dodging the other woman by ducking under her arms, she tackled the one that was after Fleur. In doing so, however, she left herself exposed. Falling down with her, the pale blue minion of the Herald grabbed at her left wrist, her grip as strong as steel and as cold as ice.

“S-Sofia!” Fleur yelled, once again hastily climbing on her feet. “Watch out!”

The magical girl form made Bloom Hope swifter, but it didn’t significantly increase her strength. Even if it had, with the asphalt being covered in slippery slope, it was nearly impossible for her to get enough traction to wrench herself free. She saw the attack coming, Winter Herald raising her snow orb once again with a triumphant smile on her lips, but she couldn’t avoid the attack in time. All she managed to do was to throw herself to the side, the minion’s grip on her wrist preventing her from doing much more.

Sofia would’ve screamed, if her breath hadn’t frozen in her lungs. The unnatural cold pierced through her, sinking into her muscles, her heart, her mind. There was a piercing pain as if a million tiny icicles had forced themselves into her body, but less than a second later, she just felt numb. Crystals of ice began growing around her legs, her torso, her left arm, leaving more than half of her body encased in a block of ice. At least it didn’t hurt anymore: she just felt tired, now, her vision growing dim.

She had to fight. She couldn’t give up, now. What would become of Fleur? But what could she do? Doing the trick from yesterday would be pointless. Even if it would shatter the block of ice, her opponent was too far away to be harmed by it. She’d waste all of her magical energy in the process, leaving herself entirely at the mercy of the Lilin and her minions. She had to... think...

Someone grabbed her right arm, but where Sofia had expected the cold touch of the Herald’s servants, she instead felt warmth. Soft fingers, holding her hand very tight. “...Bloom Change!”

 


 

Fleur, too, had been dreaming strange dreams as of late. Riding wyverns through wide, empty skies, serving as a witness to duels of magic between rival sorcerers. It had been a bit bothersome for her. She thought she had left such childish, fanciful things behind her, and now they were returning to haunt her at night, disturbing her sleep.

She had seen something else, too. A golden-haired girl with the prettiest smile she’d ever seen. In her dreams, she had found herself quite fond of her, but the memory was always gone by the time she’d woken up and gotten ready for school.

But when Sofia had rushed out of the store, Fleur had seen her again and remembered. Peeking through the curtain of the changing room mirror was a fairy tale princess in a white dress. She tried to say something for her, but she couldn’t make out the words; she pointed upstairs, where Sofia had run off to. Hesitating for just a moment, Fleur nodded, and ran after her.

“S-Sofia! Watch out!” Fleur yelled, but she was too late. That strange monster taking the shape of a woman had her friend trapped in ice, and there was nothing she could do. She understood nothing about what was going on. Who were these people? What had happened to Sofia? She hadn’t even recognised her until she had said her name. Sofia had been trying to protect her, and now she was being frozen alive because of her. Gasping as she saw half her friend’s body disappear beneath the growing crystals of ice, she bit her lips and fought back against her fears and the tears of frustration...

“Grab her hand,” the voice said. Soft but urgent. Golden-blonde hair reflected off the ice beneath her feet. “And say what I tell you to say!”

Almost slipping on ice again while clumsily avoiding the minions’ attempts to grab her, she barely made it to Sofia’s side, grabbing her fingers as tightly as she could. What were the words again...?

“...Bloom Change!”

Something flowed into her body through that touch, passing from Sofia to Fleur. Warmth, love, hope: pure, unbridled positivity, reacting with something buried deep within Fleur’s chest, with something she didn’t even know she had.

There was a burst of blue light as she transformed. Her raven hair took on the bright tone of sunlit sky, her eyes turning vibrant blue, deep as the ocean and as full of life. She found herself wearing a long ballet dress that left her back bare, a glittering spectacle, its colour fading from dark blue to a much lighter tone as it flowed down her body. The transparent, crystal blue heels now wore were like glass slippers from a fairy tale; the oversized satin ribbon in her hair added a cute, but elegant, touch to her appearance.

Under more peaceful circumstances, Fleur would’ve taken the moment to admire herself. She’d gone out shopping for clothes, and she now found herself in a costume more beautiful than any she could’ve even imagined. But right now, she had a friend to save.

“Azure guardian, Bloom Sky! I’m going to protect everyone from the likes of you!”

“Another trophy for me. You’ll be even more beautiful, preserved eternally by the cold!” The Winter Herald pointed her orb at the blue-haired magical girl, laughing as she unleashed her wave of frost.

Bloom Sky reacted with instinct, aided by the whispers of the golden-haired princess in her mind. Crossing her arms in front of her, she focused on her inner calm, remaining resolute even as the wave of cold threatened to wash over her.  “Spiral Shield!”

A line of glittering blue appeared mid-air, twisting itself into a spiral between the magical girl and the villainess. The inevitable wave of cold impacted against the shield and dissipated, harmlessly. But Bloom Sky wasn’t done yet.

“Sparkle Blitz!” The blue glitter that had formed a barrier in the air made a line again, now crackling with blue-white energy. The Winter Herald reflexively raised her orb to protect herself, but the attack wasn’t aimed at her. Instead, the bolt of lightning impacted against the crystallised ice that had grown around her friend’s body, shattering it with a shrill boom.

“U-uwaaah...” Sofia looked unhurt, if a bit overwhelmed. Though the cold had made her skin turn almost blue, warmth was already returning to her limbs. “What’s going on... Fleur?!”

Bloom Sky winked. “Let’s finish this up. I’ll take care of her, you deal with the rest!”

“E-eh?” The pink-haired magical girl turned to look at the Herald’s minions, only to lock eyes with the frosty Pomeranian once again. Opening its mouth, it unleashed a freezing ray towards her, a miniature version of its mistress’ attack. This time, though, Bloom Hope didn’t let herself be caught so easily. Jumping out of the way, landing on top of a car she took a deep breath and refocused herself. “Dream Wave!”

“Sparkle Blitz!” Fleur was on the offence. She felt confident; she saw panic in the villainess’ eyes. Lifting up her orb to block the attack, it seemed to be able to deflect the bolt of blue lightning, but the force of impact was enough to toss her off-balance.

“Y-yooou...! How dare you make me sweat like this...!” she yelled, drawing a lungful of frosty air into her lungs, breathing out a hailstorm of icicles.

“E-eek!” Fleur had to jump out of the way of the attack. Spiral Shield could block anything in magical in origin, such as the Herald’s freezing rays, but it would do nothing against physical projectiles. She didn’t question how she knew this. She could sense the princess’s presence, silently guiding her. “Sparkle Blitz! Sparkle Blitz!”

The glitter in the air reformed into a bolt of lightning, piercing through the Herald, reforming behind her and repeating the process. Bloom Sky found herself huffing with exhaustion, the heavy use of magic sapping her strength. Had she overdone it? Could she even raise a shield anymore? The blue-skinned villainess lifted up her orb again...

“Dream Wave!” The pink rings of energy Sofia created with her attacks were smaller now, but not because she was running out of strength. Rather, she was focusing them on a single target: the orb wielded by the Winter Herald. It escaped her grasp, flying over the street, finally impacting against a brick wall—and shattering into a thousand pieces. Her three minions collapsed on the spot, like puppets with their strings cut.

“N-nooo!”

“Sparkle Blitz!”

 


 

Bloom Sky knelt over the unconscious body of the Pomeranian. Taking a breath, she drew upon Edeltrude’s power. “Bloom Cure!” Its hind legs twitched a bit. Warmth returned to its body, its blue fur rapidly turning white again. Reaching down to confirm that its heart was beating again, Fleur sighed with relief. “T-thank goodness...”

Bloom Hope, meanwhile, had taken care of the three women—The Winter Herald herself, and her two minions. The dark crystal shard within the Herald’s heart had a strange purple glow to it, but  it was soon cleansed, and shattered, by the princess’s golden magic. The Winter Herald was gone, an ordinary woman in her place. “That was... that was so scary! I can’t believe she almost got me!”

Edeltrude pursed her lips, her faint reflection still visible on the ice beneath their feet.  “That’s twice now you’ve almost lost. Please be more careful!”

Sofia gave her an apologetic wince in return.

Fleur blinked. “I think we have an audience,” she said, standing up and looking around. It wasn’t a busy street, but they certainly weren’t the only people around. A few people were staring from distance at the strangely dressed girls, the unconscious bodies and the sheet of ice coating the asphalt. How much of the fight had they seen? “Should we... go?”

“L-let’s!” Sofia said, springing up quickly. Thankfully, the two of them were still in their magical girl forms. It seemed unlikely anyone would recognise them, but once again, she felt like she’d rather not stick around to explain things. Besides, didn’t they kind of look like the bad guys here...?

“Very well.” Fleur stepped over to her friend, taking her by the hand and smiling at her. “You two are going to have to fill me in after this...” she said, glancing both at Sofia and the reflection of the princess. “...But for now, let’s run!”

 


 

“Eeeeh... no fun.” The little witch tore her eyes away from the scrying pool, sitting down on the cold stone floor. The few glimpses she had caught of the battle had told her enough. With a little pout, she pulled her down purple witch’s hat to cover her eyes.

There was another girl in the room with her. Older, with a gentle smile on her green lips as she crouched down to pat the witch on her back. “Now, now. It was a good attempt,” she said in her usual, soothing tone.

“Hmph,” the witch said, crossing her arms. “Don’t try to make me feel better. I could’ve got her! Could’ve gotten that crystal within her!”

“You didn’t,” the girl in green said. “But at least we saw our opponents in action. Trudi has such cute new bodyguards, don’t you think?” She laughed softly. “I’m so happy for her.”

“Mmm...” the witch said, taking off her hat and spinning it in in her hands, her lilac hair with its twin ponytails exposed. “She’s hard to find. I thought I saw a glimpse of her, but she keeps hopping through mirrors. It’s such a bother...”

“We’re not going to find her like this. The crystal shards conceal her presence, prevent us from reaching her. Shattered as the Heart might be, it yet protects her.” With a smile, the girl in green took the little witch to her embrace. For once, she only responded with mild struggling and grumbling. “We’ll need to be subtler. Spread our taint in secret. Direct attacks like these are just going to be foiled by Trudi’s new friends.”

“Oooor,” the witch said, finally pushing the other girl away. “We could just get them! Turn ‘em into Lilin and make ‘em serve us! The shards inside of them are huge, most of our work would be done if we just got to them!”

“Of course. Our Empress has given us free hands to deal with the matter as we please. Only she can tell you what to do, I cannot. But do be careful, Lilibeth. I don’t think she’s going to be too tolerant of you making too much of a mess of things.”

“H-hmph. You got your Lilin defeated too, so get off your high horse!”

The other girl’s smile didn’t waver. “Perhaps Edelynn will fare better than either of us. Her Grace certainly seems to have high hopes for her, with all the time she spent fixing her...”

That made the witch fall quiet for a moment. “...Well, it’s only just started. Trudi is fighting a losing battle. She can’t win,” she said, giving the girl in green a wide grin. “We can take all the time we need...”

 

Chapter Text

Tick, tock. The clock on the wall is ticking, but are its hands moving at all?

“No good?” the small girl asks, sighing. “Maybe this one, then?”

She leaves the strand alone, returning to the main path. Tracing it down, reading it with her fingers.

“Another foolish opponent,” she says, smiling. “Two champions now. Two against one. It’s hardly fair, is it? She never does stand a chance. Except...”

Two girls, one in pink and one in blue, finding the resolve to protect one another.

“Look. Up here, right before,” the girl says softly, backtracking a bit. Another thin strand, barely visible, cold as ice. “I like these sorts of things. When it’s not really anyone’s fault. When everything should’ve gone right, but it simply didn’t. A single misstep and a tragic fate...”

A giggle. “It’s anticlimactic. No-one would like to read a story that ends like this. Here, look.”

 


 

“S-Sofia! Watch out!” Fleur yelled, but she was too late. That strange monster taking the shape of a woman had her friend trapped in ice, and there was nothing she could do. She understood nothing about what was going on. Who were these people? What had happened to Sofia? She hadn’t even recognised her until she had said her name. Sofia had been trying to protect her, and now she was being frozen alive because of her. Gasping as she saw half her friend’s body disappear beneath the growing crystals of ice, she bit her lips and fought back against her fears and the tears of frustration...

“Grab her hand,” the voice said. Soft but urgent. Golden-blonde hair reflected off the ice beneath her feet. “And say what I tell you to say!”

Trying to rush to her friend’s side, Fleur ducked under the Winter Herald’s minion’s attempts to grab her—but she was no magical girl with superior reflexes. With a shrill shriek, she lost her balance and fell, only to be grabbed by her wrist and pulled into the minions’ tight embrace.

“Let... let go of me!” she said with a wavering voice, her body already growing numb from the sheer cold of the creatures. “S-Sofia! Someone, help—”

Her words died in her mouth as the pale blue minion of the Herald planted her lips against hers. A cold breath traversed down her throat, freezing her lungs, freezing her heart. She struggled for a few seconds longer, until all of her movements ceased, crystals of ice rapidly coating her frozen cold body. The last thing she saw before the frost covered her eyes was the Winter Herald walking up to Sofia, grabbing her hand and finishing what she had started.

 


 

 

The town was beautiful, perfect, still. With eternal frost permeating everything, all unnecessary motion had ceased. The sun, high up in the sky, could not melt the towers of ice the Winter Herald—no, the Winter Queen—had raised, monuments to her perfection.

Most of the people had escaped. Out of those that did not, some had been made into the Queen’s new servants, sharing her cold glory, but most hadn’t. She had no need for a large number of serfs. They had simply been frozen, encased in ice and preserved forever, protected from heat and the ravages of time.

“Fleur, my darling?” the Queen said, addressing the servant sitting by her side.

The raven-haired girl turned her head slowly to face her, her unblinking blue eyes meeting her own. “Yes, my Queen?”

“Shall we take a walk?”

The girl stood up obediently, waiting for her Queen to take lead. It had been four days since she had last been commanded to move, but that didn’t bother her. Nothing did, anymore. She could not feel boredom or excitement; her frozen muscles could not ache or grow numb. She merely existed, for the sake of her Queen, for the sake of being beautiful for her. In her white dress, with her blue lips and a cold gaze, she was a mirror to her Queen’s perfection.

The Winter Queen smiled. Out of all her servants, she might’ve been her favourite one. It had taken her days to snuff out that infernal fire within her, but now, finally, she had been perfected. Taking the girl by her hand, she led her through the streets of her domain, finally arriving to the street where her conquest had begun.

Enshrined there was the girl in pink, serving as an eternal reminder to the Queen’s would be-enemies of what would happen to those who would dare to rise against her. Her expression forever frozen in fear and desperation, a thin layer of ice coating her cold, cold body. The flames within her, as well, had long since been extinguished.  “Beautiful, is it not?” she asked, looking down at her favourite servant. “Beautiful and everlasting. Let it not be said that the Queen does not honour her enemies.”

“Yes, my Queen.” Fleur watcher her former friend with dispassionate eyes. Even through the blue layer of ice coating her, the bright pink of her hair and dress looked vibrant and alive. The same couldn’t be said about Sofia herself: her eyes were dead, her flesh the same pale blue as Fleur’s own.

The two of them stood there for a while. A few minutes, perhaps, or a half an hour, before they returned back to the throne. Time meant very little now, in this world where nothing would ever change. And had the Queen ordered Fleur to watch her friend for all eternity, she would’ve, without a single complaint or thought.

Chapter Text

Staaaaaare.

Dot eyed her two friends suspiciously. Sofia and Fleur were eating their lunch hastily, in total silence. As airheaded as she appeared to be, she had always been more observant than people gave her credit for. Those two were hiding something, and they didn’t even do a good job at concealing it. “So... did something happen during the weekend?” Dot asked.

Fleur kept her cool. Sofia did not. “N-no! We just went shopping, that’s all. Oh! I got a nice new jacket for when it gets cold again, and Fleur... what did you get again, Fleur? Oh, those shoes! And all that other stuff!”

That was transparent. Way too transparent. What was Sofia panicking for? Dot leered at her with a sour expression on her face, chewing on her pastry. “Is that so. Huuuh. Interesting.”

“And how did Effie’s competition go?” Fleur asked, gently steering the conversation somewhere else. Dot’s younger sister had taken part in a junior martial arts tournament over the weekend, and her family had been there to cheer her on.

“She won,” Dot said, shrugging. “She was pretty cool. Got a medal and everything. Made one of the other juniors cry.”

Fleur gave her a small grimace. “Was she a bit too rough? I suppose physical sports can be like that. I hope she didn’t get in trouble.”

Dot shook her head and returned to her food. It still felt like she was being excluded from something, but hopefully that would pass. If the two of them didn’t want to talk about what happened between them, she wouldn’t push it.

 


 

The two magical girls met with Edeltrude again after school, in Sofia’s room. The golden-haired princess had a serious look on her face as she eyed the girls through the mirror, her hands clasped in front of her. “Are you certain?”

“Yeah!” Sofia said. “We want to help you! It’s not like we can just ignore the people in trouble.”

Fleur nodded. “There was never a question about it. If we can help, we will. For the sake of this town, for the sake of your world, everyone.”

The princess squeezed her hands in front of her. As serious as she tried to look, it seemed obvious the girls’ words had touched her. “I...” she said, sniffing before continuing. “Thank you, for the bottom of my heart. I never thought I would find such good allies here, so quickly.” She shook her head. “No, not allies. Friends.”

Sofia grinned. “Yeah! We’ll help you out as much as we can, Trudi!”

The girl in the mirror turned away slightly, subtly wiping her face on the sleeve of her golden white dress. Clearing her throat, she steeled her gaze again, looking over Sofia and Fleur with her sky-blue eyes. “This is going to be dangerous, but you know that. It’s not hopeless. I have a plan. But we’ll need to be proactive in our fight against my mother, or she will win.”

“What should we do?” Fleur asked.

“I did not merely use the Heart to travel here. I used its power to seal off the passage behind me as well, to prevent her from coming after me. Even though the Heart has shattered, its powers remain, and the protective barrier between our worlds holds firm.”

Fleur brought her hand to her chest. She too could feel the shards now, within her and Sofia both. Bright and radiant, unspoiled by darkness.

Edeltrude continued. “My mother’s plan is to use the Lilin to seek out and destroy or corrupt the remaining shards. With enough of them gone, she can reverse my spell and send her servants here directly. I am her true goal. She needs me to truly claim all of Melodia, and once she does... she will set her sight on other worlds. Including your own.”

“So, all we need is to keep beating them up, right?” Sofia asked. “With the two of us fighting together, that shouldn’t be a problem!”

The princess shook her head. “It’s not that easy. For one, the two Lilin you’ve faced so far are not the only ones out there. My mother is subtler than that. She will have some remain in hiding, silently seeking out shard-bearers, tainting or consuming their shards one by one. With every victim they claim, the stronger they grow, until they’re powerful enough to be more than a match for you. Even now, I can sense several Lilin in the town, though I know not where they can be found.”

“We need to find them, then,” Fleur said. “Take the fight to them.”

“That’s exactly it,” Edeltrude said. “Some of them are better at concealing themselves than the others; some of them will be able to pass for humans and pretend to live normal lives, some of them will be forced to stalk the night for their victims, too inhuman to pass themselves off as ordinary people. Some of them you should be able to sense from distance, but some might be able to hide their aura so well you’d never know just by looking at them. It all depends on the individual, the nature of their soul and the powers granted to them as Lilin.”

Sofia had definitely felt their presence of the last two Lilin she had faced. They had been like dark holes in reality, their mere proximity enough to make her feel sick to her stomach. Even if she hadn’t, though, they would’ve certainly been recognisable by their looks alone. The thought of undetectable Lilin that looked just like ordinary people was worrying, to say the least. “What should we do, then?”

The princess hesitated for a bit. “You should keep your eyes and ears open. See if you hear about people going missing or strange events. Doing regular patrols wouldn’t hurt either. You might just detect a Lilin by chance,” she finally said. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was something. “I’ll try to help as well. I’m still connected to the Crystal Heart, shattered as it might be. I might be able to sense if something significant occurs in this town.”

 


 

There were no proper malls in White Hollow, and the locals liked it that way. Though the town wasn’t large, its historic city centre was something of a tourist attraction by local standards. Comprised of small, criss-crossing streets, it was filled with all manner of boutiques, outlets, salons, theatres and restaurants. If the locals were in the mood for shopping, or even wanted to merely kill some time, that was where they could be found.

“That place is new, isn’t it?” Dot asked, pointing at the café across the street. “Ah, that smells good! Looks like they have a bakery there too...” the bob-haired girl was on cloud nine, running across the street and very nearly pushing her face up against the shop window.

“Didn’t we just eat?” Fleur asked, shaking her head. “We can come here some other time.”

“We ate savoury stuff! I want sweet stuff! Look, they have churros!

Sofia smiled. “Maybe we could go inside? It’s not like you have to order anything if you don’t want to, Fleur.”

The raven-haired girl sighed and relented, following her friends into the café. They emerged five minutes later, Fleur with a cup of milk tea and the other two with a bagful of fried pastries.

A few days had passed now since the promise they had made to Edeltrude, but little had changed. They hadn’t stumbled across any new Lilin, and neither had the princess succeeded at detecting anything strange. To a certain degree, this was good news—if none of them had sensed anything, it was unlikely anything major was going on. But that didn’t mean their enemies were necessarily resting on their laurels, either.

So instead, Fleur and Sofia had spent the last few evenings practicing. The name of the game had been getting more acquainted with their powers. As much potential as they had—according to Edeltrude, at least—it would take time for them to truly wield the powers the princess had granted them. The shards of the Crystal Heart within them would eventually fully bond with their souls, but it was a process that would take time and effort.

Neither of them had been blind to the fact they had been neglecting Dot as of late, however. Patrolling the town and practicing with their powers had left them precious little time for anything else. Today, they had decided, they would take the evening off to spend some time with her. As bummed as she had previously been, she had cheered up the moment they had invited her along.

“Hey, is that Effie?” Sofia asked, spotting the familiar figure across the street. It didn’t look like the girl had seen the trio: standing in a street corner, wearing a hooded jacket, she seemed to hesitate a bit before turning the corner and vanishing from sight.

“Mmphfg...” Dot mumbled, her mouth full of fried dough. She swallowed. “That’s weird! She was supposed to be at soccer practice today. Is she skipping? Oh, that wicked little sister of mine, always up to no good!”

“Ahaha...” Sofia laughed, scratching her cheek. “That doesn’t really sound like her.”

Fleur said nothing. Crossing the street and walking up to the corner they had seen Effie at, she stopped and froze. Getting closer, Sofia could now feel it too: the unmistakable presence of a Lilin, somewhere close by.

“Huh? What, what is it?” Dot asked, noticing the look the two gave each other. “Why are you making that face?”

The princess had warned them to keep their secret identities a secret: should the truth come out, the Empress’ servants would not be above targeting their friends and family. It’s not that they didn’t trust Dot, but the Lilin had their own ways of rooting out such secrets. The more people were aware of the Blooms’ true identities, the more likely it would be that they’d be exposed. Even then, Sofia had felt that Dot deserved to know, and Fleur had agreed. They simply hadn’t found the right moment to bring it up. And there wasn’t time for that right now, either.

“Dot, I...” Sofia said, trying to find the right words. Before she managed to do so, though, Fleur stepped in between them, grabbing Dot by her shoulders and looking her straight in the eye.

“Dot,” Fleur said, her tone deadly serious. “Go home. We’ll talk later.”

The orange-haired girl stared back with a mortified expression. “W-what? Hey, hey, what’s this about...?”

“Go. Home.” Fleur let go of her friend, turning around and rushing after Effie. Giving Dot the most apologetic smile she could, Sofia followed after.

 


 

Costume Shop Tragicomica. Neither Fleur nor Sofia had seen the place before, but then again, neither of them could remember if they’d ever been down this particular alleyway. White Hollow’s town centre had a confusing layout at best, and smaller stores like this came and went all the time. There was no mistaking the sinister presence that came from within, though. This was a lair of a Lilin, and not one that was particularly apt at concealing itself.

The two girls nodded at each other. They hadn’t transformed, yet: to do so would alert the Lilin to their presence, and they’d lose the advantage of surprise. Besides, Effie might’ve been inside, and neither of them wanted to see the girl taken hostage, or worse. Sofia took the point, entering the little shop. A little bell rung as she opened the door.

The store was small and cramped, as so many in the town centre tended to be. There were a few clothing racks worth of costumes in display, theatrical and extravagant, seemingly made for stage plays in mind. On one end of the store was a display of porcelain carnival masks, pale white with dramatic features painted on top—little too creepy for Sofia to ever consider wearing them. On one shelf, in the far back corner of the store, was a small display of popular Halloween costumes, featuring superheroes and cartoon characters. They were just about the only thing in the store she could imagine herself wearing.

“Oh, my! More little guests! Welcome!”

The shopkeeper greeted Sofia and Fleur with open arms as they stepped into the store. Dressed in a flamboyant dress and a wide-brimmed hat, wearing long opera gloves and covering her face with an exquisitely detailed golden mask, her appearance was... striking, to say at least. She was a Lilin, that much was obvious; the evil presence emanating from her was clear enough to both of the magical girls.

She wasn’t the only one present, however. “E-eh? Sofia? Fleur?” Dot’s younger sister peeked out from between the rows of costumes, looking at the two girls with her eyes wide. “What are you two doing here?”

“Oh, your friends? How delightful!

“U-um, we were just... checking this place out,” Sofia stammered.

Fleur nodded, ignoring the Lilin shopkeeper for the time being. “What about you? Are you here for anything specific?”

The first priority would be to get Effie out of the store; after that, they could focus on beating up the bad guy. But with the strangely dressed shopkeeper practically breathing down their necks, and with the strange presence somewhere in the store, the two magical girls found themselves quite tense.

Effie frowned, looking at the shopkeeper for just a second before refocusing on the other two. “I was trying to find, uh, a Halloween costume,” she said. “But there’s not much here to look at. Maybe we should leave?”

“Oh, fair enough,” Fleur said, smiling at the orange-haired girl. “I think we’ll look around a bit with Sofia, first. We’ll join you outside, alright?”

The younger girl bit her lip. “Um, I’ve got something to tell you two, so how about we step outside first, and...”

“But you’ve only just come!” the masked shopkeeper declared, stepping past the two girls and peeking outside into the empty alleyway. She turned back towards the girls, now quite clearly standing in between them and the exit. “And you’ve barely seen anything, yet! I have not even shown you my special collection!”

“Lady,” Effie said, drawing a breath and glaring at the masked woman. “We’re not interested in your special collection. And you’re in our way!”

The hostility surprised both Sofia and Fleur—they had every reason to be afraid of or angry at the Lilin, of course, but they’d never seen Effie as much as raise her voice before.

There was no way to tell what kind of an expression the shopkeeper might’ve had under that golden mask of hers. She didn’t move; there were a few seconds of silence as she silently looked down at the ponytailed girl, until finally, she slowly shook her head. “Oh, I see how it is. Oh my, oh no. Another spoiled little brat. Another buffoon, another simpleton, another little child ignorant of true art!”

Sofia and Fleur took a few steps back, preparing for the worst. They didn’t want to transform in front of Effie, but it was beginning to look like they might not have a choice.

Effie did the opposite. “I said... get out of the way!” she yelled, charging the masked Lilin.

“O-ow! You—you little...!” The shopkeeper knelt over after receiving a solid kick to her shin, her voice shrill with pain.

Unfortunately for Effie, she did not have a chance to deliver a follow-up attack. As if reacting to the Lilin’s pain, the costumes on the clothes racks tore themselves free, flying through the air to pile upon the—very surprised—Effie. “H-huh? Eek!”

That was enough for the two magical girls. “Bloom Change!” they yelled out, their voices as one, the shop lit with pink and blue.

“What... what’s this? How strange! How peculiar! Such powers within you!” the Lilin declared, still sounding like she was in pain. “It is no matter! None of you may leave! Not until you’ve learned to submit to the Masked Venetian!”

“In your dreams, lady. We’re going to... eek!” The pile of clothes on Dot’s little sister exploded, the stage costumes flying out to all directions, haphazardly grabbing at both of the magical girls. Fleur, being closer, had less time to react; she jumped backwards, but the cramped interior of the shop prevented her from getting as far from them as she’d have liked. A ruffled shirt wrapped itself around her eyes, a purple cloak wrapping itself around her left arm and her waist and a plain peasants’ dress was in the process of binding her legs.

“Dream Wave!” yelled Bloom Hope, the blast of force knocking back a pair of trousers and a wide-brimmed hat that had been flying straight at her. This wasn’t great: the whirlwind of stage clothing within the cramped store forced her on the defensive, and there wasn’t enough space available for her to use her agility to her advantage. The last few days’ worth of practice hadn’t been all for nothing, though. Sofia had grown more confident in her abilities and had picked up a trick or two in the process. “Wish Attraction!” The clothes covering Bloom Sky’s body glowed with a pink aura as Sofia pointed at them, and as she made a pulling gesture with her hand, they were ripped straight off her.

“T-thank you,” Bloom Sky said, picking herself up, hastily ducking under a whirlwind of clothing. ”Sparkle Blitz!” A bolt of blue-white lightning struck a leather boot, blowing it apart.

“How dare you!” the Masked Venetian yelled, stomping her foot. “Each article is hand-crafted masterpiece! You philistines have no right to damage them!”

“Sparkle Blitz!” Fleur yelled again, blowing up an overcoat and retreating back to Sofia’s side. This was bad—her powers weren’t well suited for this. Her reserves of magic would run empty long before the battle was over, and even Sofia could only hold on for so long before getting overwhelmed. Had the animated clothes been just a bit more coordinated, the battle would’ve already been over for them.

“Dream Wave! And... Dream Wave!” While Bloom Hope kept knocking the approaching tornado of costumes back, but she was making no progress towards the Lilin herself. Any attack she tried to aim at her was merely absorbed by the cloud of clothing between the two.

Fleur took a stock of the situation. The masked villainess seemed to be personally directing the flying stage costumes, focusing intently on the two magical girls. Effie was still bound down by a few loose pieces of clothing, pinning her to the floor. She was trying to fight back with fervour, kicking and tearing at the costumes, but she wasn’t accomplishing much. In the corner of her eye, though, reflected off the storefront window, she could see the faint outline of Princess Edeltrude. She was pointing at something. Pointing at...

“Hope!” she said, turning to her friend. “I’m going to make a dash for it. Cover me!”

Sofia blinked. “E-eh? Okay! Dream Wave!”

Out of the two of them, Bloom Hope was the more acrobatic one, but that didn’t mean Sky was slow. She hopped over a colourful harlequin costume, barely dodging an Elizabethan tunic, letting her friend blast away a pair of pantaloons that tried to grab at her.

“H-help! She got me!” Sofia yelled from behind her, but Fleur didn’t turn to look. Instead, she rolled on the floor and grabbed Effie by her hand.

“Hope! Free her!”

“Wish... Wish Attraction!”

Like the other two magical girls, Effie seemed to know exactly what to say. “Bloom Change!” There was a bright, yellow light, the young girl before them transforming in a flash. The jeans and the jacket she had been wearing vanished, replaced with a poofy yellow dress adorned with glittering white stars. Her hair took an even more fiery, vibrant tone, her ponytail now held in place with a large, star-shaped clasp. There was a grin on her face, a twinkle in her bright golden eyes; kicking her thigh-high, yellow and white boots in the air, she flipped herself upright and—without a moment of hesitation—kicked the Lilin in the shins again.

“Aaaaugh!” she yelled, almost kneeling over but grabbing the yellow Bloom by her shoulders before falling down. The eyes of her mask glowed red. “For this insolence, I will...!”

“Stellar Champion, Bloom Lux!” Effie yelled, thrusting her palms against the Masked Venetian’s chest. “Blast Bolide!”

There was a deafening explosion of light and fury as the villainess was flung backwards, hitting the collection of masks on the back wall, shattering the shelf and making a dent on the back wall. The clothes stopped moving, all at once. All was suddenly silent, except for the ringing in the three magical girls’ ears.

“W-wow...” Sofia mumbled, tearing off the clothes that had wrapped themselves around her legs. “That was pretty cool!”

 


 

There had been no sign of Dot as the three girls had returned back to the main street. Apparently, she had gone home as told to; Sofia and Fleur would have to apologise later.

“Ahh, this is so good!” Effie said, her eyes sparkling as sampled the sundae in front of her. “Thank you so much!”

“You’re welcome,” Fleur said. “And thank you, as well. We would’ve been in real trouble if not for you.”

“Yeah! That was scary, I thought that’d be it for us.” Sofia shook her head, sighing. “I wonder if I should have a sundae, too...”

“You just ate, didn’t you?” Fleur asked her, before turning back to the younger girl. “But no, I mean it. That was impressive. I don’t think even Trudi had expected you to be able to beat her in one blow.”

The three magical girls had purified the shopkeeper and given Effie a hasty explanation of their powers, the princess and the Lilin. The young girl had been surprised, but not overwhelmed; she was dealing with all the new information remarkably well. The thought of being a transforming heroine, it seemed, appealed to her quite a bit.

“Ehehe...” Effie said, looking a bit flustered as she tugged at her orange ponytail. “I just really wanted to beat her up, you know? And when I felt all that power within me, I thought I might as well use it!”

“What were you doing in there, anyway? It looked like you already had something against her,” Sofia asked.

“...Yeah. Some of my friends at school had visited her shop. They’d brought these strange masks and wanted others to try them on. Some people did, but they just... felt bad to me. Like there was something wrong about them. I mean, they looked creepy, but it wasn’t just that. My friends were acting weird and were super insistent, so I decided to check out the shop for myself.”

“The Lilin was probably trying to brainwash people with them.” All three girls could hear the princess’s voice in their head. Her golden-haired form was reflected off the spoon in Effie’s hand.

“W-whoa!” She dropped it, and the princess’s voice went silent. Hastily picking it up again from the floor, she held it up high for all three to see.

Edeltrude cleared her throat, looking moderately annoyed. “Ahem. Well done spotting it, Effie. With the Lilin’s shard destroyed, the effects of her magic should be gone as well. The masks are dangerous no longer.” She looked straight at Effie—probably. With how small the reflection was, it was quite difficult to tell. “You’ve got sharp senses. Like your friends, you have a powerful, pure shard within you. What a strange coincidence it is that all of you already know each other so well. Only a handful of people in this town should have the spiritual strength within them and a shard large enough to be able to transform into a Bloom...”

“Could Dot do it too?” Sofia asked, her tone hopeful.

Edeltrude shook her head. “No. I had already checked her potential, and unfortunately, while she does carry a shard within her, it is much too weak. She would not have hope of containing the power needed to change forms, the way you three do.”

Sofia’s shoulders slumped. “Aww.”

Effie tilted her head. “So Dot really doesn’t know?” she asked. “About any of this? That’s not right, we should tell her!”

Edeltrude opened her mouth as if to protest, but soon her expression softened. “...Yes. She’s important to all three of you. You should tell her.”

 


 

 

“So much for that plan. She got herself beaten like a loser.” Lilibeth said, looking up at the girl she had once called her friend. Now, she wasn’t so sure. Edelynn had changed after what the Empress had done to her. They all had, after a fashion—but there seemed to be almost no trace of her former self left in her.

“Mm,” the red-haired girl said, a small smile on her crimson lips. Her gaze made Lilibeth shiver. It was as if she was dissecting her with her eyes alone. “Yes. She did.”

“So... so you aren’t doing any better than us!” the witch said. “We’re all still tied!”

“No,” came the response. “She was active long enough. She destroyed several shards. That’s all I expected from her.”

“Eh? R-really?” Lilibeth blinked. “Well, you should’ve told us! That means we’re closer to our goal! Her Grace will be happy with us!”

“...Useless.” Edelynn said. The witch frowned, but she continued. “You’re useless. You and Ione both. You will not accomplish anything of note. There will be no salvation for you when the Darkness swallows us all.”

“D-don’t pretend you’re better than us! You just got lucky, that’s all!”

“No. If I were lucky...” the red-haired girl said, looking down at the young witch. “Perhaps her Grace would allow me to fix you. You’d make for a wonderful tool, with certain... modifications.”

“You don’t scare me!” Lilibeth lied, taking a step back, pulling her purple hat over her eyes in a huff. “And don’t think she’s not going to hear about this! The Empress has given us free hands, but she’s not going to be happy with you threatening your allies!”

The lilac-haired girl stormed off. Edelynn scoffed, turning back to the operating table. “Now... let’s continue our work, shall we?”

She almost regretted having cut off the vocal cords already. Some screams would’ve served well to improve her mood.

Chapter Text

“She’s not wrong,” the tiny girl says, idly stroking the strand of fate she had slowly been following down. “The princess, I mean. Is it really a coincidence?”

She turns her milky white eyes towards her visitor, a smile on her face. “What do you think? Is it fate? Is there someone moving the blocks in the background?” A giggle. “My sisters? I wouldn’t know. We don’t talk, much. It’s distracting. I suppose we don’t really have a close relationship these days. But that’s okay.”

Turning back to focus on the string, she traces her small finger upwards. “And now there are three. I think they’ve reached their potential, for the time being. This one stood no chance. The newest champion is much too strong. I see no branch in which she would lose.”

“But,” she says, slowly, slowly tracing her hand ever upwards. “Look. A possibility. If she can’t lose a fight, then what if there’s no fight to begin with?” The girl sighs contently. She seems to be enjoying this. “You can’t always expect for your friends to be in the right place at the right moment. That would just be unreasonable, don’t you think?”

 


 

“That place is new, isn’t it?” Dot asked, pointing at the café across the street. “Ah, that smells good! Looks like they have a bakery there too...” the bob-haired girl was on cloud nine, running across the street and very nearly pushing her face up against the shop window.

“Didn’t we just eat?” Fleur asked, shaking her head. “We can come here some other time.”

“Eeeh...” Dot said, frowning a bit, looking wistfully at the baked treats inside. “Alright, but that’s a promise! We’re definitely going to try them out in the future!”

“Yeah!” Sofia said, smiling brightly. “I want to try some too, next time.”

Passing the café, the three girls kept walking down the street. They were just a little too early to spot the young, pony-tailed girl that appeared in the street corner behind them.

 


 

“Oh my, welcome! What a cute little guest we have here today!”

Effie froze as she saw the shopkeeper. None of her friends had apparently bothered to mention what a weirdo she was. The extravagant dress and the golden mask, the long gloves and frilly stockings, it all made her look like a creature from some alien planet. It was hard to imagine any potential customer would stick around for long, with how creepy the woman looked.

Then again, the place’s customer base was hard to pin down. When she had heard it was a costume shop, she’d assumed it meant something more fun than this. An amateur theatre group might’ve been interested in what the place had to offer, but who else would ever buy something so... Shakespearean? Tucked away in one corner were some regular-looking Halloween costumes, but they looked unloved and neglected, as if they were only here due to some weird obligation to have them.

“Um.” Effie said, looking up at the shopkeeper. There was something off about her presence, something that made her stomach churn, the same way those strange masks had made her feel. She didn’t really want to judge someone she had never met before, but...


“Yes?” she asked, stepping uncomfortably close. She was a tall woman, towering above the young girl. Effie reflexively took a step back. “May I help you?”

“I am just browsing. Thank you very much,” the orange-haired girl said, quickly retreating between two racks of clothing. Her heart was beating loudly; she felt incredibly nervous. There was something oppressive about the woman’s mere presence, about the whole place. Maybe she shouldn’t have come here alone?

The masked shopkeeper kept staring at her from a distance. Effie feigned interest in the stage costumes for a bit before stepping over to look at the collection of porcelain masks. Someone might’ve thought of them as beautiful: they were certainly finely made, hand-crafted and carefully painted. But the white, full-face carnival masks were creepy. There was no other word for it. Who would possibly wear them, except maybe as a part of an especially freaky Halloween costume? Looks aside, though, Effie didn’t feel the presence of that dark aura within them. The masks that her friends had had—those had been different.

“Interested in my masks, are you?” said the voice from behind Effie. “You have an excellent taste! May I show you my... special collection?”

Effie bristled. She hadn’t even noticed the woman had been right behind her. Turning around swiftly, she spotted something out of the corner of her eye: the “OPEN” sign at the entrance had been turned around. Somewhere along the line, the masked woman had closed the shop. This was all starting to be too much for her. She had wanted to find out what exactly was going on with this strange store and her friends’ obsession with its masks, but she was in over her head. Effie was a brave girl, but she wasn’t stupid. Coming here like this had been a mistake.

“I... should go,” she said.

As she tried to step past the masked woman, she grabbed her by her shoulders, her nails digging painfully into her skin. “Not yet, darling.”

They had spent some time at the dojo discussing how to incapacitate an aggressor. Effie had taken those lessons to heart. Without even hesitating, she aimed a kick behind her, striking at the masked woman’s left shin. She must not have seen it coming, considering how cleanly the kick landed.

“O-oow! You... you little monster!” the woman yelled, losing her grip on Effie’s shoulders. “You shall pay for your insolence!”

Effie ran for the door, but something grabbed at her leg, causing her to stumble. Something soft covered her head, blinding her; something wrapped itself around her arms and her waist, binding them to her body. “Mmmffff...!” She tried to yell, but the thick cloth around her face prevented her from shouting. More and more things began covering her, a thick cocoon of clothes soon sealing off all of her movements. She found herself being pulled down to the floor, though mercifully, the additional padding around her prevented her from getting hurt.

“I have always adored a captive audience!” The woman’s voice sounded muffled through the layer of clothing around Effie’s head, but there was no mistaking her gloating tone. For a good measure, she tried to struggle still, roll around or kick herself free, but she could barely budge. If anything, the clothes around her only seemed to constrict her tighter.

Effie could feel the shopkeeper’s gloved hands on her, turning her body on her back. She could feel them creeping under the clothes that bound her, under her jacket and her t-shirt, touching her stomach directly. She was doing something to her, something that felt more disturbing than anything she’d ever felt. It was as if she was reaching inside of her, somehow, rummaging around and looking for something.

“Oh, my. This power within you... it glows so bright! Far more so than the others who’ve visited my store. With this much power, I could make hundreds of masks. What a precious gift you’ve given me, the Masked Venetian!”

Though Effie had no idea what the woman’s words meant, they made her try to struggle twice as hard as before. The sinking feeling in her stomach told her that something terrible was going to happen. She never should’ve come to this store. Not alone. She could’ve at least asked her big sister for help...

“Mmpgf!” Something slid up through the clothes around her face: a silk sock, forcing itself up into her mouth. The trousers that had been covered her face were torn off by the golden masked shopkeeper, giving her a chance to see again. She found herself face-to-face with a porcelain mask, this one emitting the same dark aura as she had felt before, from the masks possessed by those girls in her school. It was child-sized, just right for her face; its flawlessly white porcelain surface had dark gold makeup painted around its eye holes and its thin lips, curved up to a creepy smile. Blind panic gripped Effie’s heart as the shopkeeper turned it around, slowly lowering it down towards her face. “Mmffnn!”

“This... is what I have chosen for you, my darling,” the Venetian said, slowly, lovingly lowering it down to cover the girl’s face. “A piece of myself. A new life for you. With this, you shall be forgiven...”

If Effie could’ve screamed, she would’ve. As the mask was pressed against her face, it seemed to almost meld with it, attaching itself tightly to her head. Dark energy flowed through it into the young girl’s body, filling her mind, licking at her soul. The mask’s evil presence seemed to have a mind of its own, a malicious intent. It was possessing her, dark tendrils spreading outwards from it, exploring every nook and cranny, getting acquainted with its new host.

“Such fierce resistance!” the Masked Venetian said. “The others lost the fight within moments. And yet you struggle and struggle. I adore your passion!”

Effie’s cheeks felt wet. She hadn’t even realised she had been crying. The mask on her face was slowly snuffing out the light from within her, giving her soul a dark embrace. It was not merely content with invading its host anymore: it was merging with her, infiltrating the core of her being. It was gnawing at her, changing her, dominating her, and worst of all, it was beginning to feel good. She was being pulled under. She was getting sleepy...

...

“...Yes, mistress.” Effie’s mind awoke. That was her own voice. She could feel herself moving, standing up. Her sight was covered in dark haze, but through it, she could vaguely recognise the shopkeeper’s golden mask. She was... presenting herself to her? Feeling pride?

“Two hours, hm?” the Venetian said, tapping the chin of her mask. “Most curious. Most curious indeed. How is it that you resisted so long?”

Effie stood there silently. Her mind was panicking, but her body remained calm. A steady heartbeat, a steady breath.

“No matter.” Effie could feel the woman’s hands on her again, touching her chest. Reaching into it. “It glows as bright as before. Superb. This might hurt a bit, darling, but try to bear with it...”

The Venetian grabbed something within Effie, and once again, she wanted to scream. She was tearing something out of her, something warm, something precious. Forcibly, violently, tugging it free, tainting its purity with her very touch. The Effie inside of Effie tried to struggle and resist, but she could do nothing. The shard from within her was stolen, its warmth forever lost. She could feel her body stumbling a bit but remaining upright; her mind, meanwhile, was dragged under once again...

...

Effie looked at herself in the mirror. She hated this face. The false face. The one she was forced to present to her friends and her family, to keep up the lie. This wasn’t who she was, not anymore. With an odd smile, she crouched down to open her backpack, revealing the white and yellow mask within. Putting it on, she felt whole again, the screams inside of her quieted once more.

“I can’t wait until you’re gone,” she said to her reflection, her expression unreadable through the mask. “Until we truly are one. It won’t be long now.”

The other Effie struggled to stay awake, but the mask’s presence was oppressive, pushing her down again. Deeper and deeper. It was getting more difficult for her to wake up.

...

“Here, try this on!” Effie said, grinning at her big sister. “Come on, it’ll be fun! You like weird stuff, don’t you?”

Dot looked a bit hesitant at first, but there was no chance she could resist the charms of her cute little sister. “A-alright then. I didn’t know you liked this kind of stuff, Effie...” she said, taking the porcelain mask to her hands and turning it over.

It hadn’t been difficult to convince her to come. Effie’s mistress watched over the two, watched as Dot put the mask on. As she fell on her knees and tried to claw at it and tear it off, Effie sneered. Taking her time, she watched her big sister’s struggles slow down, and finally end. She had lasted for a minute, no longer. It’d be a matter of days for her, before her former self would be completely absorbed by her new mask.

“Very well done, darling,” The Venetian said, ruffling Effie’s hair. The girl giggled, accepting the praise, kissing the back of her mistress’ gloved hand as it was presented for her.

Behind her, her sister slowly stood up, presenting herself for her shard to be consumed.

The shadow of a girl remaining within Effie’s heart wept bitterly, losing the last grip she had on reality.

Chapter Text

”Hey. Don’t do that again.”

Someone grabbed Irma by her shoulder as she was walking down the school corridor. Spinning around, she found herself face to face with a girl she recognised immediately: the school darling, Effie Pedding. It was easy to see why she was so popular: the bright orange hair with the sporty ponytail, the tomboyish way she dressed, contrasted by her natural cuteness that was further enhanced by her small frame. No wonder she was adored by boys and girls alike. No wonder Irma felt so annoyed every time she saw her. “Do what?” she asked, rolling her eyes.

Effie frowned, not letting go of her shoulder. “Don’t mess around. It was you with that spider, right? You know Mary’s afraid of them. Is it that fun for you to bully her?”

The school had had something of a bullying problem in the past that the teachers had been ill-equipped and unwilling to deal with. Last year, Effie had made it her duty to make it all stop. It had gotten her in trouble—but it had worked. She was someone even the most obstinate jerks in the school were now willing to listen to, at least after the rowdy fistfight in the school yard before last summer. Even Irma had thought of Effie as something of a hero back then. But now, she was just pissing her off.

“That...” Irma said, wrenching her shoulder free. “...was a harmless prank. I’m not a bully. I’m not out to hurt anyone. I just thought it’d be funny!” She wasn’t lying, she really had nothing against Mary. She liked pranks, but she targeted people indiscriminately. She was in it for the joke, for the funny reactions, for the confusion and chaos. If Mary had started crying just because she had found a toy spider in her desk, that was on her. The rest of the class, at least, had gotten some fun out of her reaction.

Effie crossed her arms. “She has it rough, you know? She doesn’t really need anything like this right now,” she said, her expression softening a bit. “Look... I get that you just want to have some fun. You probably didn’t intend to hurt her. But jokes played at the expense of others aren’t funny.”

“What are you trying to be, a teacher? This isn’t your business, anyway.” A year older than Irma and Mary, Effie wasn’t in the same class as them. Mary had probably tattled to her; plenty of girls across the school flocked to Effie to talk about their problems and seek advice, Mary included. The fact that she had to ask for help instead of confronting her herself just made Mary more pathetic in her eyes.

“I said what I wanted to say,” Effie said. “Just don’t pick on people again, okay?”

Irma frowned, watching the older girl leave. The mature act Effie was putting on was the most annoying thing about her by far. Fakes like her had always riled Irma up. This was a school; they were all kids here, so why pretend to be an adult? The only reason Effie was acting the way she was, now, was because so many people looked up to her now. She wanted to look cooler and more mature she was, but deep on the inside, Irma knew, Effie was just a brat. Just like everyone else.

Later that day, as Irma did her best to procrastinate on her homework, her computer screen unexpectedly turned off. Another annoyance; Irma could vaguely see herself frown through the foggy reflection of herself cast by the monitor’s matte surface. As she reached for the power button to turn it back on, an unexpected face appeared on the screen. A kid, maybe her own age, her features vague and blurry in the poorly reflective surface of the monitor. She had a witch’s hat, the corners of her mouth turned upwards in a mischievous little smirk.

“H-huh?” Irma blinked, her mouth hanging open. She was not sure how to react.

“I like you. You’ve got spunk!” the witch said, the voice seemingly coming from inside of Irma’s own head. “You’re right. Everyone’s such a bore, right! You just wanna have some fun. Why listen to those jerks who want to put an end to that?” There was a giggle.

Though the words that the strange reflection was saying rang true, the dread that Irma suddenly felt in her heart suggested that the witch wasn’t someone to listen to. She stood up from the chair, turning around and trying to reach the door. Mum... mum would know what to do.

“Seeking adult help?” The witch giggled again. “Please, who needs them!” There was something in her hand: a cute little magic wand, pointed at Irma’s back. “Lutila lilula! Show me your true self!”

The beam seemed to pass right through Irma’s back, not hitting her but rather something within her. She gasped, falling on her knees, letting out a little cry as the transformation began. What had she been running away for? This felt so good.

 


 

“A new Lilin has been born... I think.” Edeltrude looked over the three girls from the mirror.

“You think? You aren’t sure?” Sofia asked, eating grapes from a bowl. The other two girls, lying on the floor, looked curiously at the princess.

She looked flustered. “I-it’s difficult! There are hundreds of shards, their voices very faint, and they all speak at once. I had such a hard time even reaching yours, and you have the biggest one of them all.”

“Ehehe...” Sofia grinned a bit bashfully, scratching her cheek. “But it’s alright! I’m sure you’re doing your best!”

“If she’s got the biggest shard, shouldn’t she be the strongest?” Effie asked.

“H-hey. I’m pretty strong! I just—”

Fleur sighed. “Can we focus on the Lilin, please? Trudi, can you tell us anything more about them?”

“This one’s a bit stronger than the ones you fought... I think,” the princess responded, closing her in focus. “I’m not sure. I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright!” Sofia said, recovering quickly. “Now that there’s three of us, we’re stronger than ever, too!”

“Hmmm,” Effie said, pursing her lips. “Can you fight at all, Trudi, if we get in trouble? You said our powers come from you, right? Doesn’t that make you really strong?”

The golden-haired girl in the mirror shook her head. “It’s not like that. I can awaken the shards within you, help your souls reach their full potential. With the right tools, I can use all sorts of magic, but I have nothing like that with me here. Transforming into a Bloom... it’s not something I could do. I can’t do much at all...”

Fleur gave her a soft smile. “Appearing in mirrors like this is impressive enough. We all appreciate your guidance.”

“It’s not something to be impressed with.” Edeltrude had a bit of a sad expression on her face. “It’s something my people can naturally do. The world of mirrors is on the boundary between your world and ours. Staying there comes easier to me than fully appearing into your world. And it helps me evade detection. My mother’s servants can’t sense my energy unless I more fully manifest into your reality.” She sighed. “I just wish I could do something more. I can’t even reach you with my voice, half the time...”

There was a knock on the door, the handle turning and the door opening before any of the girls had managed to say a word. Oliver, Sofia’s big brother, stood on the doorway with a tray of biscuits, blinking as she looked over the girls on the floor. Edeltrude’s reflection had vanished, just in time. “What are you all sitting around the mirror for?” he asked. “Dad told me to bring over some snacks, so...”

“Get out!” yelled Sofia. “And leave the tray!”

 


 

Dot puffed her cheeks, looking like a blowfish. “So...?”

The next day after school, the four of them gathered at Dot’s and Effie’s home. Their parents were away, attending a friend’s wedding; it had seemed like the right moment for the trio of girls to tell Dot their secret.

Effie grinned. “Watch this!” she said, the three girls unifying their voices into one. “Bloom Change!”

A rainbow flash of pink, blue and yellow. The three girls stood in front of Dot in their magical girl costumes, elaborate and cute, glowing with magical light. The air trapped in Dot’s puffed up cheeks was slowly released, her face deflating as she looked over the girls with wide open eyes.

“You...” she said, finally rediscovering her ability to talk. She sprung up to her feet. “You guys were transforming superheroes, and you never told me!”

Sofia laughed. “Ahaha... l-look, it’s a new development for us. And we didn’t really find the right moment... e-eek!”

Dot had stepped forward and grabbed the pink magical girl by her cheeks. She squished them around a bit as she looked over her clothes. “Did you come up with the costumes yourselves?” she asked. “They’re cute, but... they could be way cooler! With spikes and spandex and... guns and stuff!”

“G-guns?” Fleur asked. “N-no, we did not come up with them ourselves. But they are perfectly fine as they are.”

“Yeah!” Effie said, rushing to grab her big sister by the waist to pull her away from Sofia. “Anyway, we’re really sorry for not telling you. We thought it’d be dangerous, but we don’t want to keep lying to you.”

Dot stepped back, crossing her arms and nodding a few times with a ponderous expression on her face. “I get it. Jimmie Dale never reveals his secret identity to anyone, either...”

“Who?” Sofia asked, rubbing her cheeks with a few tears in her eyes.

“But!” Dot pointed a finger towards the three. “You better keep me updated! The next time you stop a bank robbery, I want to hear it!”

“I... don’t think there are bank robberies in White Hollow,” Fleur said. “Besides, that’s not really the kind of a thing we—”

The doorbell rung, downstairs. The three magical girls looked at each other, releasing their forms and returning back to their normal selves. Dot looked sufficiently impressed with that, as well. “Where do your clothes go when you do that?”

“I’m gonna go answer the door!” Fleur said, running downstairs. After a brief hesitation, the other three followed.

There was no-one at the door. Instead, someone had dropped an envelope through the mailbox—and as faint as it was, the magical girl trio could sense something wrong with it. A cold, dark aura, identical to those of the Lilin.

 


 

“So... what is it?” Sofia asked, poking at the envelope with the tip of her finger.

Edeltrude, in the small tabletop mirror the magical girls had placed on the table, shook her head. “There’s no way to tell without opening it, and opening it is too risky. It’s quite obvious you were the target though, Effie.”

The plain white envelope had no postage no it, the name ‘Effie Pedding’ written on it with terrible handwriting. It was sealed tight, but the darkness emanating from it was clear even from a distance. Fleur had rattled it around a bit: it seemed to have something like powder inside of it.

“How could they! I’m going to kick their butt!” Dot chimed up, standing two metres away from the table. Effie had told her to keep her distance, ostensibly because there was no way to tell how it’d affect a non-Bloom like her. In reality, Sofia suspected, Effie had simply not trusted her big sister to avoid the temptation to open it.

“Do you have any idea who it could be, Effie?” Fleur asked.

“Well...” Effie said. “It’s probably someone from school. But it could be a lot of people.” As popular as she had gotten, there were plenty of kids who hated her guts, too.

“Tomorrow is a school day. Perhaps you could try to find out if anyone’s missing from their class? They could very well be the Lilin.”

Edeltrude crossed her arms. “It’s not a hundred percent reliable method. Some Lilin can assume their human forms and pretend to live as normal. And besides, who’s to say that Effie was the only target here? The longer we sit on this, the more likely it is that someone else will get hurt.”

“But, what else can we do? Run around the neighbourhood and try to sense her?”

The table fell silent. For a while, the girls racked their brains, trying to come up with ideas. Just as they were about to give up and go patrol the town again, Effie’s phone rang.

“Mary?” Effie said, answering the phone.

“E-Effie, please...” the voice said, small and frightened. “Are you home? I-I got a strange letter. I didn’t open it, but I’m alone, and...”

“I’ll be right over! Don’t open it, okay? Don’t even touch it. I’ll be right by!” Ending the call, Effie looked over the other two Blooms. “Let’s go!”

 


 

Mary was a girl one year younger than Effie, living in the same neighbourhood. They had been friends for a while now, but they had grown closer in the recent months. Mary’s mother had been hospitalised, leaving her alone for extended periods of time; it had been rough for her, and Effie had done her best to be there for her.

“Right here,” Effie said, stopping in front of Mary’s home. The front door was ajar; something was wrong. “Ah! Let’s go!”

“O-okay!” Sofia ran after her. With a bit of hesitation, so did Fleur. As soon as Effie opened the door, though, the other girls in tow, something came tumbling down. A metal bucket that had been suspended over the door hit the floor behind Effie with a clang. A cloud of dust was released into air: the bucket had been filled with some sort of a powder, and surprised by the booby trap, the trio of girls now found themselves coughing after involuntarily drawing it into their lungs.

“This...” Fleur said, coughing and bending over. “...is bad.” The strange powder carried the touch of a Lilin within it.

“I-is this poison?” Sofia asked, coughing and rubbing her itching eyes. It wasn’t just her eyes that were itching, either. The sensation seemed to spread through her whole body, accompanied by a strange heat. Thankfully, it seemed to be subsiding...

“H-hey! Are you... are you okay?” Effie said, starting at Sofia with her mouth open.

Sofia blinked, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. Wait, had it always been that long? “...Eh?” Her first thought was that her clothes had gotten bigger. After looking over Effie and Fleur, though, the truth became clear.

They were younger, all of them; a few years younger, perhaps, than Effie had previously been. They were considerably shorter, their features more childish, their clothes now comically oversized for them. Effie was the lucky one: she had changed the least, but even her trainers looked a bit too large for her now smaller feet, her jeans slumping and baggy. Fleur looked absolutely mortified, her knee-length skirt now long enough to cover her ankles, the waistband so loose she had to grab it to prevent it from sliding off. “W-what is this? This sucks!” she yelled, her voice noticeably more childish than it used to be. “I hate this!”

There was a giggle coming from somewhere inside the house. A cruel, twisted, childish tone that still sounded somewhat familiar to Effie. And then, another voice, a desperate cry: “H-help! Someone, help!”

“I think I know who this Lilin might be,” Effie said, clenching her fists. “Let’s go get her! Bloom Change!”

The other two girls nodded. “Bloom Change!”

The transformation worked just fine. The girls’ costumes, thankfully, weren’t oversized. Their design had changed a bit in subtle ways, however. Bloom Sky’s dress appeared just a bit more modest, no longer leaving her back bare; Bloom Hope, meanwhile, found her shoes no longer having any heels to speak of. Whatever magic it was that determined what their costumes should look had apparently decided to go with something more suited for younger children.

It wasn’t just their appearance that was different, though. The familiar surge of confidence and magic just wasn’t quite there anymore. The girls hadn’t lost their abilities, but they definitely felt weaker. The worried expressions on each other’s faces told them everything they needed to know.

“Let’s go!” Bloom Lux said, wanting to waste no more time. “This way... ah!”

Someone had pulled a string across the doorframe leading into the living room. Stepping into it, the yellow-costumed magical girl unceremoniously faceplanted against the floor. Bloom Sky winced empathically; Bloom Hope couldn’t help but to giggle. “S-sorry. That was just... you looked so cool, and then...”

Lifting herself hastily up, Lux clenched her fists. There were some tears of her eyes, born more out of embarrassment than pain. “I-it’s not funny! It hurt!” she said, glaring at her fellow magical girl, her cheeks glowing pink. “This isn’t the time for that!”

“Wait. Something’s wrong,” Fleur said, apparently the only one of them capable of keeping their cool. “Look, isn’t that where we came from?” On the other side of the living room was another doorway, and behind that doorway was a room identical to the entrance hall they’d come in from. No—it was the same one. The powder sprinkled all around the floor and the walls confirmed as much. And behind them was... the kitchen? They hadn’t been there yet. Something had switched the rooms around.

“Huh. That’s weird...” Bloom Hope said, sniffing a bit as she slowly came down from her fit of giggling. “What’s going on, Fl—”

“Bloom Sky,” the blue-haired magical girl said. “We’re not using our real names when someone could be listening in. Remember?”

Sofia gave her a pout in response. Fleur sighed, carefully stepping over the trap wire, slowly making her way past the living room and back into the entrance hall.

“Trudi? Are you there? Trudi?” she asked, looking into the mirror. There was no response, not even a shadow of the princess appearing on its surface. That was worrying. The connection between them and the princess wasn’t always the best, and it tended to be disrupted in the presence of the Lilin—but never before had she completely failed to appear.

Lux frowned. “These are just dumb pranks. Once I find that girl, I’m going to kick her butt so hard it... it falls off.”

Though her tone was serious—or perhaps specifically due to that—that elicited another burst of giggling from Bloom Hope. “F-falls off... it falls off... the butt...” she laughed, her eyes tearing up again. “Like that’d even be—”

The pink-haired magical girl took a careless step back. The floorboard under her creaked—and then gave in. The laughter changed into confusion as it flipped around under her, Bloom Hope vanishing  under the floor. It had happened so fast she hadn’t even managed to yell in surprise; the other magical girls were left standing with their mouths open, staring at the floor where their friend had stood just a second ago.

“H-hey!” Lux said, crouching down and battering the floor where Hope had been. Nothing happened; the floor kept strong, not even creaking anymore as it just had.

“Is there a basement?” Fleur asked.

“N-not that I know!” Effie had visited Mary’s house plenty of times, but she’d never seen any evidence of her having one. The Lilin had to be somehow warping the building.

Fleur nodded, a helpless expression on her face. As impressive as she was for keeping her cool, Effie noted, she had lost some of her edge. At least this moment, the blue-haired magical girl looked like a lost child, looking for guidance. And deep inside, Effie found herself feeling the same. “Let’s go!” she said, grabbing Fleur by her hand. “I’m sure we’ll find her somewhere!”

 


 

“Eek!” Bloom Hope landed, mostly painlessly, on what seemed like an old mattress. There was a moment of disorientation as the little magical girl tried to understand where she exactly was. She had fallen down, hadn’t she? Then why did this place look so much like an attic?

“I dunno if I should call myself lucky or unlucky!” said a childish voice from somewhere nearby. “I wanted Effie, but instead I got the three magical girls that Mistress told me to find. I’m going to be praised for sure!”

Sofia sat up, finding herself face to face with the Lilin. She looked a bit older than the Blooms’ current form was. Her skin was pale violet, her shoulder-length hair a darker shade of purple. Two nubby little horns extended from the top of her head and there was a black spade tail curled around her left leg. Wearing a plaid skirt and a black t-shirt, two holes had seemingly been cut on the back to make room for two bat-like wings. Her ears were long and pointed, her nails long, purple and claw-like; when she grinned, Sofia could see two rows of pointy, shark-like teeth. There was a twinkle of malevolence in her demonic eyes, yellow irises against black sclerae, two dark pinpoint pupils fixated on the magical girl.

“Dream Wave!” Cute as her opponent was, Bloom Hope didn’t hesitate. Thrusting her palms towards the girl, pink rings of force shot out as usual, tossing the Lilin backwards. There wasn’t much oomph to her attack, however. Nimbly tumbling a bit, she was back on her feet within a moment, giggling at the magical girl.

“Is that all? A little push like that wouldn’t hurt a fly! Looks like you need a little lesson about respecting your elders...” The Lilin extended her arm towards Bloom Hope, purple shadows extending forth from between her fingers.

Though she tried to stand up and jump away, Bloom Hope was just a bit too slow. Of the shadowy tendrils wrapped around her ankle, pulling her back on the bed. Another two grabbed her by her wrists, forcing her arms behind her back, pulling painfully enough to reduce the young magical girl to tears. “I-it hurts!” she said, the pitiful tone of her voice surprising even herself. “Let go! P-please...”

The Lilin laughed. “You really are just a kid! What’s that, begging for mercy? Boo hoo, it hurts so much!” She stepped closer, the shadows pulling at Bloom Hope and forcing her on her back. Hopping on the bed with her, digging her nails into her shoulders, she gave her a shark-like grin. “As much as I’d like to see you cry a little more, I’ll need your help in subduing the others. So why don’t I show you how much fun you can have when you stop being such a cry baby?”

Sofia really did feel like crying. She tried to blink away her tears, but the fear and shame of defeat kept forcing more to come pouring out. She wasn’t normally like this, was she, pitiful and weak? She hated being like this. “B-Bloom Char—!” she tried, but she was just a little too slow. Thrusting her hand down, the Lilin pierced the pink magical girl’s chest, dark energy pouring directly into her heart.

 


 

“Aagh! Not again!”

Turning the corridor, Lux and Sky found themselves in the entrance hall again. The warped house seemed to have no rhyme or reason to it, every path they took teasing something new before unceremoniously dumping them back to where they started. Lux was growing more frustrated with every moment, and even Sky was finding it hard to keep calm. They hadn’t heard Mary’s voice for a while now, and there was no trace of Sofia anywhere to be seen.

“That’s it. If I see this coat rack one more time, I’m going to smash it to bits!” Lux said, hitting her palm with her fist.

“...I’ve been thinking,” Sky said. “I don’t think she’s just shuffling rooms around. I think this isn’t actually Mary’s house.”

Lux frowned. “What do you mean, it isn’t her house? I’ve been here a dozen times.”

“Have you tried looking outside the windows? The curtains won’t open. If you try flipping a light switch, nothing happens. And well, it’s obvious, but rooms shouldn’t be able to just move around. Everything here feels wrong, can’t you sense it?”

“So we’re somewhere else. Some... magical illusion world. What does that matter? How does that help us?” Lux asked, kicking a shoe.

There was no immediate response. Bloom Sky pressed her hands against the wall next to her, then the floor, then another wall. “It means... I don’t think we can get to her just by running around. There might be no real path to where she even is. But I can sense her presence. It’s faint, well-hidden, but it’s there.”

Lux blinked. She tried to focus, too, but couldn’t. Her heart was pounding too much.

Bloom Sky pointed at a wall. “I think you could break this.”

“I guess I can try,” Lux said, drawing a breath and thrusting her palms against the spot that had been pointed out for her. “Blast Bolide!”

The wall exploded inwards, revealing a perfect void. Given the house’s layout, that’s where the bathroom should’ve been, but there was nothing there. Just pitch blackness that made Effie shiver.

Sky stepped in first, Lux following after. Neither of the young girls could no longer even pretend they weren’t afraid. Together, they walked through darkness... and then, the lights came on.

They were in the attic: wide, mostly empty, with some furniture and clothing clumped on one side. They weren’t alone. Sitting on a wooden box, casually kicking her legs was the Lilin, a young girl with demonic features and violet skin, a devilish grin on her face.

Lying on the floor, tied up and forced on their knees, were two other figures. To the Lilin’s left side was Mary, a fluffy-haired blonde wearing a simple blue dress, de-aged like the others were; to her other side was Sofia, not in her magical girl form, tears in her eyes as she looked at the other two girls. And above them, hanging from the ceiling on worryingly thin ropes were two guillotine blades, sharp, heavy and final.

“Let. Them. Go,” said Lux, clenching her fists. “I’m going to kick your butt, Irma!”

The Lilin kept grinning. “Oh, if it isn’t Effie! Fancy meeting you here. You haven’t introduced your two friends. Or... I guess it’s gonna be just one friend, soon.” Her demonic eyes narrowed. “And you can call me the Vexing Imp. Having a human name no longer sounds appropriate, for some reason.”

Compared to Lux, Sky seemed to keep her calm. She was watching her opponent quietly, her eyes wandering between the blades and the two prisoners.

Lux stomped the floor. “Cut it out! This isn’t like you, Irma. What happened to not wanting to hurt anyone with your jokes?”

“I said that, didn’t I? That was dumb of me,” the Imp said, her spade tail idly wagging behind her. “I take that back. There’s nothing more fun than tormenting the weak. Seeing them cry and beg for mercy, giving them a bit of hope before snatching it away. My Mistress showed me the way.”

“I’m going to purify you so hard you’re gonna be crying about it for...”

“Oops.” The Vexing Imp swiped her tail, ever-so-slightly. The shadows in the ceiling moved in response, forming a blade that slashed across the ropes holding the blades.

“No!”

Lux and Sky reacted instantly, rushing forward. No human could’ve moved as fast as they had: there was a yellow and a blue blur, Lux going for Mary and Sky for Sofia.

Tackling Mary out of the way of the blade just in time, almost getting cut in half herself, Lux rolled on the floor and sprung back to action. Sky, meanwhile—

Sky didn’t grab Sofia. Instead, she kicked her as hard as she could, halting her own momentum with Sofia’s face. The effect was the same: the cinnamon-haired girl rolled across the room, out of the way of the deadly blade.

The Imp watched the display with her mouth hanging open. So did Lux. But as the dust cleared, it became apparent that Sky’s intuition had been right; Sofia no longer looked like her usual self. Her skin was pale pink, and she displayed the same horns, wings and a tail that Irma did, the impish features obvious now that the illusion had been shattered. “H-how could you!” The Vexing Imp yelled. “Kicking your own friend in the...”

“Sparkle Blitz!” Bloom Sky yelled, a zap of lightning blowing apart the crate the Imp had been sitting on and sending her flying. “Sparkle Blitz!” Another one hit her mid-air, zinging her and eliciting a pitiful scream. “Sparkle Blitz!” The third bolt hit her as soon as she landed, leaving her open for Lux to jump in and finish things.

“Burst...” the yellow magical girl yelled, her right foot glowing gold. “...Meteor!”

Weakened as the magical girls’ power might’ve been, this was too much for the Imp. Bloom Lux kicked her like a deflated football, the ensuing explosion knocking the magical girl herself back and tossing the Imp against the wall. She wouldn’t move again, for a good while.

 


 

Sofia and Irma were knocked out cold, the purification having thankfully worked on them both. It hadn’t been needed with Mary: she had been human all along, it seemed. The experience had been harrowing for her regardless.

“Effiiieeee...” she cried, hugging her friend tight. Thankfully, the Vexing Imp’s magic had vanished the moment she had been purified. None of them were little children anymore, and the strange facsimile of Mary’s house was gone as well. Effie and Fleur were in her room now, trying to help her calm down. “I thought I was gonna dieee!”

“T-there, there,” Effie said, patting her back. “It’s all okay, now. Should we have some tea...?”

“I’ll go make some,” Fleur said, stepping over the unconscious bodies of Sofia and Irma. As was the case with others, it would be unlikely Irma would remember anything about what had transpired during her time as a Lilin; their secret identities were safe from her, though the same couldn’t be said about Mary. Hopefully, that wouldn’t cause problems down the road.

Climbing downstairs, she checked the entrance hall wall. Her intuition had been right, it seemed. No gaping hole anywhere to be seen. That was good; it’d have been difficult to explain to her parents.

“Hrmm...” Edeltrude said, appearing in the entrance hall mirror. “That was a Lunaciasphere. A false reality created by a Lilin. Not too different from the world of reflections where I am, fundamentally speaking.”

Fleur pursed her lips. “You couldn’t have warned us about that kind of a thing beforehand?”

“W-well...” the princess said, looking guilty. “She felt too weak to be able to create one. And whatever this was, it was an imperfect attempt at best. She could barely control it herself, and it ended up being just a bad copy of this house. The really powerful Lilin can create considerably more dangerous worlds, in which even the laws of nature are theirs to command. Fighting Lilin within a full Lunaciasphere of their own creation is essentially impossible.”

“I see,” Fleur said. “I suppose we’ll have to be more careful in the future. Is Sofia going to be okay?”

A nod. “She will be. It’s good that you saved her as quickly as you did. Being turned into a Lilin’s servant for an extended period of time risks tainting your shards, even if you do manage to purify them afterwards. And of course, had you waited long enough, there would have been no going back.” Edeltrude’s tone was serious. “But there was no harm done, this time.”

Fleur looked at the princess for a while, and finally nodded. She walked to the kitchen in silence, worries weighing heavily on her mind.

Chapter Text

”Those three are strong.” The girl plucks the string idly, producing another vibrant little note. “They don’t quite know what they are doing, but they are strong.”

The visitor sits patiently, listening on. The tiny girl rubs her milk-white eyes, yawning a bit. “Still? You want to see more? It’s getting late...” That was not quite right. It does not get late, not here. “I need my sleep. But one more, I suppose.”

She taps on the string, pointing out the spot. This branch is clearer than most. The thin path leading out of the main one, small as it was, is visible to the naked eye. “The only way their adversaries can win is by trickery. The blue champion is quite smart, so that’s a bit tough. But look, here. She is barely keeping it together as it is.”

There is a lot going on. Her powers are weak, and she has lost her dearest friend. The childish emotions welling up within her are barely held bottled up. “It speaks volumes that she can still see through things... and see things through,” the little girl said, giggling a bit at her own wordplay. “Chances are, though, that she simply can’t focus enough to detect the darkness within her friend. I wonder what would happen, then?” Her finger touches down on the thin string. “Shall we find out?”

 


 

“Oops.” The Vexing Imp swiped her tail, ever-so-slightly. The shadows in the ceiling moved in response, forming a blade that slashes across the ropes holding the blades.

“No!”

Lux and Sky reacted instantly, rushing forward. No human could’ve moved as fast as they had: there was a yellow and a blue blur, Lux going for Mary and Sky for Sofia.

Tackling Mary out of the way of the blade just in time, almost getting cut in half herself, Lux rolled on the floor and sprung back to action. Sky, meanwhile—

“Wh... agh...” As soon as she grabbed her friend and rolled out of the way of the guillotine blade, something pierced clean through her chest. It hurt, if a bit less than one might expect; worse still felt the shadows spreading forth from her heart, propagating through her body. “Sofia...?”

“Sky!” Lux yelled, leaving Mary on the floor and hopping up to run for her friend’s aid.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the Vexing Imp said, giggling as she created two lashes out of purple shadows, whipping at the yellow magical girl and forcing her to hop back.

Sofia looked different, now. Her flesh was pale pink, her features clearly demonic. The tiny horns on her head, the small bat wings and thin spade tail, the pointy ears—she looked like a younger version of the Vexing Imp herself, complete with a razor-toothed grin. Her right hand had pierced Sky’s chest, her pink claws wrapped around her heart. There was no blood; a small dark hole had appeared where her hand had thrust through her friend’s body. “Duuuumb! You’re dumb, dumb, dumb!” Sofia said, giggling as she squeezed a little harder, eliciting a pained little scream from Bloom Sky. “You fell for it, and now you’ve lost!”

“Burst...” Bloom Lux rushed the Imp now, her right foot glowing gold. “Meteor!” she screamed, bringing her leg down like an axe where the Lilin was sitting. The attack was clumsy at best, though, and Lux’s smaller size limited her range. Deftly hopping out of the way, the Imp giggled, the crate behind her exploding from the force of impact, the magical girl herself thrown backwards by the force of her own impact.

“Too slow!” she yelled, striking at Lux with her shadows again, grabbing her by her other leg. Before the magical girl could react, the Imp began whipping her around, roughly slamming her against the floor and the walls. “You... can’t... do... anything by yourself! And you’re all alone now against the three of us!”

Bloom Sky was breathing roughly, her body twitching. Her magical girl form broke, the light blue of her hair changing to its usual raven black; other changes would rapidly follow. Already, her skin was turning pale blue, her nails growing and sharpening, transforming into little blue claws. “P-please. I don’t want to...” she begged, tears in her eyes. Desperately blinking them away, her white sclera were already turning inky black. All the bravado was gone; she really looked like a young girl now, afraid and in pain.

That only made the impified Sofia giggle. Pulling her hand free from her friend’s chest, she pinned her down and leaned in close, kissing her cheek, wet with tears. “Mistress was right. This is so much fun. I love this. I love seeing you in pain, Fleur!” she said, licking her cheek a few more times for a good measure. “I wish I could hurt you like this forever, but we’re going to be friends again soon. There’s gonna be so many others to torment, though!”

“N-no... Lux, help...” Fleur said, her voice small and pitiful. The last round of transformations were already starting, though. Her scalp itched as little horns pushed through; the teeth in her mouth turned pointy and sharp enough to rend flesh. A leathery tail and a pair of wings pushed through behind her, uncomfortably stuffy under her clothes. The darkness that was radiating from her heart had now nearly completely overtaken her. She giggled. This felt good, after all. Sofia’s tongue, playfully licking her face, tickled her. Impulsively, she leaned up to kiss her, all inhibitions lost.

“D-damn it, why...” Bloom Lux mumbled. Her head was spinning, her body was hurting. The Vexing Imp slammed her against the walls a few times for a good measure, her purple shadows slowly moving to bind the magical girl’s whole body. She couldn’t move and her friends were already lost to her. Was this it? She just wanted to cry.

“So, I was thinking...” the Imp said casually, her shadows bringing Lux over to her. Grabbing her by her chin, her nails painfully digging into her flesh, she tilted her head up and forced her to stare her in the eye. “I think I lied. I think I did want to hurt Mary. It felt really good to make her cry, you know? Because she’s pathetic. Because she’s a natural victim. I mean, look at her!” The Imp giggled, wrenching Lux’s head to the side. Mary was there, hiding in the corner, sobbing silently and hugging herself tightly.

“Y-you’re a monster...” Lux said. The shadows around her squeezed her tighter, tight enough to hurt. She couldn’t help but to tear up.

“Yeah. But I’m strong, and unlike you, I know what I like.” The Vexing Imp pushed Lux down onto the floor, the shadows still wrapped around her. Stepping up to her, she planted a foot on her stomach, grinding at the girl under her. “You’d like this too. You like hurting people. Don’t even try to hide it! You beat up all those bullies because you wanted to see them in pain. You wanted to prove you were tougher than them, wanted to see them cry, wanted to hold it over them. And it felt good!”

Bloom Lux opened her mouth to protest, but all she could produce was a sob. The fear of her opponent, the embarrassment of loss, the frustration of not being able to do anything, of not even being in control of her own emotions—it was all too much for her.

“I turned you into a little kid so you could be more honest with your emotions, but it didn’t really change who you are. I always kind of looked up to you since you were strong and cool, but... look at you now! Playground rules. The one who cries first, loses.”

Lux turned her head, looking at her friends through her tears. Fleur had pushed Sofia off her, and they were now play wrestling. Two newly born imps, giggling and taking delight in hurting each other. They looked like they were having the time of their life. The Vexing Imp stomped down harder on Lux’s stomach. She couldn’t help but to cry out, a pitiful sob caught in her throat.

“I thought about it. I could just break that little thing within you, leave you without your powers, imprison you here to be tormented as much as I’d like. But you’d have learned nothing, would you? You wouldn’t know how much fun I was having.” Hopping down, the Imp sat down on Lux’s chest, smirking as she looked down at her. “So here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna take those two lovebirds with me and hand them over for Mistress. She’ll praise me and reward me. And you? I’m going to turn you too, but I’m going to lock you in this attic forever. Not alone, no. Mary here will keep you company. She’ll be all the fun you’ll ever need, and I’ll trust you’ll be able to make her last for a good, long while. She really makes a nice sound as she cries, doesn’t she...?”

“W-wait, please, I...” Lux said, but it was too late. The imp’s purple claws had already pierced her chest. She cried out in pain—and Mary watched in horror as her best friend was beginning to transform before her eyes. Her skin taking a pale-yellow tone, her nails sharpening into claws, demonic features making themselves present.

Effie giggled. This didn’t feel so bad, after all.

Chapter Text

The zig-zagging beam of gold whizzed right by Bloom Hope’s left ear. “Eek!”

“Focus!” Bloom Sky said, rushing to protect her allies. “Spiral Shield!” The blue-white lines of energy formed a spiral in the air, blocking another erratic ray cast forth from the Lilin’s golden amulet.

“R-right! Wish Attraction!” She tried to tug the amulet away from her opponent’s hands, but the grip was too tight. Inhaling deep, the Lilin soon exhaled a cloud of glittery golden smoke, aimed at the two magical girls.

“Scatter! Don’t breathe it in!” The princess’s voice was audible for the both of them. Not hesitating, they kicked against the ground and propelled themselves back, not willing to risk a moment of exposure.

“Burst...!” A little figure appeared on the rooftop. The magical girl’s leg glowed bright yellow as she jumped off the roof to deliver an axe kick aimed straight at the Lilin.

Their opponent this time was the strangest and the most powerful one yet. The Auric Padishah was a gorgeous golden woman, tall and imposing, her eyes glowing emerald green. Her skin had a golden hue to it; her luscious hair was made of long, silky strand of gold; the exotic silk dress draping her body flowed like liquid gold. Golden pearls adorned her long neck and her slender wrists, golden chandelier earrings with inlaid emeralds hanging from her ears.

She turned her amulet—a green emerald eye set on a golden plate, dangling by a chain of gold—towards Lux, but she was a moment too late.

“Dream Wave!” Sofia’s attack knocked her hand aside just as she was releasing her attack, half a dozen erratic waves of energy flying out of the amulet, barely missing Bloom Lux as she descended onto the Lilin with the aid of gravity.

“...Meteor!”

Asphalt split, gravel and rocks flung about everywhere, one shattering the window of the local bakery. The bystanders were smart enough to cover their heads and crouch down—none of them seemed to have gotten hurt. The force of impact had been enough to send Lux herself flying down the street like a ragdoll, but she had done enough. The golden Lilin was lying unconscious in a crater.

“Bloom Cure!” Sofia yelled after running up to her, reaching for the dark shard within her. But this time, it was nowhere to be found. Within her was just an ocean of darkness. Carefully reaching out to touch it, Sofia brought the Princess’s light upon it... and it all began to vanish. Not just the darkness; the Lilin herself, starting to disappear into a glittery powder of light, carried away by the wind. “W-wait, no! I...!”

The people around them were cheering. To them, the magical girls had defeated a dangerous monster who had been stolen away many an innocent. They didn’t understand, they didn’t know she had been human.

“Hope. Let’s go,” Sky said, taking the pink magical girl by her hand and dragging her up.


The mood in Sofia’s room was gloomy, to say at least. The three girls were lying around, none of them feeling up for talking.

“You saved a lot of people,” Edeltrude said, looking over the girls from the mirror. “She’s never going to take anyone else, ever again. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“But... if we’d found her quicker, we could have saved her. And those girls she took. They’re gone now, because we...” Sofia’s voice was choked up. Fleur shuffled closer to her, putting an arm around her shoulder. Effie didn’t look up.

The princess bit her lip. “Miracles don’t always happen. The Auric Padishah hid herself well. We were lucky to catch her as early as we did.”

Sofia shook her head. Lucky? This didn’t feel right. They were heroes, they were meant to save everyone. And they had failed. It wasn’t just Lilin herself that they had killed—many of her previous victims, too, had been doomed by their actions.

For the past week, the Auric Padishah had shown up around the town, capturing young girls and spiriting them away. Edeltrude had traced down her movements and predicted where she’d be likely to appear next, and the Blooms had set up a trap for her. The battle had been difficult: their opponent was powerful, and they were under a time constraint, having to defeat her before she’d be able to retreat back into her Lunaciasphere. They had triumphed, but at what cost?

A few of the captured girls had been found unconscious near where Auric Padishah had been defeated, but some were still missing. Most likely, the Lilin had permanently weaved them into the fabric of her world, corrupted them to the point where returning back to a human would be impossible for them. As their mistress had vanished, so had her world—and so had those girls.

“Why...” Effie said, speaking up for the first time since the event. “Why did it take you so long to find her? We were chasing after her for days! If we had been just a day or two earlier, we’d have...!”

Edeltrude looked pale. “I-I’m sorry. I... tried my best, I just...”

“Well, it wasn’t enough!”

An uncomfortable silence followed. The princess looked down, her shoulders shaking, before finally stepping back and vanishing from the reflection.


“She should apologise,” Fleur said, stirring her school lunch with her fork. “I understand that she’s angry. I’m angry, too. But Trudi didn’t deserve that.”

Dot crossed her arms, nodding sagely. “Hrmm... it really sounds like she was in the wrong, this time. She probably knows it too, but she’s waaay prouder than you’d think. It’s really tough to get her to say sorry.”

Sofia was silently eating her own meal. Fleur gave her a worried look. “How are you holding up, Sofia?” she asked. “...It’s probably harder for you than anyone.”

“I...” Sofia said, putting down her fork and looking up at her friends. “I think we need to be stronger. For Trudi’s sake. For everyone’s.”

Her tone was a surprise to Fleur and Dot both. She didn’t sound angry, or sad. She sounded serious, in a way that she seldom was.

“She has it way rougher than us!” Sofia continued. “She’s lost her entire world! Her every single friend! Her mother! She’s probably going to have to kill her the way we killed that Lilin!”

Fleur blinked. Dot was nodding along.

“And she’s all alone there in the mirror world too. What does she even do all day, while we’re at school or doing homework or watching TV with family? She’s probably looking for Lilin, thinking up ways to help us and save everyone!”

Fleur felt a bit guilty. Lowering her gaze, she nodded. “I have to admit I’ve had my misgivings about her, too. She gave us these powers, but her guidance hasn’t been perfect. She seems like she doesn’t know what she’s doing half the time, and sometimes, it feels like she has secrets she’s not telling us. But... she probably has her reasons, too. I trust her.”

“It’s going to be fine!” Dot said. “I’m gonna stop lending my comics to Effie until she apologises properly!”


The three magical girls went on their usual patrol after school that evening, walking around random parts of the town in an effort to sense something amiss. It hadn’t produced very useful results so far, but after what had happened with the Auric Padishah, none of them could imagine neglecting their duties.

They were in their normal forms for now. That had its advantages and disadvantages. Like this, they’d avoid attention from the townsfolk and the monsters alike. They had gotten rather famous as of late, pictures of them appearing in the town newspaper and the evening news. Though they had been worried that someone would recognise them, thankfully, they hadn’t had anything to worry about. Sofia had watched the news last night with Oliver, and as oblivious as her brother tended to be, if he hadn’t recognised his own sister on TV, it was unlikely anyone would.

The last time they had tried to patrol in their magical girl forms, they had been constantly stopped in the street, harassed with questions and requests to pose for pictures. An older gentleman had even seen it fit to wolf-whistle them; Sofia had had to restrain Effie from assaulting him.

That was a shame. Transformed, they were faster and could cover far more ground in far less time. They could run without being exhausted, leap from rooftop to rooftop. Which... while it sounded good, was decidedly less practical than the girls had imagined. Most of the town was suburbs, after all, and even if the houses were close enough to be leaped between, they didn’t want to bother the people living there by running all over their roofing.

“Effie...” Fleur said, a few minutes into their patrol.

The younger girl bristled. “I know! I know! I’ll apologise to her properly today. I was wrong!” she sighed. “It’s just that... it’s not fair.”

“It’s not. And it’s not her fault.”

“There’s trouble!” Edeltrude appeared, reflected on the windshield a nearby car. Effie looked flustered, but it didn’t look like the princess had heard their conversation.

“Is it a Lilin?” Fleur asked.

Edeltrude Shook her head. “No, it’s... something else. Someone else. Not from my world, but from another.”

“Another world?” Sofia asked. “What is it? What’s it like? Is it scary?”

“It’s Arcadia, the world of the Fae. It’s...”

“Fae? As in, fairies?!” There was a twinkle in the cinnamon-haired girl’s eyes. The other two looked interested as well.

Edeltrude shook her head. “It’s not like that. They’re crafty, dangerous and utterly selfish. I would hesitate to call them evil, knowing what my mother has become—but I would never trust them. Unless I absolutely had to.”

The three girls looked at each other. “But... they’re cute, right?” Sofia finally asked.

The princess sighed. “...Some are, but that’s not important right now! One of them is here, in this town. And if she is who I think she is, it could be...” She fell silent for a bit. “Good. Or bad. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Sofia asked, blinking.

“I’ll need to talk to her. Find somewhere secluded and change your forms. She’ll probably sense you and come find you. Please be careful around her.”


The three did as asked. There was a little grove on the outskirts of the town that few people ever visited outside of weekends. Transforming into their magical girl forms, they sat down on the rocks and waited.

“A fairy, huh...” Sofia said in a dreamy tone. “I wonder if she’s going to be pretty...”

Fleur sighed.

Effie crossed her arms, a thoughtful expression on her face. “Trudi said they’d be from the world of fairies. That doesn’t mean she’s going to be a fairy herself. She could be big, lumbering troll!”

Sofia looked sceptical. “Why would it be a troll?! If they’re going to send someone, they’re going to send someone pretty!”

“Why! You don’t even know what they’re here for!”

“Shh,” Fleur said, interrupting the conversation. Footsteps. Someone walking through the grass, approaching them, fallen leaves rustling beneath their feet.

The girl who drew into their sight was the prettiest one they’d ever seen. Edeltrude might’ve come close, but while she was a true beauty, the sheer delicate charm of the approaching Fae girl would’ve melted just about anyone’s heart. She was young, perhaps roughly of Effie’s age if looks were to be believed. Her skin was pale but the blush on her cheeks was red and vibrant, her long, loose hair a pretty silver colour that seemed to glitter in sunlight. She looked like a precious doll; her every feature was soft and fragile, from her exposed shoulders, her slim wrists and ankles to the little toes left exposed by her sandals, her nails painted a delicate pink.

She was, quite visibly, not human. Her radiant green eyes were just a bit too large for her face; her ears were long and pointed; there was a pair of gossamer butterfly wings behind her, so thin and transparent they seemed to be made out of pure light. There was a simple green sundress draped over her small body. Her wrists and neck, her ears and her hair were adorned with silver bands, tiny pearls, gemstones and flowers, the jewellery only enhancing her resplendent beauty.

Sofia would’ve said ‘I told you so’ to Effie if their argument hadn’t already been forgotten. Each of the three girls were wordlessly staring at the unearthly beauty of the faerie girl before them, uncertain how to even greet her. Thankfully, she took the initiative.

“Good afternoon,” she said, lifting up the hems of her dress and giving a perfect little curtsy, one that brought in mind the way Edeltrude had originally greeted them. “I am Princess Anatheia, of the Seelie Court of Flowers. I apologise for intruding upon your realm, but my matter is most urgent. I seek Princess Edeltrude. Might you know where I could find her?”

Even her voice was so soft and melodic it was like listening to a song. Effie was the first to react, standing up as quick as she could and giving an awkward bow in return. “I... we...” she mumbled, silently pinching her own thigh. “We’re with her! She wanted to meet you!” Sofia and Fleur stood up as well, nodding quickly.

Anatheia stepped closer and smiled brightly at the three girls. There was a fragrant scent in the air around her. Not like perfume, but close enough. Wildflowers, honey and sunlight. Fleur bit her lip. She really was dangerous. Sofia was still staring at her with her mouth open.

“I thought I sensed her presence within you,” she said, giggling softly. “You are her new guards, yes? She always manages to get the cute ones.”

Sofia was clenching her fingers. Half of her wanted to get up close and wrap the young fairy girl to her embrace, the other half horrified at the mere thought of touching the girl. She looked so fragile, so ethereal in her beauty that it felt that she might just vanish in thin air if touched.

Effie cleared her throat. “We’re her friends. We promised to help her. We aren’t her guards or anything like that. Fleur, do you have the mirror?”

The fairy princess beamed. “My apologies. Then, I’m glad she’s found such cute friends!”

“O-oh! Yes. One second...” Fleur said, reaching down into the backpack she’d brought with her, producing a small silver mirror. She set it down to rest against a tree trunk.

“...Anatheia,” came the princess’s voice from the mirror. There was an unusually harsh edge to it. “Don’t do anything strange to my friends.”

Turning towards the mirror, Anatheia gave it another perfect little curtsy before innocently tilting her head. “Strange? Whatever could you mean, Princess Edeltrude?”

The three magical girls remained standing, unsure if they could sit or not. This was out of their league. Two magical princesses from two different worlds, both heart-wrenchingly beautiful in their own ways.

The golden-haired princess did not seem to share the Blooms’ reverence towards the visitor. “Don’t give me that. I know what you’re like,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her. “So? Have you come with an answer? Do we have a deal?”

“My father has shown some interest in it. He needs some further time for deliberation between the nobles of our realm, but...”

“You mean you haven’t made any progress at all?!” Edeltrude asked. Her little reflection looked furious. “That’s what you told me the last time! Do you understand that we’re in a hurry? This decision needs to be made before it’s too late!”

“I think you misunderstand my position, Edeltrude.” The fairy girl seemed entirely unfazed by the outburst. “I hold precious little power within our realm. All I have is my castle and my servants. Even if the matter would come to a vote, my voice would count for nothing at all.”

“We’ve been through this! You can’t possibly think I’m that stupid. Your father cherishes you. He cares about nothing else as much as you. All he’d need to raise an army and invade my mother’s realm was a polite request from you and a little kiss on his cheek!”

Anatheia giggled. “The rumours are wildly exaggerated, I’m afraid. I’m just his daughter. I don’t tell him what he should be doing as the king, any more than you tell your mother what she should be doing as the empress.”

Edeltrude glared daggers at the fairy princess. Even Sofia, as enraptured as she was by the visitor, could sense the tension in the air. Finally though, the golden-haired girl sighed. “Just... please. They must understand. My mother will not be content with merely taking over our own world. The darkness will eternally hunger for more. In time, she will come for us all: this world, and yours, and everything else. Why wait until she’s at the height of her power? Why not strike now?”

“I understand, Edeltrude. I worry as well. I would be lying if I said I didn’t. Politics amongst the Seelie are not as clear and simple as they appear to be, however. Rest assured that my father understands the gravity of the situation.”

“...Very well.” Edeltrude nodded. “Then, if there is no news, what are you here for?”

Anatheia clapped her tiny hands together. “I wanted to see how you were adjusting to this world, of course! You are a dear friend, and I’d hate to see you unwell. Your new guards—forgive me, friends—are a matter of great interest to me as well.” Crouching down a bit, her face now close to the mirror, the fairy princess blinked curiously. “I did not expect you to stay in the world in-between, though. Does it not get lonely there? Boring? Have you got no servants to pamper you, books to read, flowers to tend?”

“S-silence!” Edeltrude said, sounding like she was trying to salvage some last bits of her pride. “Are you here just to mock me, then? You know what my situation is like. Presenting myself in the reality proper would just be calling my mother’s minions to me. I stand out like a beacon!”

There was a bit of a twinkle in Anatheia’s vibrant green eyes. “I would never mock you, Edeltrude. In fact, I might be able to help you. It is possible to conceal you from your mother’s eyes. Did you not think to ask of us? The Faerie are second to none when it comes to hiding one’s presence.”

“I...” Edeltrude said. “What would you ask?”

“Maybe...” Anatheia leaned closer, whispering something too quiet for any of the three magical girls to hear.

Edeltrude shook her head. “You must be out of your mind! You... you really are here to mock me, aren’t you?!”

The fairy princess giggled. “Unacceptable, then? That is a shame. Perhaps we can come up with a more agreeable arrangement. I will need to think on this.”

“Wait. I don’t have anything right now, but—”

“I think I will want to talk to your friends now. The poor things are looking rather neglected.”

“Don’t even think about—”

Anatheia reached for the mirror, grabbing it gently... and turning it upside down on the grass. Standing up, she gave the three magical girls the most charming little smile they’d ever seen. “Now then... would you mind introducing yourselves?”

Fleur reacted first. Grabbing Sofia by the wrist, she whispered into her ear. “No real names. Remember?”

“J-jeez! I know,” Sofia said, hastily giving Anatheia a curtsy, just a little better than the one she’d given Edeltrude three weeks ago. “I’m Bloom Hope. It’s a pleasure to meet you, princess!”

Effie nodded. “Bloom Lux.”

“...And Bloom Sky,” Fleur said, looking over to the mirror. “Did you really have to do that? I don’t know how they do things in your world, but that was a kind of a rude gesture.”

Anatheia looked up at the orange-haired magical girl, blinking innocently. “I just wanted to get to know you better. Edeltrude is a good friend, but she does get jealous. I felt it’d be better if we could talk in private, without distractions.”

Sofia nodded, seemingly completely convinced. The other two girls, while still taken by the faerie princess’s unearthly beauty, were less comfortable with the situation. “So, what do you wanna know?” Effie asked. “I don’t think we can share too much.”

“Of course,” Anatheia said, looking over the three girls with curiosity. “I mostly know what you’ve been doing, anyway. Fighting Lilin and helping Edeltrude maintain the barrier. That’s good. She needs all the help she can get, after all. Things are really rough for her, and I’m glad she has new friends like you!”

“Ehehe...” Sofia kept nodding, bashfully rubbing her cheek. “We’re just doing what we can!”

“I was a bit curious as to how she has promised to reward you for your services, though,” Anatheia continued, looking over each of the three Blooms with her wide green eyes. “She is a princess, after all. A princess of a kingdom of miracles and magic, and you’re her last hope. She must have promised you the moon and the stars, right?”

“...We’re not helping her for the sake of a reward,” Fleur said. As charmed as she had been in the young girl’s presence, she was starting to have some misgivings about her. “We’re protecting our town. And we’re there for her because we want to be.”

“I see. That’s just like her, I suppose.” Anatheia let out a cute little sigh, shaking her head. “I understand. You want to help her. You might even say that you’re obliged to help her, since it’s your town in danger as well. But that’s a bit unfair, isn’t it? You didn’t ask to be burdened by this responsibility, you didn’t ask for the Princess to bring her fight to your home and expose your people to danger.”

The three girls were quiet. Walking up to Sofia, Anatheia took by her hand. The soft, warm touch of her little fingers was too much for the pink magical girl: she found herself blushing, her face matching the tone of her costume.

The Fae princess continued, looking up at her and smiling. “So, hear me out. I’m not telling you to stop what you’re doing, but I think you’re being cheated. I think you could be doing what you’re doing and still receive proper compensation.” Anatheia’s eyes twinkled as she looked up at the three girls. “Work for me instead. Become my knights. In return, I’ll give you things you couldn’t even have dreamed of. Gold and treasure. Titles and land. Would you like to be duchesses? That can be arranged. You can have your own castles with a hundred servants tending to your every need. Your own gardens with fruit and game, more delicious than anything you’ve ever tried. I could even make you immortal, unaging, young and pretty forever. You could live eternally in a paradise with me, surrounded by pleasure and beauty.”

There was something about the princess’s tone it that made it impossible not to picture oneself surrounded by the luxury and bliss that her words were painting. Sofia stood mesmerised, her hand still held in Anatheia’s own; Fleur, too, was finding it difficult to find the words to describe her feelings. Nodding slowly at the faerie princess, Effie took a step forward. Anatheia turned to her with a smile, offering her her other hand.

Bloom Lux didn’t take it. Instead, she grabbed the young princess by her bare shoulders, staring her straight in her bright, green eyes. “We told you, we’re Trudi’s friends. We aren’t some bodyguards for hire. We aren’t something you can snatch away from her because you think we’re cute, or because you’re envious of her or something. I dunno what you’re trying to pull, but you aren’t gonna bribe us with castles and stuff.”

“But—”

“No means no. Get out of here, the conversation is over.”

Fleur blinked and cleared her throat. Even Sofia had snapped out of it, taking her hand back and looking a bit embarrassed. Letting go of the Fae princess, Effie crossed her arms and glared at her.

Even the way Anatheia frowned was cute, with a childish little pout. “Fine. It was just a proposal. You don’t have to take it if you are not interested,” she said, the gossamer wings behind her beating the air in frustration. Taking a deep breath, she seemed to calm down. “I will keep the offer open, though. And if there’s anything else you think I could help you with, all you need to do is to ask. I would be happy to help Edeltrude’s friends in any way I can.” She turned away to leave, walking down the path she’d come. As she did, her body rapidly began to vanish, dissolving into flower petals that were swiftly swept aside by a gust of wind. She was gone within moments.

“Bueee.” Effie stuck her tongue out at her, the other two magical girls shuffling their feet. The last few minutes had felt like a dream. They had been taken in by the young faerie’s charms so thoroughly they’d practically forgotten to breathe. Neither Sofia nor Fleur wanted to acknowledge—not even to themselves—how tempted by the girl’s offer they had been. Now that she was gone, though, rationality prevailed.

Fleur clenched her fists. The fact that she found herself already missing Anatheia’s presence made her angry with both the Fae girl and herself. Her emotions had been toyed with; it felt like she had been violated. She glanced at Sofia, studied her expression. The pink-haired magical girl was looking down at her feet, rubbing her hand where the princess had touched her. What was she feeling, right now...?

“Let’s go back,” Effie said, picking up the mirror and handing it over to Fleur. “No use standing around here anymore.”


“Nice job, Lyn! Another win for you. Somehow, you’ve become the most reliable of the three of us.” The girl in green gave a gentle smile for her friend. It wasn’t returned, not really. Still, the look on Edelynn’s face wasn’t entirely hostile.

“The Lilin have proved to be more difficult to control than I had anticipated. I suppose it’s the nature of their powers. Selfish desires and dark fantasies amplified. At best, it’s going to be controlled chaos.”

“Mmm...” Ione said, walking over and gently grabbing her friend by her arm. The girl with the crimson lips flinched, just a bit. “So, what’s your secret? Is it in your method, in how you tempt them? Or is it some function of the items you give them? Or are you just more selective in picking your targets than Bet or I?”

“If...” Edelynn said, frowning a bit. She pulled her arm away. “If I had to choose between those options, perhaps I’d say I’m selective. I choose those with more capacity for long term planning. I give them what they want, and I instruct them to stay in hiding and build up their power before engaging those who could threaten them. I suppose it does not always work. The Auric Padishah seemed promising at first, but she lost control of her desires. And she paid the price for it.”

The other girl nodded. “I think I get what you mean. You have a knack for picking the clever ones. I wish I had your foresight. I always end up getting drawn to those who feel like they could use some help. I just can’t resist someone in plight.” She sighed.

“It’s not a bad approach, giving the powers to those who truly want and need them. Higher compatibility leads to better results. It leads to the Lilin starting out stronger and having a higher potential overall.” The red-haired girl’s tone was dry. She wasn’t praising the other girl; she was simply describing things as they were.

“Oh, you’re making me blush,” Ione said, eliciting another annoyed little frown from her friend. “I’m doing what I can, but it’s going to take a lot of practice before I can match you. I’m so happy that you believe in me, though!”

Edelynn scoffed. “You’re doing better than Lilibeth is. I don’t understand what she thinks she’s doing. Picking her targets at random, forcibly turning them into Lilin and leaving them with minimal guidance and vague instructions. She’ll accomplish nothing, at this rate.”

“Quantity over quality... maybe? She’s been hard at work, too. She just needs a little practice.”

“The Empress has personally tasked us with finding her daughter. This is no time for practice. She will want results, and if Lilibeth is unable to provide them, she’ll find no place in Her Grace’s new world.”

“Aww, Lyn,” Ione said, hugging the pale girl from behind. “You should believe in your friends. In me and Lilibeth, and Trudi, too. We’re all going to be together in the end, I just know it.”

Edelynn let out an exasperated noise, wriggling herself free. “...I suppose that would be the best end result, yes,” she said, walking back her laboratory without another word.

Ione smiled. Changed as she might’ve been, Lyn was still Lyn deep inside.

Chapter Text

”That’s not really my job, you know. You should ask La... what do you mean she’s asleep?!”

Though she’s youngest of the three Moirai, the girl speaking is a full head taller than the middle sister. She frowns deeply, her eyes filled with life that simply isn’t present in the gaze of her siblings. She is, after all, the Ninth, the artist with the spindle, far closer to humanity than the other two.

Looking at her visitor, she shakes her head. “You know the rules, right? Even you can’t force me to do anything I don’t want to. And if you try making demands, I’m going to kick you out. Are we clear on this?”

The response she gets seems to satisfy her, if only a little. Crossing her arms, she huffs. “I don’t see things the way she does, but I know the threads I spin. You want to see what I’ve done? Then, go ahead. Take a peek.” The finger she points with is long and dexterous. The thread she shows is yet unfinished. A work in progress.

“No,” she says, anticipating the visitor’s question. “The Princess of Flowers had no interest in doing anything so rash. You want to know what she’s thinking? Too bad. You’ll just have to wait and see.” She seems to take some satisfaction in denying her guest’s request.

“...I did,” she says, answering the second question. Backtracking on her thread and pointing out a branch. “Here, see?”

The battle against the golden woman. The three champions are at their wit’s end, desperate to put an end to their enemy. In the main branch—the one currently being spun—they handle themselves well. But mistakes happen when cooler heads do not prevail.

“You want my help? Too bad. I’m busy, so you’re on your own. You can keep looking if you don’t distract me from my work.”


The zig-zagging beam of gold whizzed right by Bloom Hope’s left ear. “Eek!”

“Focus!” Bloom Sky said, rushing to protect her allies. “Spiral Shield!” The blue-white lines of energy formed a spiral in the air, blocking another erratic ray cast forth from the Lilin’s golden amulet.

“R-right! Wish Attraction!” She tried to tug the amulet away from her opponent’s hands, but the Lilin was holding on too tight. She inhaled deep, and—

“Burst...!” A little figure appeared on the rooftop. The magical girl’s leg glowed bright yellow as she jumped off the roof to deliver an axe kick aimed straight at the Lilin.

Bloom Lux had been just a bit too hasty. She had agreed to wait for an opening before revealing herself, but she had misread the situation, believing that Hope’s attack had successfully disarmed the Auric Padishah. Without missing a beat, the golden woman turned her green eyes towards the new threat, exhaling a cloud of glittery golden smoke towards her.

“...Me—ah!”

“Lux! W-Wish Attra—” Hope tried to yell, attempting to tug Lux back from the cloud of smoke, but she was too slow. The young magical girl had already fallen through it, painfully landing on the ground next to the Padishah, unconscious before she had even hit the ground.

The golden woman lifted up her amulet again, conjuring up a barrage of a dozen warped rays of gold aimed at the remaining two magical girls. Sky lifted up her barrier again, blocking the shots. “Spiral Shield! Hope, we have to—”

The attack had been a distraction enough. The Lilin lifted up the small magical girl’s body off the ground, holding her in her arms. Their bodies were already dissipating into glittering dust. She was retreating into her Lunaciasphere, and if she was allowed to fully vanish, there’d be no way to follow.

“Lux!” Hope yelled, rushing forwards with Sky. The Padishah vanished right before they had managed to grab their friend, but the gateway was still flickering, partially open. If previous experience had taught them anything, it’d be gone within a second.

“No! Don’t follow her!” Edeltrude yelled, but to no avail. Sofia and Fleur had already rushed in, vanishing into golden dust as the gate closed behind them.


Golden smoke. It had filled her lungs, blinded her, made her limbs heavy and her mind cloudy. That had been all that had greeted Sofia after stepping through that barrier and entered the pseudoreality created by the Lilin’s dark magic. Together with Fleur, they’d been incapacitated within seconds. And then... and then what?

The magical girl opened her eyes, slowly. It took some effort: her eyelids felt heavy. So did the rest of her body. She wasn’t in pain, she didn’t even feel particularly tired. It was just as if her body had been made out of lead and she simply didn’t have the strength to move it.

The room she was in was circular in shape. The walls were white marble, the floor covered with a thick, plush carpet. Sofia herself had been laid on a pile of colourful satin pillows, improbably soft and luxurious, arranged under her for maximum comfort. There were gold-framed mirrors on the walls, elaborately embroidered silk fabrics hanged from the ceiling and a beautiful gold chandelier illuminating the room with soft, pleasant light. It was like a palace from fairy tales, too ostentatious and beautiful to be real.

And it clearly wasn’t. This wasn’t the real world. Realising where she was, Sofia began to struggle, trying to force her listless body to move. “U-ugh... L-Lux, Sky, where...” she mumbled, managing to almost lift her upper body up... only to find herself gently pressed down again.

“Shh. Please, relax. Your friends are safe, and so are you. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

Only then did Sofia realise she wasn’t alone. Turning her head, she saw two girls, teenagers older than her—and though they had changed since then, she could recognise them from the news reports. The Padishah’s first victims, the two girls she had stolen away on her very first appearance nearly a week ago. Sofia had wondered what had become of them, and now she had her answer.

Clad in red silks that left little to imagination, the two girls had been given a through makeover. With glossy golden lips and long golden nails, dark, dramatic eyeshadow around their eyes, the once ordinary looking girls now seemed exotic and sensual. Their irises had turned a beautiful golden hue as well, giving them a slightly inhuman look, marking their transformation in the Lilin’s hands.

Their costume covered very little, consisting of transparent harem trousers and a silk wrap to cover their chest—the red cloth was thin enough for Sofia to see the shape of their bodies even through it. Both of them were heavily adorned with golden jewellery, with a plethora of bracelets and anklets jingling against each other, layered necklaces, navel piercings and long teardrop earrings inlaid with rubies.

Whatever had been done to them had brought out all of their hidden sensuality. Their hair had been cut to perfection, even the golden toenails left exposed by their heeled sandals finely manicured. The subtle jasmine perfume they wore was exotic and suggestive, every little movement of their body graceful and deliberate. They were beautiful, but it all felt wrong. This wasn’t who they truly were. Sofia could sense the Lilin’s dark influence on them. The Auric Padishah had changed them, remade them. These girls were meant to be normal students with friends and a loving family. Instead, they had been made into harem maidens, warped to the Lilin’s whims.

“L-let go!” Sofia said, trying to wriggle free from the grip of the scantily clad minions. It was a pointless endeavour. They barely had to use any strength to keep the magical girl down—and even if they hadn’t, she’d have been too weak to get up anyway.

Sofia felt all wrong. She was still in her magical girl form, complete with her pink costume and bright pink hair—but she felt no powers within her. Had the golden smoke she inhaled stripped her of her powers, or was it a property of the Lunaciasphere itself? She was as weak and helpless as a baby. Fear gripped her heart. What were her options? What was going to happen to her?

“Such a cute costume. Does it not get stuffy, though?” one of the girls asked.

The other one giggled. “I want to see what you look like underneath...” she said, reaching down to take off Sofia’s heeled shoes and peel down her white pantyhose.

Sofia’s heart skipped a beat. “W-w-w-what are you doing? Stop! NO!”

The magical girl’s protests went to deaf ears. It took the older girls only a moment to strip off the rest of the costume as well, leaving only the silver tiara on her head. They had undressed her like a doll, her dress and the pink bra underneath carelessly discarded to side. Lying there, fully in the nude, her slender body exposed, Sofia’s magenta eyes were filled with tears of shame. Being naked was bad enough—she couldn’t remember the last time anyone had seen her in the nude. It was made far worse still by the unashamed curiosity of the harem girls as they carefully studied her body, hungrily eyeing her developing chest and the virgin slit hid by her tightly closed legs.

“You’re so pretty,” one of the girls said, tracing a fingertip over her bare stomach. The magical girl gasped; as heavy as her body felt, it was as sensitive as it’d ever been. “So young, but so pretty. Mistress is going to love you. You’ll make for a fine maiden to serve her.”

“No... no...” Sofia mumbled, shaking her head in disbelief. She didn’t want to be like these girls. She didn’t want herself to be seen like this. “What are you doing? Where... are my friends?” she finally asked, the sense of dread further rising within her chest.

“Shh,” one of the girls said, pressing her finger gently against her lips. “No questions. You’re so tense, you poor thing. Your head so full of thoughts and fears. Mistress has asked us to give you a proper welcome, to make you feel the best you’ve ever felt. This won’t do at all.” Reaching down as if to kiss the magical girl, she softly exhaled—glittery golden smoke escaping her lips.

Sofia coughed. Her body felt even heavier, now, a haze falling over her mind. She was still scared out of her wits, but the clouds in her mind made it more difficult to focus on it—to focus on anything. “P-please don’t. I’ve never... I’ve never...” she mumbled, not finding the right words. With a soft little laugh, the other of the harem girls leaned in closer, focusing on Sofia’s magenta eyes.

“You’ve never what? You’ve never slept with anyone?” she asked, her voice soft and mellow.

The pink-haired girl sniffed and gave a tiny little nod.

“Have you ever touched yourself down there? Have you ever made yourself feel good?”

“N-no,” Sofia sobbed, her gaze fixated on those golden eyes. “So please, don’t...”

The golden-eyed took Sofia’s hand to her own, squeezing it gently, kissing her fingers. “There’s no need to be scared. We’ll be gentle. We won’t hurt you. We just want you to be comfortable and enjoy yourself, so please, relax. Don’t you feel good right now? It’s not too cold, it’s not too hot. The pillows under you are soft. You’re a beautiful girl, and we only want to make you happy.”

Whether it was the girl’s gaze, or her soft words, or effects of the golden smoke filling up her mind, Sofia couldn’t help but to relax. Her heartbeat slowed, tension in her body melting away. The other girl leaned closer again. “Are you ready?”

Sofia wasn’t, but she didn’t have time to protest: the harem girl’s golden lips had already wrapped against her own. Having never kissed anyone like this before, Sofia didn’t know what to expect; she found her own lips being forced open, the older girl suckling on them, forcing her tongue inside. It was a passionate kiss, an adult one, unlike any she had ever witnessed first-hand. Her first instinct was to reject it, to try to pull her head away, but as soon as the golden smoke began pouring down her throat again, she found her resistance crumbling. Weakly, clumsily, she found herself responding to the kiss, her own tongue awkwardly trying to meet the other’s.

And then it was over. The jewelled girl had pulled back, a thin line of saliva between their mouths breaking mid-air. Sofia panted weakly, her magenta eyes unfocused, a shudder of pleasure and heat passing through her body. “Good girl,” the older girl said, praising her, kissing her on the forehead. “Close your eyes. Let us take care of you for now.”

Some part of her still wanted to resist, but she felt too weak. She didn’t want to fight anymore. The haze of pleasure was far preferable to the cold fear from earlier, and if obeying the girls would help her banish that feeling, she’d be more than happy to do so.

“Open your legs, please,” came the request, and with some dread, the magical girl did just so. She sobbed again as she felt the light touch of fingers tracing a path over her girlhood, but once again, the fear melted away into a cry of pleasure as she felt a finger slowly slide in, deliberately brushing against her clit.

“You’re such a cute girl,” the other girl whispered into her ear, her hands moving to cup Sofia’s small breasts, gently squeezing them, pinching her nipples between her thumb and her index finger. There was another little cry from the magical girl, her body tensing up as a jolt of pleasure pierced through.

“I’m... I’m still not... ready, I...” Sofia said, desperation in her voice. The older girls laughed softly, one of them kissing her on the cheek.

“But you are ready. You’re already so wet. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure your first time will be as pleasant as it can possibly be...”

The further protests went ignored. One of the girls kissed her neck, licked her breasts, pinched  her nipples and held her tight. The other one slowly, meticulously, slid her finger in and out of the magical girl’s virgin sex, her bracelets jingling rhythmically as her hand moved.

They took their time, meticulously bringing Sofia closer and closer to her peak—and as soon as she climaxed, a weak whimper escaping her, one of the girls leaned in to kiss her again. Exhaling deeply, deeply, filling her lungs with golden smoke, holding the trembling girl close and not letting her go.

“Did that feel good?” one of the girls finally asked. They were holding her close, gently kissing the back of her neck. Sofia nodded, even though she didn’t know what she was feeling right now. Her head was empty, and she felt emotionally numb. She’d never felt as good as she had right then; she had never felt so scared or violated, either. Now, cuddling with the girls who had played with her body against her will, breathing in their jasmine scent, she didn’t know what to think.

They had cleaned up her tear-stained face with a silk scarf—then bringing it down to brush her thighs clean as well. They’d brought in a plate of grapes and dark chocolate and citrus-scented water for her to drink. Now they were hand-feeding her and playing with her hair. Sofia didn’t find it in herself to resist. She had no pride left, not anymore. “...What’s going to happen to me? Where are my friends?” she asked, only to find a finger pressing against her lips again.

“There’s no need to worry about such things. Are you feeling sleepy? You can sleep,” one of the girls said, again leaning to kiss her on the top of her head. “We’ll be here when you wake up. I promise.”

Sleep did sound good. Sofia didn’t have the energy to think anymore. Closing her eyes, she drifted away into deep slumber, still held tightly by the golden-eyed girls. “Doesn’t it feel good?” they said, though it could’ve just been a dream. “To just let go and be guided? To stop thinking and let yourself be loved...”


“A-ah!”

“That was a cute sound just now, Fleur. You’re such a sweet thing.” The golden-eyed girls giggled together.

“I-it’s because you touched...!” the blue-haired girl protested, but she made no movement to resist. She hadn’t, for a while now.

“Shh. Let us take care of you. It’s alright, you don’t have to hold back. Make all the sounds you want. Oh, and it looks like you’ve gotten wet again; don’t worry, we’ll clean it up for you.” Fleur could feel the touch of a silk cloth between her legs; she buried her head into her arms in shame.

“Let’s continue, shall we?” The girl behind her asked, putting her warm hands back on her shoulders, resuming the massage. Fleur could feel the tension in her body melting away, her whole being shuddering with pleasure. Another one of the harem girls had just finished filing her toenails and was now painting them with a golden sheen. She had been bathed by them, had her hair washed by them. They had dried her off and laid her down, given her a massage and a manicure. What little protests she had left had fallen to deaf ears, as usual.

How had it come to this? How long ago was it that she had been caught? A full day, perhaps, or closer to two? She had tried to fight back at first, of course, but there was nothing she could do. And soon enough, there had been nothing she had needed to do. The girls took care of everything; feeding her, cleaning her, pleasuring her, telling her what to feel and what to think. She sniffed; the feeling of helpless frustration was still there, but the touch of the girls’ hands felt so good, their sweet voice banishing all protests that she tried to muster.

She looked at her hands, at her perfectly manicured golden nails, barely suppressing another moan as she felt a light slap against her buttocks. Another wave of shame passed through her. Since when had something like that felt so good? Since when had she become like this?

“Let’s get you turned around, shall we?” they said, helping the blue-haired girl turn on her back, bringing her a pillow to rest her neck comfortably against. The girls had prepared something for her: golden lipstick and eyeshadow, jingling golden jewellery adorned with sky-blue gemstones. Once again, she wanted to protest, but the words died in her throat as she saw the pretty smiles of the older girls.

“The piercings might hurt a little, but soon we’ll have you as beautiful as you can be. Mistress will be pleased. You want to be pretty for her, right?” they asked. “Oh, please don’t cry. Here, here...”

Bringing a silk cloth to her face, they gently dabbed away Fleur’s tears. It’s not that she didn’t want this: she did. She did want to be pretty for Mistress. She was losing herself, and there was nothing she could do.


Effie breathed in deep. The incense burner behind her was spreading the glittery golden smoke through the room. The more she breathed, the easier it was for her to not think. The less she thought, the better she danced. The better she danced, the sooner she’d be able to meet her Mistress.

She could see herself reflect in the mirrors on the walls. Her small body, light yellow silk covering her flat chest and her narrow waist. A childish figure, compared to the fellow maidens watching the display—but she moved so beautifully, with such grace, that it didn’t matter. Her layered necklace, her anklets and bracelets, her chandelier earrings, all making their own rhythmic sounds as she moved with the music, letting her passions guide her step. The topaz jewel on her navel glittered in the light of the braziers, few droplets of sweat glistening on her skin.

The room clapped after she’d finished her dance. One of the maidens pulled her close, kissing her quickly on the lips. “Well done! Such a beautiful dance. There’s not much more for us to teach you.”

Effie felt proud, accepted. Looking into the mirror, comparing herself with the others, she already felt like one of them. Inviting golden lips, long golden nails, only a single detail marring her perfection. Her eyes, surrounded by dark makeup, had not yet changed. They had the bright yellow tone of her magical girl form, not the dull golden beauty that the other maidens possessed. But that, too, would soon change.

“Thank you,” she said in a clear voice. “Is there is any other way I may serve?” She already had an idea what would be asked of her, but it was not proper to make assumptions. She would be told what she would do. That was her lot in life, that was her joy.

“Mistress will expect you to fulfil her every need,” the older girl said, leaning down and whispering the instructions into the former magical girl’s ear.

Effie smiled and kneeled, pulling down the other maiden’s harem trousers, leaning in to kiss her shaved sex. She breathed in deep. The more she breathed, the easier it was for her to not think...


The Auric Padishah laid on her bed, eyeing the newly trained servants. Ordinarily, she would’ve had half a dozen harem maidens in her room at all times, pampering and pleasuring her—but she had sent them away for now, wishing to give her full attention to the three girls in front of her. They were younger than the others she had captured, but oh-so-cute; and the dark glow of the tainted shards within them was a treasure she could now finally possess.

It had taken some effort from her servants to erode away the girls’ will, but it appeared they had succeeded. Clad in pink, blue and yellow silks, adorned with gold, they were obediently standing before their new Mistress, their faces submissively downcast, a dull look in their eyes.

“Sofia, was it?” she asked. The pink-haired one took one step forward.

“Yes, Mistress.” As much as she tried to conceal it, the Padishah could sense both eagerness and anxiety within her otherwise clear voice. It amused her. It would take some more training to wash away such imperfections, but they were acceptable for now. In a sense, they only served to make her seem even sweeter.

“Come to me.”

The pink-haired girl obeyed, climbing onto the bed to be with her Mistress, presenting herself for inspection. The Padishah smiled, stroking the girl’s thigh absent-mindedly as she looked over her. She had a slender body and a cute face. She was already looking forward to having it between her legs. “Sofia,” she finally said. “You and your companions fought against me. You opposed me, tried to destroy me.”

There was no response. No doubt the pink-haired girl was feeling guilt and regret, but she had been explicitly trained not to show negative emotions.

“Despite that, would you now wish to serve me? To dedicate your soul and body to me, become a maiden of my eternal palace?”

“Yes, Mistress,” came the response again. Just a little dreamy and wistful.

“Then, you must give up everything. Your former life, your memories, your friends and your family. Your name, your soul, your existence as a human,” she said, leaning just a bit closer to whisper into her ear. “You’ll be nothing but my shadow. A fixture of my palace. Eternally a slave. Is this your wish, Sofia?”

The pink-haired girl’s heart beat a bit faster. “...Yes, Mistress,” she said, shivering a bit. The other girls were still standing by the doorway, waiting for their turn, reacting in no way.

“Then...” the Padishah said, pushing the former magical girl onto her bed. “Be mine.”

She locked her lips with Sofia’s own. Exhaling deeply, letting her golden smoke fill not just her lungs, but her very essence. It burned away everything it touched: her memories, her name, her sense of self. It painted over her soul with gold, depriving her of her humanity, eternally binding her to the Lilin who had claimed her. It consumed the crystal shard within her, making it her Mistress’ own. She didn’t struggle; there was just a helpless little moan as the girl who she used to be was finally extinguished.

When the Auric Padishah pulled away, the girl who had once been Sofia opened her now-golden eyes. There were just a few tears on her cheeks. That much was to be expected.

“Thank you, Mistress,” she whispered, a little smile on her golden lips.