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Shattered Skies: The Morning Lights

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Chapter 46: The Non-Canonical Lunatic Crack Chapter II: Son of the Non-Canonical Lunatic Crack Chapter: SHATTERED SKIES 5th Anniversary Special: Going Behind the Scenes, Further Demolishing the Long-Suffering Fourth Wall, and Utilizing an Absurdly, Unnecessarily Lengthy Chapter Title

THE LIGHTHOUSE—As I arrive at the Crossroads, situated directly beneath the Lighthouse's towering central spire, I wonder to myself if I'm perhaps getting in a bit over my head. I, a humble journalist, assigned to give a behind-the-scenes peek at perhaps the greatest gathering of magical girls the multiverse has ever seen... Am I qualified for this?

I don't have long to doubt myself. The gateway to Vertex Point Three ripples, and out steps a young girl with wavy magenta hair, her eyes bright and her step bouncy. For reasons I can't begin to understand, she wears a pink flight attendant's uniform. Spotting me, she approaches at a run… and trips over her own feet no more than five strides in. She tumbles and rolls to a stop in a supremely undignified position, and from the tangle of limbs comes a curious exclamation: "Mechokku~!"

Gingerly I approach her, cautious about offering my hand. "Are you all right, Miss…?"

She is up and about in no time, as if this is a normal occurrence for her. "Nono!" she answers me with a beaming grin. She pinwheels one arm, then the other, as if winding up for a pitch. "Hana Nono! I'm thirteen years old!"

Judging by her height, I would have pegged her as a few years younger than that, but I let it slide.

"And you must be Yamada-san, right?" she asks me. I answer in the affirmative, and she bows. "Pleased to meet you, Yamada-san! I've been assigned to get you started and show you around! I'm not technically part of the cast, but I'll be happy to answer any questions I can!"

"'Technically?'" I ask.

Hana's face falls. Her steps become a little softer. "Well, yeah. I appeared for a little bit about ten chapters back, when that 'entity' thing appeared. That was sorta it for all the Precure after Haruka's team."

I'm not unaware of that notorious scene, but I press on. "Did doing that chapter upset you?"

"Yeah," she admits. Her shoulders slump, but her smile returns quickly. "But it's okay! I hear that me and my friends are favorites around here." She tips me a wink and drops her voice to a whisper. "Word came down that my scene was one of the hardest to write. So we'll be back… I'm not sure how, but I promise you, we'll be back."

"But can you really promise that, though? Isn't this all non-canonical?"

Hana has to think about that for a few moments. Eventually, she laughs. "Don't worry about it! It wouldn't be me if I didn't believe in the future! Canon or no canon, a promise from Hana Nono is a promise... you can put that down."

"Already done. I'm sure that will be a comfort to many people."

She shrugs. "The ones who are still reading, anyway. We're gonna be awesome when we show up, I know it. Ah, here we are! Welcome to the party!"

As I pass through the Vertex Point Three doorway, an astonishing spectacle meets my eyes. Spread out over an endless series of grassy, sun-drenched hills are the magical girls, seemingly all of them: the Sailor Senshi, the Cardcaptor and her friends, over a hundred Precure, dozens of mages from the Time-Space Administrative Bureau, Puellae Magi from every era, and their numerous allies. Nor are they the only ones; with just a glance, I confirm that far more than the familiar inhabitants of the five primary Vertices, the so-called "Big Five", are present. I see Magic Knights and Hero Club members and Devil Hunters, witches and angels and princesses and idol singers and superheroines, every possible variant and everything in between. It truly is a gathering for the ages; odds are, if you can think of them, they're here.

There is no lack of exciting people or things to look at. There is an expansive stage set up with enough microphones and instruments for a full orchestra, presumably for the many singers and musicians in attendance to hold an informal joint concert if they wish. Food is spread out on picnic tables on what seems to be a central pavilion, and from my position I can see vendors at stalls handing out simmering bowls of ramen noodles and udon, freshly fried takoyaki dripping with sauce, okonomiyaki off the griddle, rice balls, meat buns, pizza… and sweets of all kinds, of course. Farther along is what appears to be a multi-purpose sports field, with a rousing soccer game already in progress.

People are everywhere, a rainbow of faces. Picnic blankets are spread all over the hills, people are sitting or standing or lying upon them, eating, laughing, dozing, playing games, or simply watching the spectacle. Small creatures of an array of shapes zoom back and forth, some seemingly Earth animals or derived from such, others more fantastical. Everyone, to a one, seems happy… even the more stoic among them seem to be enjoying themselves.

I can't help myself. My jaw falls open.

"Yeah," says Hana, grinning at my expression. "It's a Mega-Mechokku, isn't it? Anyway, just call for Hana if you need help finding anybody, I'm sure somebody will get word back to me. I'll be with my friends, we gotta look after the baby. Good luck with your article! Hooray, hooray, Yamada-san!" says Hana, bursting into a spontaneous cheer. Her arms pinwheel again. "Go for it, go for it, oh!" And then she is gone, racing toward one particular blanket among who knows how many.

I roll up my sleeves. It's time to get to work.


The Might-Have-Beens

"We're probably one of the most well-known groups of magical girls to be left out of the story," says one Ichigo Momomiya, alias Mew Ichigo. I catch her on break from serving sweets with her friends from the Mew Mew Café. Collectively known as Tokyo Mew Mew, today they are serving as temporary wait staff for the KiraKira Patisserie, while the employees of the latter cook and decorate confections at a furious pace for the massive number of visitors who cannot seem to get enough of their products. "I know a lot of people asked why we weren't there."

"Does it bother you that you and your friends weren't selected?" I ask.

"Nyah, not really," she says. As we speak, I notice that Ichigo seems to have sprouted a cat's tail. It swishes back and forth, and Ichigo does not seem to notice its presence. She blushes, for reasons apparently unrelated to the tail. "I guess for a while we were all a little bit irritated that the Á La Mode Cures got to be involved and we didn't… since we did do the whole animals-and-sweets thing first. But Ichika's really nice, you know?" She smiles a distinctly feline smile. "When we met her and her friends, we just couldn't stay mad at them. We might do a crossover in the future."

As if summoned, Ichika Usami, Cure Whip, comes stumbling over the nearest hill, her orange pigtails streaming behind her. "Ichigo-chan! Ichigo-chan! Oh, hi! Yamada-san, right? Sorry to interrupt," she tosses off to me. I dutifully reply that it's all right, and continue taking notes. "You've gotta come quick, Kero-chan's back and he wants elevenths of the Tiger Custard Pudding…"

"Oh no," Ichigo moans. "Who let him back in?! It was Bu-ling, wasn't it?"

"Er, actually, I think it was Yukari-san… You know her sense of humor..."

"God, he'll eat your entire store if someone doesn't stop him! Sorry, Yamada-san, I have to go!"


 "Well, sure," says Hibiki Tachibana, wielder of the Gungnir Symphogear. "We would have come if we were asked, absolutely!"

"It was a matter of timing," says her companion, Tsubasa Kazanari, stern and resolved.

"It's a matter of bullshit is what it is," Chris Yukine mutters with a frown, crossing her arms beneath her bountiful assets.

"Chris-chan!" Hibiki bows to me. "Sorry about that."

"No problem at all," I say. "But from what I understand, the six of you have taken on more than a few armies and cosmic forces by yourselves. Don't you think you would have been valuable allies to the Lights?"

Hibiki rubs the back of her head in a sheepish manner. "Well, er, here's the thing. We ran a simulation, a sort of hypothetical thing, and..."


-VERTEX SIX: 1.3509744-

Lydian Music Academy, Kamakura

The broken skies swirled with bruised purple clouds as Joker descended, his prisoner in tow, cackling at the six girls on the school grounds below. "As you can see, mademoiselles," he sneered, "I have your precious Miku Kohinata right he—"

Hibiki Tachibana cocked her gauntlet.

Joker stared. "Did… did you just turn your arm into a rocket engine?"

She had. And now she catapulted herself at him, the gauntlet's internal turbines kicking up a whining howl as she sang out a battle anthem at the top of her lungs. The gauntlet spewed flames and exhaust as it sheathed her fist in layers upon layers of protective armor, generating mass from nowhere until it expanded to ten times its original size.

"Oh, fu—" was all Joker was able to get out before Hibiki's gargantuan metal fist collided with him like the impact of a meteor, reducing him to a greasy black smear on her knuckles.

THE END


"... so the official reason is that we're, well, overpowered," Hibiki finishes, more sheepish than ever.

"Still bullshit," says Chris. "It's total favoritism. Homura got in, and she's the Devil. So did Madoka, and Sailor Saturn, and Cardcaptor Sakura for that matter..."

I turn to Chris as Hibiki sits back down to continue her lunch at the urging of her ABSOLUTELY CANON WIFE, Miku. "Does being excluded affect your relationship with the magical girls from other Vertices?"

"Hmm? Nah." Chris shrugs. "Most of us are getting along fine… we're great with Doremi's team, the Mermaid Princesses, and the Suite Cures especially. The only ones having trouble are the girls from Raising Project. They're terrified we're going to stab them in the back or something if they look at us wrong. Everybody loves using their little Monokuma-wannabe mascot thing as a hacky sack, though."

"On that subject… you girls may be the only magical girl team without a mascot of some kind. Care to comment on that?"

"Mascots are weird." Chris's snowy brows wrinkle. "It took a long time to get used to the Precure ones especially. Like, I can't figure out which ones are doing the verbal tics as a reflex thing and which ones are doing it on purpose. And at least a couple of them transform into hot guys, and I hear some of the Cures date them. However that works, I don't wanna know."

"I can understand that."

"But no, it doesn't really bother me." Again she shrugs. "Kirika freaking loves them, I think she'd take them all home if she could."

As if on cue, a swarm of at least two dozen squealing fairies stream past us. They are followed by what looks like a large collection of wriggling stuffed animals having spouted human legs, specifically legs wearing black-and-green striped stockings. From somewhere in the conglomeration, Kirika Akatsuki's voice emerges: "Hey, wait! Come back! Just let me hug a couple more, I'm begging ya! DEEEEEEEEEATH!" The last word emerges in a mournful wail.

"For cryin' out loud..." Chris sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose between two fingers. "Kirika, you moron, that's why they keep running from you…"


"Frankly, I don't even know why we're here," says Kagami Hiiragi, brushing a lavender pigtail back over one shoulder. "We're only magical girls in Stars Above, and that's been over for five years now. This cameo is pretty much pointless."

Her best friend, the diminutive Konata Izumi, is nearly vibrating with excitement. "Are you kidding, Kagamin?! Look at all the people here! We've got Sailor Moon, Sakura, all the Precures… I'm gonna need at least a hundred autograph books!"

"Oh, I know you're thrilled." Kagami rolls her eyes. "You're the only one who can remember all their names,"

"Not true at all~. You should meet Yayoi-chan, and that girl Yumi from the Symphogear Vertex. They may be even bigger otaku than I am."

Kagami makes a face of utter horror at the prospect. "Oh god."

"I really liked meeting Sakura-chan," says Tsukasa Hiiragi, Kagami's twin. Her eyes sparkle. "We talked for hours, and we have so much in common! And she looks so cute in the costumes Daidouji-san makes for her…" Overcome with emotion, she blushes and puts her hands to her cheeks. "Hanyaaan…"

Miyuki Takara adjusts her round glasses and puts down her bento box. "I am impressed by the turnout, even if there are still a few missing. Obviously, it's impossible to gather all magical girls, given that there are so many variations on the genre, but —"

"Speaking of magical girls…" From out of nowhere, a new face has appeared among them. I recognize him as Takashi Yamazaki, a classmate of Sakura Kinomoto's. He points a declarative finger upward. "Did you know that the first magical girls weren't Little Witch Sally or Akko-chan? There were actually a group of magical girls that protected Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Edo period..."

Tsukasa listens with rapt attention, Konata with barely suppressed giggles, and Kagami with slowly building annoyance. Miyuki attempts to interject many times, but is unsuccessful.

"They were called the Kyojin Maho Musume," says Yamazaki, "and they were five female samurai who got their powers from yokai blood. Each one could grow to enormous size to combat anyone or anything that tried to harm Shogun Ieyasu, but when they battled like that, they left giant footprints all over Kyoto. And that's where all of the lakes in the area come from, and why all of those lakes are so sparkly at night, because of lingering magical power—" Yamazaki's story is briefly halted by the appearance of his significant other, Chiharu Mihama, who seizes him by the collar and drags him off with long-practiced ease, shaking her head in disgust. Somehow undeterred, Yamazaki continues long after we are unable to hear him: "... and speaking of lakes, did you know that in Finland there's a species of aquatic moose that lives in freshwater lakes? Their antlers have evolved into flippers, and…"

Unable to restrain herself any longer, Konata bursts into laughter. "Wasn't that great? An authentic Yamazaki-kun story, right from the source! Nobody lies like he does!"

Tsukasa blinks in confusion. "Eh? That was a lie?"


Relative Darkness

"Well, I mean, big threats pop up in our crossover movies all the time," says Nagisa Misumi, Cure Black, in between stuffing her face with takoyaki. "So Shattered Skies isn't that much different. Just on a way bigger scale."

"Nagisa, you have some sauce on your chin," says Honoka Yukishiro, Cure White. She reaches over to dab at Nagisa's face with a napkin.

"It's quite a bit darker than the ones you're used to, though, isn't it?" I ask.

"Mmmph. Yeah," says Nagisa after swallowing and taking a long pull at a bottle of green tea. "All of us Precure have been through our share of apocalypses and nasty villains, but nothing like in this story."

"Actually," says Honoka, "I think most people would be surprised with how many times the Earth has been destroyed—or nearly destroyed—in our franchise. Precure finales do tend to go rather big. But yes, it's certainly much darker than our canon."

"Are there any problems with that?"

It's Nanoha Takamachi who answers as she nibbles at a rice ball. "There's been a backlash from some readers, I've heard. Apparently the story is 'notorious' among certain groups of people."

Usagi Tsukino, Sailor Moon, crosses her arms and taps her foot rapidly. "It's not like my series didn't get dark at times, especially the end of the manga, but still! There's a point where it's just too much, you know? Sometimes I want to give whoever writes this stuff a piece of my mind..."

"Easy, Usagi-san." Sakura Kinomoto gently pats her shoulder. "My series got scary at times too, but then again, my series is technically part of Tsubasa. That's a little like Shattered Skies in terms of the scale and the threat level… From what I can understand of it, anyway. It gets really confusing."

"Um," says Madoka Kaname. "Ours is one of the darkest, so I'm used to it. I know a lot of people really, really hate the 'dark magical girl' subgenre, and a lot of the blame gets put on us for popularizing it…"

Homura Akemi takes her hand and leans close. "No one is blaming you, Madoka. And if they are, I'll kill them."

"Eh-heh… H-Homura-chan, you know I hate it when you joke like that…"

Our table abruptly has another occupant. If humans are that upset about it, says Kyubey, swishing his tail back and forth, there's a simple way that they can be rid of the subgenre altogether! Someone just needs to make a contract with me, and— A sudden shower of dinner rolls, hurled at him in disgust by all present, convinces him to make a hasty exit and take his sales pitch elsewhere.


What's In A Name?

"All right," I say to Hana after reconnecting with her an hour later. We sit at a picnic table amid many empty trays of takoyaki as I attempt to build an interview schedule. "I suppose I should talk to Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna for their perspective."

Hana sweats visibly. "Er, which ones?"

"The Sailor Senshi, not the Precure. After that, perhaps I could speak with Miyuki…"

"Wait, do you mean Miyuki Hoshizora, Miyuki Takara, or Miyuki Takamachi?"

"Hoshizora. I've already spoken to Takara, and Takamachi is more of a civilian."

"R-right, that's who I thought you meant, but I wanted to be sure."

This may present a problem. "Hmm. It might be easier if I use last names. I'll also need to talk to Hino, Aino, and Tomoe…"

"Ah, now you want the Sailor Senshi! No problem, I can get them right away—"

"No, I was referring to Cure Sunny, Cure Lovely, and Mami from Vertex Five."

"Mechokku~..." Hana slumps in defeat.

I check over my notes. "Wait a minute. There's four Madokas?!"

"Er, Aguri-chan, Kaguya-san, Komachi's sister, and Kaname-san."

"How did Akemi deal with that?"

"I'm... just gonna go ahead and assume you mean the teenager, not the baby. She called them all 'fake Madokas' and hasn't looked at them since."

"Don't tell me you think the baby is going to be a magical girl!"

"It's not like it hasn't happened before…"

Growing frantic, I flip back and forth through the pages. Certain names leap out at me repeatedly: Momoko, Momoka, Miki, Kurumi, Akane, Natsuki, Fujiwara, any number of Sakuras… and as a final, sadistic turn of the screw, I note that almost everyone from Vertex Five inexplicably has a surname that can also be used as a given name. A surge of intense pain races through my temples, and my vision goes black. When I come to my senses, I am lying face-up in the grass beneath the shade of an Immaterial elm tree, a cool rag on my head and a glass of water being raised to my lips by a volunteer nurse.


Sound-Alikes

"—and, and ya know, it's got this caramel twist in the middle, see? Not just a caramel center, but a twist. That's super important, 'cause it evenly distributes the caramel in with the cream! Otherwise, ya just have this big blob of caramel sittin' there… I mean, that's not bad, I'd still eat it, but it wouldn't taste as good as the twist. Ahhhhh, I tell ya, I could eat those every day, they'd go perfect with a couple dozen Marble Donuts, and Mami's peach pie, and maybe some of that Memory Mille-feuille from the KiraPati, that stuff is so light and crispy…"

Kerberos, also known as "Kero" or "Kero-chan", has been talking to me for the last hour and twenty-eight minutes. Our conversation stayed on topic for approximately two of those minutes before being rather spectacularly derailed. "Kerberos-san, if we may get back to my question…"

The small golden creature blinks at me. "Oh, right, right! What was it ya asked again?"

My eyebrow twitches. "I asked if there are any patterns that you observe across the spectrum of magical girls."

"Patterns?" Kero scratches his round chin. "Well, I gotta say it's weird that so many of 'em sound alike."

"What do you mean?"

"Like, the same voices keep poppin' up over and over. Like Sakura's brother and Mepple, Cure Black's fairy, for example. They don't sound identical, but for some reason they're close, especially when they yell. Or Usagi, Hummy, and the lady we know who works at the stuffed animal shop. Then there's Madoka and Hibiki… not the Precure Hibiki, the one who punches stuff. Or koumusume and Cure White and the teeny little computer fairy that Hayate has. And then there's Nanoha and that robot girl from Hugtto… and fer that matter, Fate and Cure Blossom and Tsubasa..."

Fascinated, I begin taking notes again. "Could this be evidence of an underlying connection between the Vertices?"

Kero shrugs. "Dunno. I'll tell ya what's weirdest, though: me and Sailor Mercury and Cure Moonlight and Admiral Lindy. We all got practically nothin' in common, but for some reason, we keep gettin' mistaken for one another."

"I can't imagine how that happens."

"Right?!" Kero crosses his arms and puts on an expression of almost unbearable smugness. One can almost see his head visibly swelling. "Those girls are nice and all, but how could ya ever mistake 'em for someone as cool and awesome as I am?"

"The mind boggles."


Tic Infestation

I am surrounded by mascots. Dozens of them waddle and float and jostle each other and squeal for attention all at once, but I try to keep my focus on my current subject. "So, is there any sort of organization among all of you? A fairy hierarchy of some kind? Who answers to who?"

The teddy bear smiles up at me. "Mofurun doesn't know, ~mofu! Mofurun's not a fairy like the others, ~mofu."

"I... see. But you do bear—sorry—some resemblance to… excuse me, what was your name?"

The other teddy bear, this one hovering close by, pipes up. "Lance, ~lance!"

"Lance-lance, got it."

"No, Lance, ~de lance!"

"Lance de Lance?"

"My name is Lance, ~de lance! Lance is Lance, ~de lance!"

One of the ground-bound fairies waves her tiny arms, a vaguely poodle-like pink one with long ears tipped with puffballs. Tears begin to well in her enormous auburn eyes. "You two have been talking to Yamada-san too long, ~lulu! Lulun wants a turn, ~lulu!"

"Lulun-san, if you could just wait a moment—"

It's no use. I get a brief glimpse of those auburn eyes wavering before she bursts into a strident tantrum. Her mouth seems to grow to four times its size as she wails: "Lululululululululu…"

"How is that crying?!" I attempt to ask as I plug my ears. The sound bores into my brain like a dental drill. Lulun's racket muffles my question, as does the flurry of responses that follow:

"What happened, ~puruns?"

"It's Lulun, ~nuts!"

"She got tired of waiting and started to cry, ~kuru!"

"Where's Popo, ~roma?"

"Which one is Popo…?" I shout. I am ignored.

"Lulun, don't cry, ~sharu! Popo will be here soon, ~sharu!"

"What do we do until then, ~jaba?"

"Try to cheer her up, ~desu!"

"Coco!"

"Coco~?"

"Do something, ~zo!"

"What do you want me to do, ~coco?"

"Anything, ~nya!"

"Cocooo~, what to do, ~coco… Ah, I know, ~coco! I'll go bring her some ice cream, ~coco!"

I feel a vein bulging in my forehead. Against my better judgment, I try to butt in again. "Could you all please—"

"Pekorin wants ice cream too, ~peko!"

"So do I, ~lapi!"

"Milk should go get it, ~ropu!"

"Why do I have to, ~miru?!"

"LULULULULULULULULU…"

And still the noise escalates:

"She's getting louder, ~pika!"

"What did you say, ~fupu?"

"I SAID, SHE'S GETTING LOUDER, ~PIKA!"

"Isn't Popo here yet, ~pafu?"

"Somebody should go find him, ~dabi!"

"I, THE GREAT ORESKY-SAMA, HAVE ARRIVED!"

One voice somehow drowns out all of them, and mercifully stops Lulun in mid-cry, stunning her and the others into disbelieving silence. The owner of that voice is not a fairy, and in fact is the near-total opposite: he is an adult man in a gamboge-colored military uniform, standing amid the fairies piled nearly up to the shins of his black boots as if he belongs there. "YOU THERE, JOURNALIST!" he bellows. With a crazed grin, he points to himself with one thumb as he addresses me. "YOU THOUGHT IT WAS ANOTHER FAIRY, BUT IT WAS ME, ORESKY! I HEREBY ALLOW YOU TO INTERVIEW ME! SUCH IS YOUR PRIVILEGE! REJOICE!"

Oresky's voice, delivered exclusively at a deafening volume, is ratcheting up the migraine that I feel coming on. "Who are you, and how did you even get here?!" I ask. It seems a sensible question.

"I, THE GREAT ORESKY-SAMA, AM HERE ON BEHALF OF ALL THE UNDER-REPRESENTED VILLAINS IN THIS STORY. OBVIOUSLY, I, THE GREAT ORESKY-SAMA, WAS THE MOST QUALIFIED TO SPEAK FOR THEM."

All the various mascots stare at him stupefied, and I join them. Something clicks within my aching brain. "Was… was that really a Jojo reference you made just now?"

"I, THE GREAT ORESKY-SAMA, HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. PUTTING THAT ASIDE, I, THE GREAT ORESKY-SAMA, HEREBY DEMAND AN APPEARANCE IN THE MAIN STORY."

"I don't think I have the authority to—"

"THE GREAT ORESKY-SAMA WILL NOT BE DENIED!"

"Wait a minute, ~mepo!" says Mepple, presumably exercising right of seniority. He is Cure Black's fairy. "Oresky's not a bad guy anymore, ~mepo! He got redeemed in the end of Happiness Charge, ~mepo!" A slow, wicked smile spreads across his pudgy face. "You know what that means? That means we're all friends now, ~mepo!"

Dozens of eyes turn to Oresky.

"I, THE GREAT ORESKY-SAMA, AM SUDDENLY VERY UNCOMFORTABLE," he says as sweat breaks out on his brow.

Mepple points up at him. "Everybody, group hug, ~mepo!"

"COCO~!"

"KURU~!"

"PURUNS~!"

Oresky goes down screaming, swarmed by fluffy, adorable creatures. He never has a chance.

I take the opportunity to excuse myself and run for the nearest vendor selling alcohol.


A Little Too Real

Many hours later, following a bottle of Wild Turkey (and a visit to Chief Nurse Balzac Yugo to resolve the subsequent hangover), I sit at a picnic table, poring over my progress. The party is settling down now, and most of the hundreds have returned back to their home Vertices. Still I remain, attempting to organize my many various interviews, recordings, and observations. Perhaps it's the lingering effects of the Wild Turkey, but I am having tremendous difficulty assembling them into a suitable form. There are so many things that I could write about for my article, had I the time, space, or ability... There was the epic pastry-eating contest between Yukito Tsukishiro, Urara Kasugano, Kyoko Sakura, and Ruru Amour, which came down to Ruru and Yukito and was narrowly won by the former. There was the massive fireworks display, which Nanoha Takamachi declared was "missing something," and which she promptly livened up with a display of her own, considerably more impressive pyrotechnics. There was the rousing success of the "Dunk Fantine for Charity" booth. And of course, there were the events that quickly gained the moniker of "The Jaundiced Chandelier Incident", which involved the consumption of unsafe amounts of pineapple tequila… the further details of which I should probably withhold, under threat of possible legal action against me.

I paw through my notes again. For all my work, the only things I have in printable condition are a series of loosely-connected humorous vignettes. The rest refuses to coalesce into anything resembling a coherent narrative. Despairing, I vent my frustration upon the garbage can which sits next to the picnic table, dealing it a swift kick.

"Ow, dammit!" a voice from within exclaims.

I stare. No one else seems to have noticed the voice. Mindful that I must appear extremely silly, I lean close enough to the mouth of the can to peer inside. "Hello…?"

There is a cool, electronic blue glow illuminating the inside of the can, shining off a pair of black-framed glasses with scratched, smudged lenses. The glasses sit atop a prodigious, beak-like nose, and I make out a few other features: a relatively thin face, deep-set blue-green eyes ringed by tired shadows, a high forehead, straight hair that is somewhere between light brown and dark blonde, a simple goatee, a long neck. I now hear a repetitive clacking noise, a rapid burr of fingers typing away at a keyboard.

"Hello?" I say again, fascinated.

"I heard you the first time," says the man in the garbage can.

On an impulse, I pick up my notes and begin to write once more. "Did… did you come here for the party?"

"Sorta," he says. The clacking of keys continues. "It was a last-minute decision."

I find I must ask the inevitable question. "Why are you in a garbage can?"

"It's a self-deprecation thing," he says. "Besides, it's safer for me in here. If word got around to the magical girls that I was here, I'd be love-rainbow-death-lasered into the next eon."

"And why would that be?"

The man gives me an incredulous look and rolls his eyes. "Because I'm the one that's been doing this shit to them for five years."

It clicks. My eyes widen. "Don't tell me, you're…"

"BHS," he says, shoving his glasses back into position with one finger. "'Frungy' to select people. Calm down, Neko."

The profound metaphysical implications of this do not escape me, but I push them aside for the moment, in favor of pressing deeper. "And you're here because…?"

"Because blowing the everliving hell out of the fourth wall was a highlight of the first Crack Chapter. Also because I couldn't think of any other way to end this one, and I was running out of time to finish it. The idea gave me a laugh, so here I am, desperately hoping I'm not the only one who thinks this bit is funny."

"Do you mean to say that you're—"

"Writing your lines for you as we speak? Eeyup." BHS pauses to take a swig from a bottle of Sparkling Ice®, strawberry-watermelon flavor by the looks of it.

I confess, I don't quite feel comfortable with the prospect of having my existence dictated for me. "How does this even work?" I ask, dreading the answer.

"Call it authorial privilege."

"That doesn't really answer my question…"

"Forty-six chapters into this monstrosity, and you're gonna question the insanity now?!"

I concede, he has a point. "So then," I ask, "as long as you're here… Do you have any insights as to your creative process?"

"Trust me," he says with a shudder, "you don't wanna know any more about my process than you have to. The details would probably make most professional writers tear their hair out."

"What about your motivation, then? How do you motivate yourself to keep working on a project this ambitious for so long?"

Another deep sigh. "If I could motivate myself with any degree of consistency, I'd probably be rich by now. Outside of rare bursts of inspiration, it's a matter of banging my head against a wall, sometimes literally, until I have a semi-coherent chapter. Other than that, I just live for the comments… them sweet, sweet comments."

"Is there any advice you'd like to give to people thinking of writing crossovers like yours?"

"Yeah," he says. "Don't. I am a crazy person. Do not try this at home, kids."

I pause. "That… that sounds like you don't particularly enjoy writing it."

"Not the case at all," says BHS. He smiles. "Being honest here, I'm having a blast with what I'm doing, even if getting it out is like pulling teeth sometimes. I love the characters, I love the magical girl genre, and I have nothing but gratitude for the people who have stuck with the story all this time. As long as people keep reading it and commenting on it, I'll keep plugging at it until it's done."

"And when will that be?"

He blows air through his lips. "Beats me. I just write the thing."

"One last question." I take a deep breath. "What would the magical girls do to me if they found out I didn't tell them about you?"

BHS is silent for a moment. Finally he says, "There's room in the garbage can. I'll scooch over."

FINALLY, THE END OF CHAPTER 46