Starlight - Book 1 in the Starlight Trilogy

After an enjoyably peaceful year living and attending university in the east coast town of Kamogawa in Japan, Meg Momozono finds herself thrust into an exhilarating and terrifying adventure of magical girls, fairies, and gods. And the discovery that not everything can be easily explained by science...

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20. Chapter 20

  In the dim, chilly darkness beneath the ice dome, Yasuko shuffled her way across to her friends and carefully shook Meg’s shoulder. “You alive?”

  Meg coughed and spluttered, but managed to sit up, clutching at her chest. “Yeah… though I kinda wish I wasn’t. Sharp pain… ribs…”

  “Probably broken,” Yasuko said in a soft tone. She pressed a hand to Meg’s chest and concentrated on knitting the bone back together, repairing ripped muscle and torn skin and bruised organs. “There, all better.”

  Nodding, Meg breathed in deep, enjoying the ability to do so without agonising pain. “Thanks. How’s Emilia?”

  “Not so hot,” Yasuko replied, shaking her head.

  Their friend was unconscious and badly bruised, but thanks to Meg breaking Emilia’s fall it seemed she wasn’t as injured as she might otherwise have been. Yasuko spread both hands over the prone form before her, a gentle blue-green glow lighting the area up as she used what remained of her own magic to restore her friend to health.

  Meg sighed. “First we get taken in by Tear, now this. Can’t help but think we’re not keeping up.” She looked down at herself, noting that her transformation had released. Probably a result of losing consciousness.

  “They certainly have an advantage with that Nami’el girl,” Yasuko murmured, her vision swimming a little. “Damn… not sure I have enough left to fully heal her.”

  “Where’s Lifa?” Meg asked, finally realising that their fairy friend had vanished ever since Nami’el’s appearance.

  “No idea, she was with Emicchi, last I saw her.”

  A groan accompanied Emilia regaining consciousness. She sat up, aided by Yasuko. “Ugh… getting really tired of waking up with bruises. Where are we?”

  “Oh, right,” Yasuko said, and dematerialised the ice dome. Upon doing so, she felt a surge of additional magical power. “Huh… seems I can replenish my magic by getting rid of something I already created. That’s handy.” She used the returned magic to fully heal Emilia, draining herself dry in the process.

  “Whoa, careful, Yacchan!” Emilia said, catching her friend as she fell forward into her arms.

  Blinking in the sudden daylight, Meg stood and surveyed the destruction. “Jeez… this is going to take some fixing. I hope Blue has enough energy.”

  Helping Yasuko to her feet and lending her a shoulder to lean on until they could find Lifa for a magic top up, Emilia tugged her phone out and activated the mirror attachment. Blue’s visage appeared, so she turned the phone around in order to give him a good view.

  He sighed. “I’ll deal with the fallout, I should be able to fix most of it. You did well, all three of you. Get some rest, babes!”

  “Any idea where Lifa went?” Emilia asked before she cut the connection.

  Blue pointed at her, indicating she should turn around.

  Emilia did so and there, floating towards them, was Lifa. “Where were you?” she asked, placing the phone back in her pocket.

  “Hiding,” Lifa said, coming to a halt in front of her partner. “This Nami’el character hasn’t seen me before, I felt it best we keep it that way for now.”

  “Good idea,” Emilia said, nodding. “Can you give Yacchan a top up, please? She used all her magic to heal us.”

  “Certainly,” Lifa said, and did as asked, casting her green restoration field over Yasuko as she had for Meg so many weeks ago.

  “How are you able to recharge our magic, Lifa?” Meg wondered, watching intently.

  “It would be as useful to ask why breasts produce milk, or why scorpions sting, or why birds fly,” said Lifa. Once done topping Yasuko up, she flew over to Meg. “As for the technical reason, I can act as a conduit through which magical energy is able to pass.”

  “In other words, you’re simply channelling magic from Ereth into us?” Yasuko suggested.

  “Quite so, yes.”

  The air shimmered and Blue appeared, stepping out from one of the few un-shattered windows nearby. “What a mess. Totally not groovy, nossir.” He focused his energies and concentrated on reforming and healing the destroyed buildings and streets, watched by an interested trio of girls.

  Meg’s face slowly morphed into one of abject shock as shattered concrete formed into solid form once more, broken windows melded back together, and plastics glued themselves into their original shapes.

  “Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” Emilia said.

  “More than amazing, it’s unreal!” Meg replied.

  Some ten minutes’ later, Blue collapsed to his knees, huffing and puffing as the last of his energy was wholly spent on the finishing touches.

  Yasuko helped him to his feet. “Guess he’s not going to be in a fit state to teleport home for a while. I’ll take him to the flat for now, you go see your mum, Meg.”

  Meg okayed her and headed for the elevators with Emilia. “What a day. Hopefully things will go smoother now.”

  “Yeah…” Emilia muttered.

  Entering the elevator building, they waited for the lift to arrive, leaning against the wall and staring at the floor.

  “You okay?” Meg asked, noting her friend was unusually quiet.

  “I just fought my Priestess, Meg, that’s unheard of for a Galaisin. She’s clearly not herself, but that’s beside the point, I still raised my fists against the one person I swore to protect against all enemies. I feel sick, and that’s the honest truth.”

  “Sounds like you really look up to her,” Meg said, taking Emilia’s hand in her own and rubbing with a comforting thumb.

  “All Galaisins do. Priestesses are important to the proper functioning of our society, but Nami’el stands as the very pinnacle of perfection. I actually fought her. I’m terrible…”

  “Earth to Emilia! You had no choice, she attacked us! And from what you’ve told us, you did great even standing up to her at all. Even a single elemental summoned by her was too much for both Yacchan and me, but you managed to hold your own by yourself. That’s really impressive!”

  “Only because of my element,” Emilia murmured. “The special elements can’t be countered by the basic ones, but she’s still more than powerful enough to beat me with no real effort.”

  A ping accompanied the opening of the lift’s doors, so they stepped in and Meg pressed the button for the sub levels. She placed an arm around her dejected friend’s shoulders. “Cheer up, Emilia. Please? At least we’re still in one piece, right?”

  Doing her best to clear her mind of depressing thoughts, Emilia nodded and stood up straight. It wouldn’t do to worry her own partner more than necessary. “You’re right, Meg, sorry. I should be happy we’re okay, it could’ve gone a lot worse. She seemed to be more interested in giving us a warning than actually harming us.”

  “Not like that bas—annoying Tear guy. He didn’t hold back at all. Doesn’t that give you hope that the old Nami’el you knew is still in there somewhere? That she did show restraint instead of just swatting you?”

  Judging by Emilia’s expression, she hadn’t thought of that possibility. “Huh, that’s a good point. She seems like she’s been brainwashed or something, like she doesn’t remember who she is. But she still remembers her powers and everything, which is odd.”

  The lift hit the appropriate floor, letting the girls out. They strolled through the now-familiar metal halls towards the med bay.

  “Mm, while I only got my powers recently, I’d still have to say that makes sense,” Meg said. “When I use my powers, it’s like second nature, like breathing or the beating of my heart.”

  “I suppose…” Emilia said, just as they reached their destination. “I’ll hang around out here for now.”

  Meg okayed her and entered to see the same nurse on duty. “Morning! How’s she doing?”

  The nurse pointed over to an empty bed. “She discharged herself half an hour ago, said she’s off back to work. You know Cordy.”

  “But she’s okay now?”

  “Absolutely. Nothing to worry about, she was a lot more chipper than last night,” said the nurse.

  Thanking her, Meg exited out and grabbed her friend. “Seems she’s fine. The nurse said she’s gone back to work already, which worries me. If she’s still studying the same creature…”

  “She might just end up collapsing again,” Emilia said, turning to trot down the hall. “Come on, let’s go find her.”

  As they closed in on Cordelia’s lab, they became aware of two things: a voice raised in annoyance, and enough swearing to turn the air blue.

  “Haha… that’s Mum,” Meg said, embarrassed. “She swears like a sailor when really angry about something.”

  Inside, Cordelia was pacing back and forth, occasionally throwing her hands up, as if to say ‘why does the universe hate me so?’. “Bloody stupid damn worst timing possible for me to collapse, what the hell!”

  Marina sat near her rubber plant, spraying the leaves every now and then and watching her friend with an amused expression. She noticed the new arrivals and mouthed an apology, motioning for them to come across and make minimal noise until Cordelia calmed down.

  “Perfect chance to study one of those organisms and I blow it by passing out, for fu—!” Cordelia continued, stopping at the best possible moment as she noticed her daughter and Emilia. “Oh… morning, girls. Don’t mind me, just a little annoyed right now.”

  Leaning over to Meg, Emilia whispered, “This isn’t the elemental’s fault, right?”

  “Nope, this is just Mum in a really bad mood,” Meg whispered back, laughing under her breath. Well, it was better than the previous evening.

  Cordelia dropped into her computer chair and crossed her arms. “The specimen melted, just like the last one. We can analyse the remains for genetic structure and makeup, but no dissection, no hints as to its internal structures or what role it plays in the food chain, nothing. I can make some educated guesses simply based on what we’ve seen so far, but guesses aren’t good enough.”

  “Weren’t you studying it for a few hours last night? I’m surprised that wasn’t long enough,” Meg said, leaning against the central tables and idly toying with a glass jar filled with some sort of algae-like growth.

  “Funny story,” Cordelia said, “we couldn’t get through its chitinous exterior. Broke three blades before we gave up. I hoped to get some heavier tools from the equipment stores a few floors up, but I passed out before I could. You might say I’m a little pissed right now.”

  “Are you feeling better, at least?” Meg asked.

  “Much, thank you,” Cordelia said, indicating her daughter should come over. Meg did so, at which point Cordelia stood and gave her a tight hug. “Sorry about snapping, Meg. I don’t know what came over me there.”

  Saying nothing, Meg simply shook her head and tightened her embrace, then pulled away. “It’s okay. Everyone has bad days, and frankly I’m bloody amazed you never snapped before now!”

  Cordelia’s face morphed to one of utter surprise. “Has Yacchan been corrupting you again?”

  “This, from the woman who was just cursing like a drunken sailor?” Marina countered.

  Laughing at this, Cordelia resumed her seated position. “Guess this little trip didn’t work out exactly according to plan, huh? Sorry about that, girls, maybe we can try again in a week or two. Pass my regards along to Yacchan, she’s probably cleaning up after the party you totally didn’t have in my apartment, right?”

  “A-Ahaha, something like that,” Meg said. Yeah, they were cleaning up after a party, all right.

  The girls left and headed for the surface, where there was nary a sign of their battle the previous evening. Blue might be useless at a lot of things, but he was reliable in some situations, at least. At the flat, they packed their things, then took the short trip back down below ground to the Tube, and from there back to the mainland.

 

***

 

  Monday morning came round far too quickly, and saw Meg running to university in an unusually sombre mood, still annoyed and a little depressed at having her own mother unwittingly involved with this whole situation. Still, university was university, and her degree wouldn’t earn itself, so she did what she could to focus on that, arriving and having her usual cup of early morning disgusting tea at the cafeteria.

  Here, Asuka turned up, fully aware of her friend’s tea-related proclivities. Sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, she gave Meg a pristine smile with just a hint of bags under her eyes. “Morning, Megu-chan! You look how I feel.”

  “I was about to say the same of you!” Meg retorted, giving her friend a playful thump on the arm. “You look really tired, everything okay?”

  “Mm, had something weird happen over the weekend. You know that band at Nagasa High School? ‘Breakfast Be4 School’?”

  “Sure,” Meg said, nodding. The band in question had been gaining popularity recently with their catchy and cute originals, to the point where they were now playing gigs at some of the larger venues in the area. Not bad for four sixteen year olds and one fifteen year old junior member.

  “I went to see them on Saturday night at the sports hall. Had a great time, love those guys, they’re such a happy band, haha. Gives me a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling listening to their songs.”

  Meg giggled at her friend’s glowing features. “I’ve not listened to them myself, but I’ve heard they’re really good.”

  “I can send you some of their songs if you want,” Asuka said, pulling her phone out and waggling it meaningfully until Meg brought her own out. A few crowded minutes of digital transfer passed, at which point Asuka frowned. “Anyway, on the way home I noticed I couldn’t get a signal on my phone for some reason.”

  “That’s odd,” Meg commented. Japan’s mobile coverage was generally top notch, getting no signal at all was rare outside of the very rural areas of the country.

  “It was really strange. I couldn’t get a signal at all, then the battery just sort of died. Next thing I knew, I was asleep on the pavement!” Asuka’s brows wrinkled further as she fiddled with strands of her black hair. “Maybe I’ve not been getting enough sleep?”

  “Where do you live again?” Meg asked, though she probably already knew, at least approximately.

  “Raishu.”

  Right around the area Kabane had attacked. Meg did her best to remain calm. “How are you feeling now?”

  Asuka took a sip of coffee and stared at Meg. “That’s the really weird part. When I woke up I felt super annoyed! I never normally get that angry at stuff, so why…?”

  “I normally feel a bit grumpy if I’m woken up by something,” Meg said, laughing to hide the anger rising right now. Not only had those bast—horrible people managed to target her mother – albeit unintentionally – but now Asuka, too?

  “Sure, I don’t like being woken up, but it’s not something that makes me really mad.” Asuka drained her coffee and placed the cup on the table, where she proceeded to glare at it. “I stopped drinking coffee for a few weeks, actually. Wonder if it was just caffeine withdrawal or something?”

  “Mum tried to give up tea a while back, she had the same problem,” Meg said, privately resolving to step up her game. Having Nami and the other two causing problems was bad enough, but now it was personal.

  “Anyway, let’s go, I need to paint!” Asuka added, jumping to her feet and making for the door.

 

***

 

  That evening, the three of them congregated at Meg’s flat for a change, with Lifa sweeping a mildly disapproving gaze over the less than tidy room. Meg grabbed a few glasses for their beers – and a bottle of lemonade for Emilia – then they sat around the coffee table to discuss while Lifa busied herself washing up.

  Meg, embarrassed at a guest doing her chores, called over, “You don’t need to do that, Lifa!”

  “You are quite correct, I don’t need to. But I wish to,” Lifa said, waving a diminutive hand. “You girls have handled yourselves impeccably under extremely trying circumstances, so think of this as my thanks for sticking with us despite the danger.”

  Looking down and toying with her can of beer, Meg’s blushing cheeks answered more eloquently than mere words. She coughed. “So… what are we going to do about those three?”

  “After that ass whooping Nami gave us, it’s clear we need an advantage,” Yasuko said, tilting her own can towards Meg.

  “We also need to start properly training together,” Emilia added. “If we can’t win through power alone, we might have a better chance by coordinating our attacks more effectively. A thousand wasp stings and all that.”

  “Bee stings,” Meg corrected her.

  “Same thing, isn’t it?” Emilia said with a shrug.

  “Well… yeah.”

  “How about we take a trip, just us?” Yasuko suggested, chuckling at her friends. She glanced at their fairy overlord, still busy clattering and clanging in the kitchen area. “Lifa, too, of course.”

  “Didn’t you just finish up a project?” Meg asked.

  “I did. Which means I just got paid,” Yasuko replied, grinning like a piranha in a packed pool of people. “I figure a trip somewhere will help us deepen our bonds and work together like never before! I’m not just fishing for a holiday, you understand.”

  “Uh-huh,” Meg said, her voice filled with scepticism.

  “Yacchan has a point,” Emilia said, filling a glass with beer and lemonade. “Even spending time together is a good way to improve our combat readiness. At the temple, we had several evenings a week set aside for discussion sessions. What was that neat word I heard once… symposium?”

  “Sim… what?” Meg said, face screwed up.

  Yasuko came to the rescue. “It’s a get-together to talk about random crap, normally involving alcohol. Kind of like what we’re doing right now.”

  Emilia nodded at her. “We’d use those sessions to discuss team tactics, solo work, exams, even things like philosophy. It was really just a way of building trust and getting to know each other better, so we’d be more effective when teamed up for jobs.”

  “Putting Yacchan’s ulterior motives to one side, would it be safe for us to go taking a trip right now?” Meg said, tiling her head. “Those three seem to be ramping up their operations, after all.”

  “We have the mirrors,” said Emilia, enjoying a sip of her shandy. Ever since trying it at Yasuko’s place, she’d developed a bit of a thing for it. “And Blue can tell us if anything happens.”

  “I suppose that’s true. I always forget about the mirrors because we barely use them,” Meg said.

  “Then it’s settled!” Yasuko stated. “Also, speaking of bees… how about we visit your place, Meg?”

  “My place?”

  “In Britain. I want to meet your father, and you said you lived somewhere really nice and rural, right? Wouldn’t that give us plenty of places where we could be alone?”

  Meg narrowed her eyes at the blatant allusion in the way her friend had worded that. She said nothing, however. “If we’re sure it’s safe to take a time out… sure, I’d like to head home, I haven’t seen Dad in over a year.”

  “Lifa can put up a barrier so we can practice without being seen as well,” Emilia said, pointing to her.

  “Like the mansion?”

  “Basically,” Emilia confirmed, guzzling the rest of her drink.

  “Shall we head over later this week, then?” Yasuko asked. “I think Meg’s only at uni for the next couple of days?” She received a confirmation of this. “Great! In which case, let’s go Thursday?”

  They agreed this sounded okay, and the rest of the evening was spent attempting to stop Emilia drinking too much. Meg didn’t think a tipsy Emilia was a good idea with Yasuko in the room…

  With a bag each containing clothes and other essentials, they arrived at the mansion on Thursday morning and Emilia took them upstairs to the special room where Blue’s mirrors were located. An ocean blue floor glittered under their feet, while the equally blue walls flickered and wavered, as though they weren’t quite there.

  And in a circular set up in the centre of the room, twelve mirrors, each the height of an average person, facing in towards each other, providing a hall of mirrors infinity effect when standing in the middle.

  Emilia walked across and gestured for the others to join her. “It’s perfectly safe, you don’t need to worry,” she said, noticing Meg’s expression was less than comfortable.

  “I can’t help but worry, I’ve seen what Blue’s like a lot of the time,” Meg muttered.

  “A fair point,” Lifa said, stifling a low chuckle.

  “How does this even work?” Yasuko asked, joining them. “Is it like a teleporter in Star Trek? It pulls you apart and puts you back together at the other end, that type of thing?”

  “Nothing like that,” Emilia said with a hand wave. “It’s more like travelling through a tunnel, you’ll be in one piece the whole way.”

  Meg perked up. “Oh, that’s good, then.”

  Taking Meg’s hand, Emilia touched a hand to one of the mirrors. “Okay, Meg, imagine where you want us to arrive, please. Just think about it, and make sure it’s somewhere no one else is likely to be.”

  “Uh, sure,” Meg said. She hadn’t expected to be the one with all the responsibility, but closed her eyes and concentrated on imagining a good place to exit, near her home in Britain. “I think I’ve got it…”

  Emilia said nothing, simply nodded once and concentrated. And a moment later, the room was empty except for a brief, watery swirl effect as the four of them disappeared…

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