At the mansion on Saturday morning, Emilia gave her partner some lessons on the fine art of beating up monsters. Blue wandered around the lush lawns in the rear garden, occasionally engaging in a little desultory hedge trimming in-between nibbling grass, leaves, and berries. Otherwise, he kept to himself and let the girls practice.
Emilia had transformed and now hovered a few feet above the grass in the centre of the lawn. Tall conifers and weeping willows on all three sides of the garden made for an excellent privacy guard, but since non-magic users couldn’t see the mansion in any case, she was free to openly use her powers.
“All right, Meg, transform, please!” she called over.
Meg stood on a paved patio area at the rear of the mansion, a sliding door leading back inside open behind her. The yellow stones beneath her feet felt reassuringly solid, unlike the sensation of flying while transformed.
She sighed and did as requested, her crimson and orange outfit materialising around her. “I still don’t like flying…” After attempting it several times since her first transformation, Meg couldn’t seem to get past the fear of being suspended hundreds of feet in the air on what amounted to sheer willpower.
“You’ll never get better if you don’t practice and overcome your fears!”
“I know, but…”
Emilia floated across and landed before her friend. “I was scared at first, too. And I was born with these powers. I’ll be here to catch you if you fall, I promise!”
Setting her face into a determined expression, Meg nodded. “Okay!” She hesitantly jumped a few times, like an athlete limbering up. But unlike most athletes, Meg had to be careful not to put forth too much effort lest she launch herself into space.
“Now, remember what I told you last time,” Emilia continued. “The magic is always there, you just have to trust it. Believe you won’t fall and you won’t fall!”
“Easier said than done…” Meg murmured, jumping once more and ascending a few metres. Wobbling and flailing her arms about, she focused on remaining airborne.
“Try not to think about it too much, let your subconscious deal with it.”
Staring down the length of the garden, Meg unwisely gave a thumbs-up, meaning she was now focusing on that instead of remaining upright. She dropped straight into Emilia’s waiting arms.
“Your world has airplanes, Meg, I’m not sure how you can be this bad at staying in the sky,” Emilia said, exasperated.
“That’s not the same thing at all!”
“Okay, maybe that wasn’t a great comparison.”
“Not even remotely.”
“Is there anything that could give you a clue?” Emilia wondered out loud, placing her partner back down on her feet.
Blue chose this moment to ride unsteadily past on a bicycle. In deference to his current penchant for being weird, he did so backwards, sitting on the handlebars and waving his arms around like he just didn’t care.
“Cycling…” Meg muttered.
Recalling her childhood, she remembered how she had tried riding a bike the first time, falling off and grazing her knees to the point of air raid siren-level wailing. Her father had popped her back on after applying several plasters and hugging her till the tears stopped, and talked her through the process of keeping balance and letting her body work without needing to consciously think about it.
“Thought of something?” Emilia asked.
“I just remembered when Dad taught me how to ride a bike. He held onto the bike at the back while I pedalled, then let go without me realising. I kept going without problems… until I noticed he wasn’t there any more and fell off, haha.”
Emilia privately wondered if Blue had ridden past them intentionally. Given his strange behaviour of late she felt it equally possible he was just being random. Either way, they had something to work with now.
“Take my hand,” she said. Meg did so. Emilia lifted off, using her own perfected control of magic to support her partner until they hovered a few hundred feet above the garden. “How do you feel?”
“O-Okay! I think. It helps having you beside me, ehe…” Meg said, taking in the view. “It’s beautiful up here.”
“There are perks to being a… what did you call us? Magical girls?”
Open and empty fields of green grass surrounded the mansion for a mile or so on three of the sides excluding the front, all of which had the same magical enchantment cast upon them; no one could see or even be aware of their existence unless Blue – or Emilia – willed it.
Holding hands, they moved back and forth, floating around and keeping Meg the right way up as much as possible; she had a tendency to roll forward until her legs pointed skyward. Fortunate, then, that their outfits included spats for modesty purposes. Meg still wondered how the magic knew to do that…
Over the next half an hour, clasping her mentor’s hand tightly, she learned to control her power a little better. Gradually, she got used to the idea of letting the magic carry her and to stop consciously thinking about it so much. And much as her father had done so many years ago, Emilia stuck close by, offering advice and preparing to let her go which, in due time, she did.
Zooming around the sky, Meg wheeled and rolled, laughing as she had all those years ago when she had learned to ride a bike. Forgetting the previous terror, she let herself be lost in the moment, performing barrel rolls and, on one occasion, attempting the magical girl equivalent of a stall turn.
Unfortunately, at her zenith she looked down, realised Emilia was no longer there, and returned to reality with all the subtlety of a brick through a window. “Ohshi—!” She dropped like a stone.
Fortunately her partner had been prepared for this and was, as promised, there to catch her. “Don’t get too carried away, you’re still new to this!”
Meg, enjoying the feeling of being princess carried, giggled. Despite the fall, she was perfectly relaxed. “That was wonderful!”
“Want to give it another try? Or should we land for now?”
“I’d love to! But maybe I shouldn’t push myself too fast?” Meg said, yawning. She was still getting used to simply being a magical girl, never mind all these extra shenanigans.
Emilia agreed this sounded wise, so she descended at a sedate pace, gently setting her friend down on the patio. “You got the hang of that pretty quickly. Now we just need to work on your stamina and making sure you can keep it up without losing concentration.”
With a magic top-up from Lifa, Meg was ready to continue her practice. Next up, she spent an hour doing her best to visualise attacks and fire them off without the pause to wind her arm up.
Several wooden targets in the rough shape of an elemental had been set up at the end of the garden, around which they had piled sand. Blue’s ability to create items came in handy for situations like this, making for minimal expenditure of effort. They didn’t want to accidentally burn the trees down, so the sandbanks made for a useful guard, similar to a shooting range.
This went considerably more smoothly than the flight practice, at least. Before long she had the hang of firing bolts of concentrated and superheated fire from the palms of her hands, and now worked to refine the speed and intensity of each shot.
“Ey!” she muttered, tossing another spitting ball of fire at a target. She watched in satisfaction as it disintegrated in a cloud of black smoke and orange sparks. “Mm, getting better, getting better…”
“Try a machinegun!” Emilia suggested from behind her.
“Eh? Oh, you mean rapid fire?” Meg said, and aimed for the final target. Concentrating, she let off a burst of half a dozen smaller fireballs from a fingertip, each around six inches long and two inches wide. They punched a circular series of holes in the target. “Wow, that’s kind of neat!”
As evening was beginning to set in and Japan didn’t use Daylight Savings Time, Meg decided it was time to head home before it got too dark. Releasing their transformations, they strolled back inside the mansion.
“I’ll walk you home,” Emilia said, grabbing a lightweight jacket. “You said before you like exploring old buildings?” she said as they exited the mansion, walking down the driveway and out of the gates that marked the end of the magic barrier zone.
“I love it! Though I’ve not had much chance to do any urbex since arriving in Japan. Busy with uni, and there aren’t all that many places I’d feel comfy exploring anyway.”
“Maybe you’d feel more comfortable with a friend?” Emilia suggested, blushing a little as they stepped out onto the pavement and turned towards the city.
Meg looked mildly surprised. “I thought you weren’t interested?”
Emilia stared at the pavement. “Not by myself, but it might be nice with you…”
“I’ll have a look around for somewhere we can explore!” Meg stated, her enthusiasm plainly evident in the way her eyes lit up like a sweets-addicted kid trick-or-treating around Candy Cul-de-sac.
They reached Meg’s place above the sweet shop, at which point Emilia surprised her with a quick hug. “I’m glad I met you, Meg. I don’t feel so alone now. Night!” She ran.
Shivering a little in happy delight, Meg headed up to her flat…
Sunday morning rolled around. Meg spent the day with Emilia, window shopping and stopping in at cafés until mid-afternoon rolled around. A mildly worried Emilia now stood outside the door to Yasuko’s room at the hotel.
Meg held her hand for some reassurance, thinking it odd how much this felt like she was giving someone a boost before a job interview or something. Her best friend had that affect on people.
Entering Yasuko’s apartment, Meg opened her mouth and was immediately interrupted. “Aftern—”
Yasuko looked up from her laptop and gasped the moment she saw Emilia. “Hold still, don’t move, don’t move! Wow…” She jumped to her feet and rushed across, circling like a lioness and her prey. “So… you single?”
“Yasuko!” Meg snapped, doing her best not to openly laugh.
Emilia stiffened. “Eh? W-What did I do?”
“Small, cute, really long hair, you’re perfect!” Yasuko continued, eyes bright.
And now Emilia blushed like mad. “A-Ahaha… thank you?”
Coming to a halt in front of her, Yasuko beamed. “Lovely to meet you finally, Emicchi!”
The newly christened Emicchi felt inclined to take a few steps back. Meg really hadn’t been joking in how overpowering her best friend could be; she occupied all the space in the immediate vicinity, a level of curiosity combined with clear attraction making her seem larger than life.
Privately, she felt Yasuko might end up being more difficult to deal with than Blue, and he was a god with a penchant for drain cleaner. She edged ever so slightly closer to Meg. “S-S-So what do you do normally, Yasuko?”
“You can call me Yacchan! And I draw cute girls like you,” Yasuko said, eyes sparkling with naughty mischief as her brand new friend blushed again. Unfortunately, she had now managed to upset her best friend.
“Why don’t I get a cute nickname, Yacchan?” Meg asked, a pout of truly Biblical proportions on her lips.
“Because your name’s super cute as it is!”
Emilia spied an opportunity to join in. “You mean my name isn’t?”
“Er…” Yasuko paused, thinking she’d just made a tactical error.
“Looks like Emilia’ll fit right in,” Meg said, laughing at her best friend’s glowing cheeks. It took a lot to trip Yasuko up or embarrass her; their friend from Ereth had just managed both without trying.
Feeling a bit more relaxed, Emilia bobbed her head. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you, Yasu… um, Yacchan!” While she wasn’t from Japan, she nevertheless attempted to take notice of and engage in their polite culture, including bowing. Sometimes at completely inappropriate times.
“Likewise!” Yasuko said, more or less visibly drooling. Moving over to the other end of the room, she dropped down on the right-hand sofa. “I suppose I should get back to it. I can talk while I work, don’t worry you’ll be disturbing me or anything.” She let out a heavy breath, then pitched forward as Meg slapped her on her back on her way past the sofa, heading to the kitchen.
“Every time you sigh, a bit of happiness is lost, Yacchan!”
Yasuko’s expression morphed into something a little sunnier. “Yeah, you’re right, sorry. Just getting a bit antsy over this client’s design.”
Emilia sat on the sofa opposite, bolt upright, still worried by the mature girl she had just met. “You draw art for games?”
“I love games! They’re one of my favourite things about your world! Uh…” Emilia realised far too late she might’ve just made her own tactical error.
Meg returned with three beers and placed them on the table, then sat next to Emilia. “It’s okay, I told her about Ereth as well.”
“Oh… that’s good, then.” Emilia took one of the bottles and sniffed it suspiciously.
Yasuko grinned. “Maybe I can visit your house one day?”
“Sure, I don’t mind. Assuming I ever make it home.”
Meg let out a genteel cough. “Be careful what you agree to, Emilia…”
“I didn’t mean it like that!” Yasuko said.
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“Because you know me too well,” Yasuko muttered, emitting a surprisingly cute giggle.
Emilia took a small mouthful of beer and made a face. “This stuff’s… odd. Kind of sour? Or bitter? Mm…”
“Have you never had beer before?” Meg asked, aghast.
“Wait… you’ve had alcohol before, right? I don’t want to accidentally get you drunk!”
Yasuko’s expression indicated she probably wouldn’t actually mind seeing that. She said nothing for now, though. “I think there’s a bottle of lemonade in the cupboard, maybe shandy would be more palatable?”
Emilia’s face lit up. “I’d like to try that, lemonade’s one of my favourite drinks.” A brief flurry of activity later she had a glass of shandy in her hands. She sipped it. “Much better, thanks!”
Meg laughed as she downed the rest. “Steady on, it may be diluted but it’ll still get you drunk.” While her friend enjoyed her drink, Meg sniffed the air, closing her eyes and inhaling a wonderfully fragrant scene she hadn’t noticed initially, something floral yet sexy. “What’s that smell? It’s gorgeous…”
“Mm?” Yasuko looked up. “Oh, a new fragrance I bought last week. I’m heading over to Tokyo for a weekend of fun with some old friends from school next week. Fancied tarting myself up a bit.”
“I thought that was your default state?” Meg said with a wink.
“Meg… I’m hurt.”
“You know it’s true!”
Yasuko laughed. “To a degree, I’ll admit. Have to be prepared for any situation, after all!”
Emilia raised a hand. “Um…”
“Sorry, I guess we’re confusing you a bit,” Meg said, issuing an apologetic shoulder rub. “Uh, I don’t even know how to explain this.” She glanced at her best friend for support.
“I’m lesbian,” Yasuko said without hesitation.
Emilia stared. “Um…”
“Oh, guess you don’t have that word where you’re from? Not seen any TV or anything while here?”
Emilia shook her head. “I don’t watch much of your television, I prefer games.”
Yasuko spent a few moments explaining her sexuality and interests. “I’m guessing you have people like me where you’re from?”
The light of understanding dawned on Emilia’s face. “Aah, you mean kelnoc? It means, uh… well, something like forbidden, but specifically relating to relationships.”
“So it’s not accepted where you come from?” Meg asked.
Guzzling some more of her fizzy beer, Emilia shrugged. “It’s an old word that’s stuck around. People don’t pay much attention to it any more, though kelnoc relationships are still kept fairly quiet. Your world seems a bit more open like that. Sometimes, anyway.”
“How do you feel about it? You know… personally?” Yasuko said.
“Back home… I never thought about it. I was busy training to be a Galaisin from a young age. That’s like a guardian, but with magical powers.” Emilia drained her drink and licked her lips. “Mm, I could get used to this.”
Meg went to get her a refill.
“Where was I?” Emilia added, frowning. “Oh right, when I got to Earth and met Lifa, we moved around a lot so it’s not like we had much chance to settle down and pay any real attention to this world.”
“Fighting those creatures Meg mentioned?” Yasuko said.
“Yeah. They were appearing in areas with a lot of war at first, not sure why. Eventually they stopped and it took us a while to figure out where they’d gone. Then they started popping up here in Japan and we’ve been here ever since.”
Meg returned and handed over a fresh glass. “You’ve been living in warzones?” Her expression turned concerned.
“Yeah… well, near them.”
“Is that why you said what you did before about preferring living places like the city?”
Emilia nodded silently.
Meg gave her a hug. “I can’t imagine the sort of things you must’ve seen. I’m so sorry…!”
“Ah, Meg…!” Emilia struggled a moment, then gave in and simply enjoyed her friend’s warmth. “It’s okay, I was trained to deal with this kind of thing. But I appreciate your concern all the same. Thanks, Meg.”
At this point it seemed Emilia was the one giving comfort, resulting in Yasuko chuckling to herself. “I can leave you two alone?”
“Yasuko…” Meg murmured, pulling away and glaring with watery eyes.
“Hey, just trying to lighten the mood a bit. I don’t like seeing my favourite friend upset,” Yasuko said.
Meg composed herself, then wandered around to give her best friend a hug. “There. Better?”
As Meg sat back with Emilia, Yasuko stared, apparently contemplating something. “I wonder…”
The other two stared in return.
“Would you mind if I drew you, Emilia?” Yasuko asked.
“Eh!? M-Me? What for?”
“I’ve been having trouble with a design my client wants for a new game. I’d like to send her a sample of something a bit different. By which I mean, you.” Yasuko pointed both index fingers.
“This isn’t one of those games, is it?” Meg said, glaring once more.
“No-no, nothing ero in this one, don’t worry!” Yasuko replied, waving her hands about.
Emilia thought for a moment. “It won’t actually be me, right? Just based on me? I try to keep a low profile in your world.”
“Here, it’ll look something like this.” Yasuko showed her the other designs she’d already managed to complete.
“Oh, that’s pretty similar to some of the games I’ve played. Yeah, that’s okay!”
Yasuko rubbed her hands together in an altogether far too Bond villain-esque fashion. “Wonderful, just sit where you are and I’ll be done in a tick.” She ran to a cupboard in the rear corner of the room, grabbed an A4 pad and a mechanical pencil, and returned.
An hour ticked past as they continued chatting, this time about matters not relating to monsters and war, until eventually Yasuko was done. She held up the pad, upon which several thousand rough grey scratches painted a picture so beautiful Meg felt she might cry a second time.
Emilia took the proffered pad. “How can you make something this nice in just an hour?”
“Lots of practice.”
“Lots of practice,” Meg reiterated, giggling.
Yasuko made an okay symbol. “What can I say? I love my work.” She retrieved the pad. “You’re happy with it?” A blushing nod from Emilia confirmed this, so she scanned the paper and sent it off. A few minutes later she received a response. “Sweet, she loves it!”
“That’s great! So does that mean you can stop agonising over that final design?” Meg said.
“Sure does. Thanks, Emilia, I owe you a few drinks for this,” Yasuko added, beaming.
“We should let you get on now you’ve figured it out,” Meg said, and stood.
Leaving Yasuko to finally finish up the final character design for her client, the other two left, Emilia thanking her host for the shandy and pleasant company. Outside, they wandered in the general direction of the mansion…