It sounded like a man was sharply inhaling through his nose at a constant interval... as if he was trying to calm a major panic attack.
But the inhalations were sharp hisses to a young pink-haired girl in a magical-girl dress, with her hair tied into twin bunches.
Madoka Kaname looked around the black void that surrounded her. A red glow appeared in the distance as the breathing grew louder with
In the middle of the glow was a shadowy figure, who appeared to wear a hood over his head. But the figure's shape was too murky in the
glow for Madoka to see clearly.
The breathing grew louder and louder. It didn't take long for Madoka to raise her closed hands to her chin in a panic of her
Madoka suddenly turned her head to the side.
January 5, 2015.
Her eyes sprung open.
Madoka found herself sitting up on the metal floor, back in her school uniform. With a look around, she soon remembered where she was: the
entrance room of the old Mannworks Quicklime Factory. The room had a steel grating over a deep pit below with an abandoned rail track. Even though there was an outdated Mann Co.
notice just outside the shutter doors stating that employees must have moustaches, someone had taken Madoka into the factory to hang a letter-sized poster on the bulletin board
Madoka got up and walked over to the bulletin board. After Inhibitor 2 had been destroyed by the Opposition two years ago, the papers left on the bulletin board for years had been replaced.
Alongside an outdated Badlands Labor Laws notice, the new items on the board included photos of some people who Madoka recognized from the rapid montages she had to watch, and
various aggressively-written sticky notes about "runaways".
And the "Missing: Lambent Light" poster itself.
Madoka suddenly remembered. It was Engineer who brought her to the building and put that poster on the board. Engineer, whose real name was
Dell Conagher, recovered from a headshot-induced coma with the help of their fellow teammates just a few weeks ago.
The Resurrection Movement was an alliance between mercenaries and magical girls. It had its triumph against Stocking Anarchy, one of the
three people known as the Hostiles. The team had retrieved one of Stocking's vibrant blue-striped twin katanas in the battle, and given it to Sayaka Miki so she could have a
blacksmith friend of hers take a look at it.
But the Resurrection Movement had since gone on another hiatus.
Word had gotten out that the Fugitive had refused to let fellow teammates Mami Tomoe and Homura Akemi help a well-known snow queen prevent
the kidnapping of a royal princess that same day. Madoka had since been unable to reach either Mami or Homura, nor had she been willing to return to the mental inhibitor room to
try to contact them or anyone else.
Madoka focused her attention back to the "Missing: Lambent Light" poster. It referred to Asuna's rapier, which was either the very sword, or
a replica of it, from a virtual-reality video game that Asuna spoke of in that panel back on December 15, 2012. However, someone had stolen the rapier that day, and tried to use
it to kill a man-- who later became known as the Fugitive-- the next day.
As Madoka skimmed the print that read "Connected to Dec. 16, 2012 homicide attempt", she noticed something different about the poster. It had
a handwritten message in the bottom left corner.
"Please get my Lambent Light Rapier back!"
The message was written by Asuna herself, and signed with a heart that was like the one in the scanned illustration.
Madoka considered whether there was someone out there who was very lucky to have met Asuna. She remembered that rapid montage from last
month; in footage recovered from November 29 last year and displayed on one of the mental inhibitors, Asuna was with some other girls while she carried her poster around in an
attempt to spread the word about her missing rapier... She then remembered that the Fugitive had called for mandated meetups with available Resurrection Movement members,
including her, at a building known as The Castle that day. The meetups were successful, despite the freezing weather that day.
Madoka had no time to think about what led to Asuna signing the poster before Engineer returned to the main entrance room.
"Whew!" sighed Engineer as he stepped out of a metal doorway. He wore fur-lined versions of his shirt and pants, and a turtleneck sweater
underneath. He also wore a new version of his hardhat-mounted headset tested by Spy, as well as a radio in his belt pocket with a police-issue speaker microphone clipped onto his
"Do you have something important to do?" asked Madoka nervously.
"Well, this here is just gonna keep happening and happening," replied Engineer, indicating the signed poster on the board.
The team's ringtone sounded on the headset, as well as on the phone Madoka still kept in her possession despite the team's hiatus, just in
case there was trouble. Madoka began to take out her phone from inside her school uniform's pocket.
But neither she nor Engineer had to say anything.
"Yo, get over here and help defend," spoke FemScout in a commanding tone.
Engineer and Madoka heard the sound of a metallic fist slamming the ground through the team's comm systems. The both of them knew exactly who
made that noise.
But there was one word that some of their fellow mercenary teammates liked to use to describe that person during the hiatus.
"Taaank!" yelled Medic over the comm.
"Not that again," groaned Kurisu. "You never let up, do you?"
Medic and Kurisu continued to supervise the comatose Heavy and Sniper at Drogentote Medical Hospital. Kurisu felt there had been no
improvements since the two patients sustained the coma-inducing headshots, and none of them had any spare trap-like Reanimator devices on hand.
Medic wore his headset-hat that connected him to the Resurrection Movement's comm systems, and had a white fur-coat version of his labcoat
and an argyle sweater underneath. Kurisu refuses to admit giving those clothes to him-- for good reason-- after some fellow mercs tried to prank her with an exploding bauble over
a year ago out of boredom.
On the other hand, Kurisu had her labcoat on her and could barely prevent herself from shivering in the poorly-insulated operating room. If
wearing a labcoat didn't calm her down as much as it did, having to deal with another madman of science, she could retrieve her beige jacket and get a bit warmer.
But Medic and Kurisu weren't the only ones in good health at the hospital. Miku herself had also taken some time off-- from her winter
performances, apparently-- to check on Sniper. She had also tuned in to the Resurrection Movement's comm channel on her own headset.
"We gotta stop that thing! What the hell is everyone doing?" yelled Scout through the comm.
"Who is not ready?!" called Medic.
Miku looked up briefly and quietly twirled her hand around in a circle without drawing attention.
Somewhere in the black voids, Scout and FemScout, wearing their headsets and various winter clothes to some extent, were armed with distinct
double-barreled guns. Scout had the Force-a-Nature, while FemScout had to make do with a crudely-repaired gun of the same model; they nicknamed it the Soda Popper, and it was
bound with rubber bands and had a purple soda can attached to the underside.
Both Scouts launched their double volleys of gunfire at the same time toward the inhuman being in front of them. The being was none other
than Strength, the black-hooded girl with giant metallic hands who was the fourth member of the Opposition, the group of seven who was out to destroy the Resurrection Movement and
kill their commanding Fugitive.
But Strength continued to shield herself with her giant hands while effortlessly keeping balance on her comparatively small legs.
The Scouts reloaded their guns and tried again.
None of their shots made it past the barrier.
"Hey knucklehead, you ain't gonna win," declared FemScout.
Strength began to raise her right hand into a fist.
Scout turned around and called out into his headset once more. "Come on! Let's stop that freakin' tank!" He then looked up just in time to
let a particular green onion-shaped missile catch him by surprise.
"Ah!" yelped Scout.
The missile turned around in midair and blasted off at a higher speed from its twin green end toward Strength. The hooded girl was forced to
move her closed right hand back in front of her as the missile made contact.
The explosion stunned the hand and forced it to open up. Unable to close her right hand during that moment, Strength readied her left hand
for a punch.
However, Strength slammed her left hand to the side. Scout and FemScout saw the opening in her defenses and shot another volley with their
Strength took a step back, but remained otherwise unfazed.
"Dammit!" both Scouts yelled in unison.
"This did not just happen!" continued FemScout.
Back at Drogentote Medical, Medic had equipped himself with his Kritzkrieg medigun and right in front of the double doors that led out of the
operating room. Miku had gone ahead of him, and was on her way to the battle.
"Let's do this, my friends!" called Medic.
"I don't want to," moaned Kurisu.
"Schweinhunds!" snarled Medic as he turned to leave.
Kurisu then changed her stern expression to a look of worry toward the comatose Heavy and Sniper. She raised her closed hands against her
chest, lowered her head, and closed her eyes for a brief moment.
Medic stepped out into the waiting room and saw a brown-haired ponytailed girl, wearing a distinct jacketed belted uniform, coming in through
the bloodstained door on the other side.
"Move, schnell!" he called.
He watched as the girl in front of him-- Sasha Braus, a girl who usually craved food to the point of near- ridiculousness-- frowned at the
sandwich she was holding in her hands. Sasha then looked up at Medic and stepped aside to let Medic pass without a word.
Just outside the Mannworks Quicklime Factory, Engineer and Madoka nodded to each other and headed on their way.
Little did they know that there was a young girl nearby. The girl had pink hair in ponytails, and green eyes. She had a determined expression
on her face. But her clothes, which consisted of a short-sleeved blue and pink school uniform with purple ribbons on her shirt and in her hair, as well as yellow loafers, seemed
like something that a person who was fatally cursed to become a bubble-blowing dragon would wear.
The only problem was, though the girl knew her own name, she felt she didn't know for sure who she was really supposed to be.
Or why she was standing in the cold winter air in those clothes.
All she knew was that the two people she watched were important, and that, somehow, maybe they would know who she was soon enough.
Chapter 2 >