Chapter 1:


Happy Sweet Magical Girl Life

“Morning, Nanoka!” I called cheerfully, grabbing my best friend around the waist. “Eeek!” She squeaked in fright, nearly catching me in the eye with her book as she flailed around. “Whoa!” I dodged just in time.

“Ah! Y-you scared me, Nana-Chan!” Nanoka stuttered, tearing up and clutching at her skirt. “Hey, hey! You don’t need to cry!” I complained. “Geez, Nano-Chan! You really are a crybaby, aren’t you?” I rolled my eyes playfully.

Sniff-Sniff! That’s so mean!” Nanoka blubbered. Nanoka was one of those shy, overly sensitive types. Not in a bad or annoying way, mind you, but she reminded me of a little mouse. She was really into reading and would carry a book everywhere. She loved plants and was the vice-president of our school’s gardening club. She had fluffy, green hair that she styled in these poufy, fat pigtails that fell across her shoulders. She always had these cute cherry blossom pins that she wore in her pigtails, too, and it was so precious!  They fit her personality perfectly. So did her glasses. She had giant, round, plastic ones. They were bright green; figures. But they complimented her overall appearance and temperament, and they weren't clunky or tacky at all. She'd never been able to see to save her life and needed those glasses the whole time that I had known her. 

We’d been friends ever since we were little kids. Nanoka had moved to my neighborhood in first grade. My dog, Shiro, was just a puppy then and he’d chased her around the neighborhood after he'd escaped from our yard. He was this golden retriever that my dad had gotten from some big-wig friend of his. He was always way too excited to see other people and would body-slam everyone with the force of a pro-wrestler. He was the friendliest dog ever, but he scared people with his energy and the fact that he didn't know his own strength. He'd been like that, even as a puppy, and had chased  Nanoka everywhere in search of pets and someone to play with him. Nanoka, being herself, was scared senseless and bawling and a total wreck. I had to save her and convince her that my puppy, who was still way smaller than her at the time, was not trying to eat her alive. She was nice and I didn’t really have any close friends back then, so I basically forced myself on her as her new best friend and she was too weak-willed to do anything but go along with it and hang out with me. But it’s not like it was a toxic friendship or anything. I honestly needed someone sweet and grounded like her to off-set my more impulsive and crazy tendencies, and she needed someone like me to pull her out of her shell by force and get her to be more social and live in the real world.

“So, what are you reading today?” I asked, falling in alongside her as we joined the flow of students pouring through the school’s front grate. “Oh, just another fairytale book.” Nanoka answered. “I just love them! I know I’m probably a bit too old for them…but I need fairy tales the way that you need Magical Girl manga.” She smiled playfully at me and I smiled back. If only she knew what had happened last night! That would be a fun story to share! If only...

“So what story are you reading?” “Mmmm…The Star children. It’s from…Norway, I think?” Nanoka squeezed the book to her chest tightly, as if she was scared someone would try to take it away from her.

“It’s…a really strange story. A prince marries a peasant girl, but his step-aunt is mad because she wanted him to marry her daughter from her previous marriage. His wife promised that God would give them twin children who were beautiful beyond compare and they would be born with golden stars on their heads. But the aunt tricked the prince into thinking that his wife was a witch who had given birth to demon babies and her husband had her bricked up in a tower. And then the aunt buries the babies alive and then-“

“Oh, geez, Nanoka!” I gasped. “What sort of story is that, Nano-Chan? Why in the world would you read something so morbid for fun!” Infanticide, of all things? Eeek! Why did Nanoka like these sorts of stories? Well, she was like me; a big lover of happy endings and justice. I preferred Magical Girl stories, but she loved fairy tales, folktales, myths; that sort of thing. But she sure picked the creepiest starts to the happy endings! Well, I guess if Magical Girl stories were modern fairytales, then dark and deconstruction Magical girl stories were just an extension of how…violent and creepy fairy tales were before they got sanitized to be kid-friendly.

Nanoka blushed, like I had caught her doing something wrong. “I-it’s not like I enjoy the sad or gross parts!” She smiled softly at the ground. “But…I like the idea that even the worst situations can work out, that good will always win. That’s why I like this story so far. It’s sad, but the twins have come back to life in different forms three times now, and they just came back as actual human teenagers. Their evil step-aunt keeps trying to kill them, but it doesn’t work because they’re innocent and were murdered for no reason. I know that it’s almost the good part, the part where they expose her and her daughter! Their father just relented and said that he’d marry his ...distant step-cousin, or whatever she is? There’s a big engagement feast happening and the twins are heading to the castle, so I know it’s going to be good!”

“I hope that’s true.” I said. The idea of anyone hurting children creeped me out. Juchi could be a pain, but I would never hurt him! If anyone ever tried anything with him, I would make them suffer! Nanoka was an only child,  but I was a big sister with a brother who was considerably younger than I was; these sort of stories affected me in a way that they never would affect her.

“Anyway,” I pivoted as we entered the locker area of school. “Did you study for that history test today?” “Yes, but I don’t think it helped me any.” Nanoka sighed, opening her locker. “It was so stressful. All the dates just jumbled together in my head! It just made me even less sure of myself!” I slipped on my school shoes. “Really? I thought it was pretty easy information. I actually barely spent anytime studying for it. It was too easy for me to bother pouring time into when I had other schoolwork to do.” I shrugged. “That’s not fair!” Nanoka whined. “You’re pretty good at school in general, but you’re great at history! How come studying comes so easy for you?” I shut my locker. “Just my strong-suit, I guess? But you have the highest English scores in our whole class. Studying is easy for me, but I’m not a big fan of reading for fun. That’s your strong suit.” Nanoka blushed, looked at the ground, and fidgeted with the straps of her school bag. Darn girl didn’t know how to take a compliment!

Mo-rn-innnng!” a sign-song voice came from behind the locker block. I turned and a cheerfully, red-haired head popped out from around the corner.

“Aoi!” I called. “Yo!” She popped around the corner and playfully saluted me. Aoi was the star of the school’s soccer, track, and swimming teams. She was an incredibly intense, cheerful person. She was visually distinct because of her intense, flaming red hair that went down to her knees; it was very reminiscent of a minor character from a popular vampire visual novel. It fit her tomboy personality very well.

“Did you guys hear about the murder last night?” She asked, just as cheerful as Junchi had. “Ummm…did-did you say murder?” Nanoka asked, clearly uncomfortable and nervous. “Yep! It was front page news this morning, along with the fire.” “F-fire?” Nanoka raised a confused eyebrow. Aoi groaned in exasperation. “Seriously, Nano! You need to read the news more instead of those weird storybooks you’re always carrying around! The fire in the industrial district that was supposedly just an electrical malfunctioning! That fire! But, anyway, the fire investigators were poking around, right? And then they…” Aoi quickly filled Nanoka in about what had happened last night.

“That’s…scary.” She shuddered. “There’s hardly ever any murders in this corner of Tokyo. That was so brutal and gross!” I cringed. Did she not realize the irony in her being grossed out by brutal real-life murders when she found similar, fictional situations entertaining? Weirdo!

“So, anyway, yeah. That’s what happened last night. Sis was super concerned about it this morning. Ugh, she’s so paranoid and such a pain in my ass! She was panicking about whether or not I should stay after school for practice until the killer is caught and insists that I need to let her walk places with me if I’m not hanging out with someone else.” She shrugged in annoyance. “Sis is too overprotective! I mean, yeah, it’s unusual for a murder to happen around here that isn’t connected to organized crime or something “normal” like that, but it’s just one random guy who got himself beat to death! It’s not like there’s a serial killer one the loose or something! Even the chief explicitly said to not freak out or over analyze this one crime!”

Aoi was talking about her distant cousin, Akame. She was a cousin so distant, that Aoi’s family hadn’t known that she even existed until social services popped up and asked them to adopt her after her parents died in a car accident two years ago. Aoi, Nanoka, and I were all in 6th grade at the time. Akame should be in 10th grade right now, but because of issues related to her being an orphan and all that, she’d had to repeat 7thgrade and was now permanently a grade behind. Not that we minded, though. She could be so stern and bossy, but she was one of those nice older girls who was basically everyone’s big sister. We were all happy to have more time with her at school and were sad that she wouldn’t be here with us anymore next year. Figures that she’d be the one to overreact to the news about a single, random murder!

We all started walking towards our classroom, and Aoi whipped her bag over her shoulder, nearly hitting a random boy in the head. “Hey, Watch it!” “Oh, my bad! Sorry! At least I didn’t hit you!” She apologized, holding her bag over her shoulder.

“Hey, Aoi-Chan. Do…do…you don’t think that there could be a murderer on the loose in the prefecture? D-do you?”Nanoka blushed and fiddled with the straps of her bag again. Whenever she was nervous, Nano-chan just had to fidget with something; she found eye contact too intimidating.

Aoi rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Nadoka? What did Nana and I just tell you? The police chief doesn’t even think so and his main priority is to stop people from thinking that and ending up in a panic! You worry too much! And, I mean, even if it was some crazy person, then so what? It’s not like us or anyone we know would likely be the target! We don’t go out at night, do weird things, or leave opportunities open for something bad like that to happen. We’ll. Be. Fine. Chill out!”

“I Don’t…I don’t think it’s too crazy to worry about.” I jumped in. There had been something nagging at me ever since I saw that article in the paper. “I mean…someone who could do something so brutal…the guy was beaten to the point that his body was broken and then whoever did it finally decided to bash his brains out. I’m no scientist or cop or anything but…” I thought of how best to put this delicately and not come off as being callous or a gore fetishist.

“It’s almost like…their goal wasn’t just to kill him. I mean…judging by the injuries that the prelim, external examination revealed in the article, it’s almost like…they were trying to cause as much pain as possible. And then when there wasn’t much more, they could do beating-wise to hurt him and he was just barely hanging on and in a ton of pain, then they decided to kill him.” I let it sink in. “At least…that’s what it felt like to me. I know it’s just me connecting dots that may not even exist, and we won’t know anything for sure until they finish the full autopsy and share something about it but…it feels to me like whoever did this just wanted to make the man suffer. And…I don’t know…I get the feeling that maybe that was the point, since this not precise or methodical enough to be the Yakuza.” I thought back to my mother’s comment about the crime.

“And even if this was someone who was personally pissed at the victim about something…this isn’t like a ‘Oops, we got into a disagreement and I got so angry I stabbed him and then realized I was in trouble and hid the body’ sort of thing. This doesn’t seem like a crime of passion. And, if that’s the case, then who’s to say that the person won’t do it again? I mean, with that level of sadism and desire to hurt someone and how “hands on” and personal the attack was…it seems like someone really got a kick out of hurting another human being.”

That was what had been bothering me, not just the fact that my screw-up may have destroyed evidence that could bring the murderer to justice. The whole thing seemed very cruel and unnecessarily brutal. That there was someone capable of this level of sadism living around me and the people I loved was bad enough, but what were the odds that someone who had lost their human heart enough to enjoy something like this, much less carry it out, would stop at just one murder? Regardless of whether they knew the victim or not…what if this just gave a very bad, evil person a taste of blood and encouraged them to go all-out in indulging their dark desires? And what sort of message would this send to others who secretly wished they could act on their fantasies of doing something similar?

In a sense, this didn’t involve me. I didn’t know the man who was murdered, and I wasn’t a cop. But, really, I was destined to be involved in this from the moment that I accepted Kyuu-Chan’s contract. Who cares if I was supposed to be fighting inter-dimensional monsters? I couldn’t just ignore this. And if this really was carried out by such an evil person…well, then I would have to deliver the justice that the legal system might not. A dark idea, true enough. I wasn’t supposed to be a vigilante…I had no desire to take the life of a fellow human being. But I highly doubted that our cops would be able to catch a serial killer. Even them catching a single person who killed an acquaintance in a fit of rage seemed a bit ludicrous. Even with the occasional Yakuza crime, our prefecture was notoriously clean and calm, particularly for part of the capitol city. I bet that none of the police had ever handled a homicide investigation that wasn’t a clear Yakuza killing from the start. Besides, I was a hero of justice now. A Magical Girl. I was the one who had screwed over the investigation. Therefore, it was only fair that I had to investigate and stop the killer. Besides, what sort of hero of justice refused to help people who were hurt by actual crimes and not monsters? It’s not like I had to hurt anyone. I just needed to investigate, get proof, let the police “find” the information, then beat the snot out of the murderer and drop him on the cop’s doorstep while they were looking for him. I could do it! Probably? Maybe? Well, regardless of if it would succeed or not, I had to do it.

“Hel-lo! Earth to Nana!” Aoi waved her hand in front of my face and I jumped. “Geez! You’re finally back in the world of the living!” Aoi joked wryly. “First you started talking morbid nonsense and then you totally zoned out. Are you okay?” I looked at her.

No, I was not particularly okay. I’d started on a path that I couldn’t turn back from and, not only that, I couldn’t tell anyone else about it. I had no one to support me or help me make the best decisions. I was all alone in my job as a Magical Girl of love and Justice. I had to deal with a gruesome murder that I’d sooner rather forget about than investigate. I was not okay in any shape or form! I was really, really worried! But I couldn’t share that, and that’s what hurt and stressed me the most. I really wanted to tell Aoi and Nanoka…about Kyuu-Chan, about being a Magical Girl, about starting the fire, about having the investigate the murder; about everything. But I couldn’t do that. First of all, they’d think I’d gone crazy; that I was mentally ill or playing a prank. They would never take me seriously. And it hurt. It hurt that I had no one to talk to this stuff about, that I didn’t even have anyone to celebrate my new powers with or who would laugh with me about the whole situation. I was basically living in a different world apart from everyone I loved now.

It would have been great if I could have told them, if they would believe my story. Nanoka would be so jealous and gush over every detail; as obsessed with my Magical Girl stories as she was with her strange, global fairytales. Aoi would get a kick out of me getting my arse handing to me by the fire monster and whining like a baby. She would tease me about being out of shape and clumsy. Akame would panic and give me tons of unwanted advice to protect myself and would fuss about me eating right, working out, and getting enough sleep while doing my job as a Magical Girl. It would be great and everyone, even though they’d be annoying, would still love and support me. A beautiful story.

But that would never happen. This part of me, Miracle Nana the Magical Girl, was one I could never share with anyone. No one would every believe me. I’d just become that crazy, delusional girl who lived in her own fantasies because she was bored with her life. Even my best friends who knew me in a way no one else did would ever take such a thing seriously.

The excitement that I had felt this morning had totally drained out of me and reality had hit me over the head. I was alone. Having so much I wanted to say, fears that I needed to say to someone, but not being able to share it with anyone else…that was my new normal now. I was honestly scared about this murder and the prospect of random violence in my city, not to mention having to fight monsters from another dimension. My city, my family, my friends, everyday humans, and even me…we all did not need any more destruction or suffering! But the idea of a serial killer, or even just a regular murder, terrified me even more. Sure, that sort of thing was interesting, even entertaining, when it was in a book or movie. But in real life, that sort of person was repulsive and terrifying. Even the majority of people obsessed with true crime would never want to meet one of these true, human monsters in real life. Nanoka and I would read books about that sort of thing together all the time. To be honest, despite my love of cute and bright things, I had a bit of a creepy side that was interested in crime, the unknown and occult mysteries. But I never wanted any of that to be real and I never wanted to have any of the stories that I scared myself silly with to actually happen to me. The idea of real evil, of someone who didn’t care about the lives or pain of others…regardless of whether it was a serial killer or just a one-off…it wasn’t something I wanted to confront for myself. But I didn’t feel that I had any other choice. And that scared me; it made me feel anxious and sick. I wanted to run away, but what good would that do? Kyuu-Chan could find me anywhere and it’s not like me burying my head in the sand would actually make the bad things stop.

I felt ill and scared and alone. And I hated it.

I forced myself to smile. “S-sorry, Aoi-Chan. I’m just…worried and scared, that’s all. And I slept like crap last night, so I don’t feel the greatest right now. I’m a bit of a mess but…I’m okay.” I lied through my teeth.

Nanoka slipped her hand into mine and squeezed it. “Hey, it’s okay, Nana-Chan. Okay? We’re here for you if you need anything. What you’re thinking about the murder is…too creepy…but you can say whatever you want to us if it will make you feel better.” She smiled at me. Nanoka had a smile that was like the sun itself and, right now, it made the knot in my stomach tighten. “Mmm…just as long as you don’t get too creepy or graphic, okay? There’s only so much I can take! Especially when it’s real and in our own city and not in a book.”

I nodded and squeezed her hand back before letting it go. “Thanks, Nano-Chan. I’m glad I have you two. You guys understand me so well and I can tell you anything. You’ll always be there for me.” Another round of blatant lies.

Aoi smirked at me. “Seriously? You make it sound as if we’re your only friends! Everyone in our grade knows you and you have tons of people who want to hang out with you! And everyone wants to try and copy your notes and homework…speaking of which…about that math homework from last night…”

“Aoi!” Nanoka scolded, pointing her finger. “No getting Nana to cheat because you’re too lazy to do your own homework!”

“I was not lazy!” Aoi insisted. “I was going to do my homework after swim practice…but I was tired out and decided to take a little nap first…and then I passed out until Akame woke me up for breakfast this morning.”

“It’s still your fault and you need to deal with the consequences of you being a lazy bum!”

I smiled as my two best friends had their typical morning verbal sparing match. No matter how hard things would get, at least I had them and this normalcy in my life. But even so, as we entered our classroom, I knew that I’d crossed a line and couldn’t go back. Everything had changed and things were just going to get darker from here. From this point on, I was going to be bearing this fear and my worries on my own, and it wasn’t going to get any better.

Taylor Victoria