Chapter 3:

Love Blooms: The Toughest Battle

Mahou Shoujo Marina: I’ll Do Anything for J̵u̵s̵t̵i̵c̵e̵ Attention!

Accelerating through the air, Marina sped further away from her pursuers. As soon as they were all out of sight, Usami hung her head in despair. It was over. The best she could hope for now was that Marina got away, but she’d likely never learn Marina’s fate. With no friends, and a family that barely cared for her, it wouldn’t be difficult for the government to make her disappear completely.

“Hurk!” A whip wrapped itself around the neck of one of the men restraining Usami from behind. He reached up to pull on it, but was tugged off his feet. Her other captor forced Usami to the ground as his two remaining companions flew over them to engage Marina.

A brief but intense battle followed. Marina weaved between their spells, but one of them managed to summon a blob of sticky foam right on top of her. It did them no good, however. Marina hardened the foam into spikes and sent them flying towards her enemies. One of them took a spike to the eye and fell to the ground, screaming. His companion pulled the spike out and cast a healing spell, but that gave Marina time to target them with a spell of her own. Lighting erupted from her palms, tossing the men against a parked car. They slumped to the street and didn’t move.

The man on top of Usami tried to push himself up, but he was too slow. With a kick to the chin, Marina had him splayed on the ground in front of her.

“You’re only making this worse for—” Before he could finish, Marina picked him up and tossed him away. He tumbled uncontrollably through the air for miles, landing in a lake outside the city.

By this point, however, the handcuffs had drained enough of Usami’s mana that her transformation was becoming undone. She raised her hands in front of her face in a desperate attempt to hide herself. It wasn’t just that she didn’t want the onlookers to learn her real identity, she was ashamed of showing her true self to Marina. A moment later, she felt the handcuffs disappear from around her wrist, and a veil was draped over her.

“Take your time,” Marina reassured her. “They won’t be coming back.”

“I’m sorry,” was all Usami could say in response. “I’m sorry for doubting you. When you left, I thought you’d abandoned me, and now, I can’t bear to show you my true face.”

“Not gonna lie: I thought about leaving you behind. Even now, I’m not sure why I came back. You never were much good in a fight. Guess you mean more to me than I thought, and don’t give me that crap. If Magical Fencer Petal ☆ Usami is who you want to be, then that is the real you. Hell, after what just happened, I know they’ll be waiting for me if I try to go back. My old life is gone. From now on, I’m just Marina. I know it’s not the same for you. They never believed you strong enough to bother learning your other identity, but even so, will you join me? Will you stay by my side, as a magical girl, for the rest of our lives?”

Feeling her transformation stabilize, Usami sat up and pulled the veil off her head. Though she knew better, Marina’s words sounded like a proposal, and she was blushing furiously. Helping her to her feet, Marina grabbed the veil and flung it into the sky above them, where it exploded into a miniature fireworks show.

Then Marina did something that caught Usami completely by surprise: She kissed her.

It wasn’t just a peck on the cheek, either. It was sloppy, open-mouth, with lots of tongue. After recovering from her shock, Usami wrapped her arms around Marina and returned the kiss. Losing herself in passion, her hands slowly moved down Marina’s back, but before she could go too far, Marina broke it off.

“That should give them something to talk about for a while.” When Marina whispered those words into Usami’s ear, her entire body turned cold. Of course this was just another play for clout. There was no way Marina could ever feel the same way about her.

Only a minute ago she had promised to remain by Marina’s side, but now she was having second thoughts. Would her unrequited love eventually turn to bitter resentment? Would it be too painful to stay with her, forever loving, but never loved?

She wasn’t given much time to contemplate it. Marina’s eyes widened in shock as she felt her arm pulled behind her, and a mana draining cuff fastened around her wrist. She tried to turn around, but was held in place by an armlock.

“Play time’s over, you shitty Sailor Mars dollar store knockoff.” Marina recognized the voice as belonging to Mr. Blackburn’s daughter, Magical Princess Something Something. “You’re going to wish you had gone with them, because I’m going to lock you in darkness and agony for the rest of your unnaturally long life.”

Picking her hammer up from the ground, Usami took a swing at Puyumi, but the blonde magical girl just laughed and erected a magical shield between them.

“Go home, weakling. What kind of ‘magical fencer’ uses a hammer anyway?”

Before she met Marina, Usami would have responded to the provocation, but she had learned much from her crush. Without a moment’s hesitation, Usami transformed the head of her hammer into a spike and swung with all of her magic. The shield shattered, and the spike dug into Puyumi’s forearm, causing her to release Marina. But Usami wasn’t satisfied. With an intimidating yell, she swung again, forcing Puyumi back, and allowing Marina enough time to retrieve the handcuff keys from an unconscious strike force member.

Puyumi quickly regained her footing, but before she could launch a counterattack against Usami, Marina was in her face. The fight did not go easily this time. Puyumi had been spending the months since their last bout training, and Marina was fatigued from having fought so many adults. Moreover, Puyumi had been studying how Marina fought. She had a penchant for explosive, all-out attacks, and relied on her ability to stretch and twist her body to avoid reprisals, but that wouldn’t work if she couldn’t see the attacks coming.

Summoning her staff to her hand, Puyumi attempted to bash it against the side of Marina’s head, and when Marina ducked the blow, Puyumi unleashed bolts of magical energy from the tip of the staff. They whizzed over Usami but then turned midair and sped towards Marina’s back. Usami attempted to intercept them with a shield, but she ended up taking a bolt to the stomach, and the others slammed into Marina from behind, knocking her off balance.

That was the opening Puyumi had been looking for, and she launched a larger, more powerful attack, one which Marina had no chance to avoid, no matter how she twisted herself. When the light from the attack faded, there was a large hole in Marina’s chest, and for a moment, Puyumi thought she had completely pierced her enemy, but the hole quickly closed, like wet sand filling a gap.

“Y-You’re a monster!” In a panic, Puyumi shot more bolts at Marina, but Marina opened more holes in herself to allow them to pass harmlessly through. Her entire body had become a non-Newtonian fluid, hardening when needed and flowing around any attack aimed in her direction.

Puyumi’s spirit was completely broken. She tried to run, but Marina wasn’t about to let a chance for further notoriety escape. With a well-placed kick, Marina forced Puyumi onto the sidewalk, leaving her unsteady on her feet. Raising her right hand to the sky, she began sucking all the paint around her into a large ball. The paint liquefied, but rather than mixing into a nauseating brown, the individual drops swirled around, retaining their original colors.

“Don’t—” Puyumi tried to plead, but Marina thrust the ball of paint at her with enough force to push her back against the building behind her. The paint splattered, sending multicolored streaks up the wall and onto the sidewalk around her. Quickly whipping out her smartphone, Marina snapped a selfie with Puyumi splayed against the building, and then another when she fell forward, leaving a Puyumi-shaped gap in the paint.

“Holy— Are you OK?” Usami asked. “What you did, it’s like you weren’t even human.”

“Don’t worry about that. I may have changed my body around, but I kept my brain untouched. I’m still human, still in control of my magic. That’s not going to change. And look, see? I’m back to normal.” She held out her hand, and Usami squeezed it to make sure. “Everything’s OK. Let’s get out of here before anyone else shows up.”

This time, Usami didn’t hesitate. Even if Marina would never return her feelings, she needed someone to watch her back. Nodding, she left the city with Marina, intending never to return.

Despite Marina’s promise, everything was not OK. Her stunts that night—fighting off magical adults, kissing Usami, and splattering paint all over the side of a building—rocketed her to new heights of fame. Because of her antics, governments around the world began debating whether magical girls needed stricter supervision. There were even debates at the UN about whether or not she was dangerous, and if other magical girls would follow in her footsteps. Everyone was talking about Marina, and she was riding high on it.

For a while, the two of them laid low, disguised themselves with magic, and lived seemingly normal lives together, but after months of debate about her, and further months of speculation as to where she had gone to, interest in Marina waned. To Usami’s relief, Marina seemed to take it in stride. Maybe she had finally had her fill, Usami thought, but Marina was secretly fiending. The only thing holding her back was that she didn’t know how to top herself. What would get peoples’ attention?

If I’ve got nowhere to go as a hero, I’ll just have to become a villain. Magic is magic, after all.

Marina tried to dismiss the thought, but it ate at her for days. Why not be a villain? The whole system was corrupt anyway. What had it ever done for her? It wanted to kill her, so fighting back was just self-defense. Sure, taking it down might hurt other people, but it wouldn’t hurt her, and better yet, it would make her more important than anyone alive. Every day, people would have to think about her.

Knowing that Usami wouldn’t agree with that sentiment, Marina slipped out one afternoon. Usami didn’t even notice until that evening, when news spread that Marina had attacked a government training facility for magical adults. Marina didn’t feel good about abandoning Usami, but she needed that rush that only fame could give.

At first, she was careful to only target magical adults, and to not let civilians get caught in the crossfire, but as she went after ever stronger opponents, she realized that putting bystanders in danger was a good way to get a much-needed advantage—and a good way to get people talking about how dangerous she had become. Sure, they occasionally got hurt, some of them quite badly, but that only drove engagement further. The algorithms pushed posts about her violence, and the masses kept doomscrolling.

But that wasn’t her only advantage. Without hesitation, she reneged on her promise to Usami, giving herself over entirely to her magic. Because her opponents were unwilling to go that far, fearful that they might lose their own sanity and become monsters like she was, she found new ways to cheat victory from those much stronger than her. She would transform into water and force her way into their lungs, use illusions to trick them into attacking each other, or turn herself into tungsten so that she wouldn’t melt as she superheated the area.

These strategies were successful, allowing Marina to both best her opponents and remain in the public consciousness. Then, one day, the governments of the world all broadcast the same message.

Mahou Shoujo Marina is doing it all for attention. If we ignore her, she’ll stop.

At first, Marina just laughed. The idea that people would ignore her just because the government asked them to was ridiculous. Most people didn’t even like the government! To her surprise, however, it worked. No doubt, the government was pulling strings behind the scenes, censoring posts, but the fact remained that she could no longer revel in attention.

Fine. If that’s how they wanted to play it, she wouldn’t give up. Her next attack would be so big that they couldn’t ignore her.

Early one evening, Marina began her assault on her nation’s capital building. It was the most heavily-defended area of the entire country, but that only made it a more alluring target. As soon as she teleported into the air above the building, she was swarmed by magical guards. Exploding magical energy from her body, she sent them flying in every direction. A fast-paced, brutal battle followed, but Marina likely had more magical combat experience than anyone on the planet, and she emerged victorious.

But her victory was hollow. Even though she reduced the capital building to rubble, nobody talked about it. There was no news coverage, no social media posts. From then on, no matter where she appeared, she faced no resistance. The bystanders wouldn’t even glance in her direction, even when she attacked them directly. After only a few days, it completely broke her.

“Look at me!” From a rooftop in the world’s most populous city, she used magic to transmit her scream to every person on the planet. “Look at me!”

Only one voice answered. “I’m looking at you. I’ve always been watching.”

Turning around, Marina saw Usami walking towards her. Normally, she would flee in shame from Usami, but she was now so desperate for acknowledgement that she took a step towards her.

“We’ll come up with a plan,” Usami assured her. “Just like before. We’ll find a way to make you popular again.”

To Marina, Usami’s words were a stronger spell than any magic. She picked up her pace, running towards Usami, her arms outstretched.

Usami reached out in return, and slipped a mana-draining handcuff around Marina’s wrist. It was more powerful than any cuff she’d ever experienced, and she stumbled as her mana was ripped from her body. Once she realized what had happened, she tried to run away. She could find a rock and smash the cuff, or even saw off her own hand. Once she had her magic back, regrowing it would be simple. Usami held her tight, however, and slipped the other cuff around her own wrist. Marina could do nothing but watch in shock as Usami’s transformation was torn away.

Just as Marina suspected, the real Usami was a glasses-wearing, pimple-faced nerd, but even in her panic, Marina had to admit she was cute. So cute that she felt inadequate in comparison, and she covered her face with her free hand.

“I’m sorry, but this was the only way to save you from yourself.” Usami reached up and pulled Marina’s hand away. “They promised they’d let me keep you. You’ll never be a magical girl again, but at least we’ll always be together. I’ll make sure you never feel lonely.”

The End

Alyssa Aurinia