❀ Past - January 24th - Midday ❀
The cafe lies ahead, its royal blue paint glistening in the first golden rays of the day. I can see the raindrops that cling, jewel-like to the name. Outside the sidewalk that will bustle in a few short hours is quiet, the concrete oblivious to whether it is midday or midnight. My face smirks upward at the sight of the flower planter to the right, the town has put in new blooms that will give us flashes of sunny yellows and hot pinks through when the springtime arrives. If I stop walking right now I can almost hear the heartbeat of the town, quiet, like the ticking of an old grandfather’s clock.
Once Miss Hazawa opened the sliding door, a new world descended upon us five.
What first received us was a four-layered wall hanger with tiny classic Japanese decorations while towards our left there was a red fake door with a bushido mask. Turning left, we could appreciate three long black glossy tables approximately for eight people or four people. However, there was also a small lounge bar with four seats which had teapots and espresso machines. Yet, to my surprise, there seemed to be a drum set, an acoustic guitar, and a piano. I wondered if they played music at a certain time of the day. The place was luckily empty, just some three people on the bar drinking some espressos.
"Welcome, how may I help you?" a young man approached us, who seemed to be a barista.
"A table for..." Miss Hazawa did some headcount. "Six. Yes, six people, please."
"Right this way, please."
And so, we were seated while Miss Hazawa ordered six hand-side soba lunches and everyone said their side dishes. When everything was in order, and conversations went on their own sides, I could finally ask Yuiko about her work.
"Oh yes, I wanna know as well!" Shiiko added, "I remember I did something similar in my junior high! But it was in a convenience store."
"Well, Hazakura and I were grocery store clerks. It entails ensuring that transaction prices. We also performed functions with all departments to ensure payments are made correctly and all invoices are well handled." she replied politely.
"The importance of making sure that cash payments made on the merchandise are well monitored is very important to the development of the grocery since it is profit-oriented!" added Manabu.
"This responsibility is to ensure that the merchandise is well stocked, stored, and filled so that they will be well accounted for. We also help customers locate products on the shelves, although Hazakura handled that the most..."
"Yeah, you stole all the cute girls from me..." pouting, Manabu then smiled and drank a bit of some tea Miss Hazawa ordered previously while we waited. "Yet, I dare say she was really efficient, Tsukiko."
"Talking about efficiency, Yui was pretty concerned about you, Hazawa. How come your wound on the neck healed so quickly?" Shinji went straight to the point. "Or either something is up or you have some pretty efficient makeup to cover that shit."
"Shinji!!" I whispered.
"Bro... what did I tell you about language?" Shiiko added.
"Shut up, you do the same."
It's such a cliché, right? "You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife"? Well, that just happened.
When anxiety and fear grab me by the tongue and dry my mouth, I don't panic anymore. I've been there before, I know the feeling, and knowing it makes it less scary - I am all the stronger for my battle scars. So instead of letting it take me down, I tell myself everything will be alright. I remind myself that I am a good person, I do good things, I have a heart full of love and there is the world is full of good people out there. Fear can only hold me back, stop me from reaching my dreams. I can't say it never comes again, but each victory gets a little easier.
I just had a panic attack a while ago so I need to think positive!
However, it was starting again, yet... It wasn't as fearsome as it was during the morning.
The thoughts were accelerating inside my head. I want them to slow so I can breathe but they won't. My breaths come in gasps and I feel like I will blackout. My heart is hammering inside my chest as it belongs to a rabbit running for its skin. The room spins and I do my best to make everything slow to something my brain and body can cope with... Until I found it... A strap.
Seraphine Hazawa had a strap coming out of her skirt pocket.
"Did you buy a strap somewhere? It looks adorable!" I blurted out.
The silence caressed her skin like a cool summer breeze, smoothing her soul, taking away her jagged edges. It had been one hell of a rough day for all of us. In seconds, Miss Hazawa took a sip of tea to avoid the uncomfortable stillness that had taken over.
The silence of the café made my blood as cold as the winter air that crept through an open window. Bereft of any wind the leaves outside hung limply until they fell of their own accord, there was no whispering noise or rustling. It was as if nature conspired to keep ourselves in the dark, not daring to whisper the reassurance I craved. Her head snapped in an instant from gazing out of a window with unfocused eyes to mine.
"Underclassman Samidare, do you have a few minutes to spare. I need to talk to you," was all she said.
Suddenly, I met with Yuiko's silence as well once my roommate stood up and left outside and Shinji cursed under his breath.
And that’s when I noticed something was wrong.
I knew Shinji would curse.
I knew Miss Hazawa would take me outside and tell me a part of her past.
How did I know all of this? Is this what they call Deja vú?
"Ah yes, you finally woke up."
The sudden unrecognizable voice startled me and my world froze. Everything went black and white, even Miss Hazawa had stopped in the middle of her speech. I was the only one who could move. No clouds were advancing, no birds were singing. It was me and only me. Which made me feel extremely anxious.
"Hey, hey, there's no time to lose!" that same voice said, a figure magically appearing before me. "You need to learn how to fight or you'll be trapped in here forever!"
Her hair glowed like dark honey. It ran down in rivers of reds and browns as each rivulet shone deeply. Each individual strand was a soft feather falling. Her hair was radiant with passion trying to bring eyes to look at the depths of the auburn reminding all those of autumn and better times, even if they were tied in two ponytails that went up and down to her shoulders in ribbons similar to candy wrappers. Yet, her eyes shone like a mixture of rivers who had blended in the same colour as an aquamarine ocean.
"Miss... Hayami?" I stuttered, recognizing her appearance and outfit, which was a black, long school sweater where I could barely see her hands, plus a white skirt. "What is going on...?"
"You can just call me Ameka while I'm like this." She replied. "Do you remember what happened at the pub?"
Small fragments of my memory began to gather into a single piece, doing their best to recall.
"We made together a chocolate bar..." I muttered.
"And I ate a piece of it..."
"We have a winner! Your dream magic blended well with my chocolate and it seems you alone managed to create this space from today. Seems this was the start of everything and then went downhill..." The auburn-haired girl took out a control remote from her pocket and pressed a button. "There we go... and... fast-forward!"
Vivid images that were just mere parts of just a few hours ago suddenly went on high speed when she pressed the button. It was as if I were watching a movie and, suddenly, someone made everything go fast until it reaches a certain point. I was deeply amazed at what was happening but at the same time frightened to death.
"Um, Miss Hayami," yet I was interrupted.
"Um, Miss Ameka... what is going on right now?"
“I get bored easily so we are skipping some details until your battle. Now do your best to fight that thing again that I don’t want to be trapped in an eternal dream all winter,” she smiled sheepishly and my heart was about to explode in my throat.
“You mean I have to fight… Mr Yamada… again?”
“Indeed,” she nodded assertively. “And stop!”
There I saw myself, clearly transformed. Miss Hazawa afraid in a corner and Kuro, who I didn’t know was Nobuyuki at that time, were frozen in place as well.
“Now, let me tell you some basic stuff! But first, let me transform!” placing a hand on her chest, Miss Ameka continued. “O dulcedinem esse perfectum. Unguentarias siderum. Largire mihi virtutem. Fiat mihi hanc voluntatem cordis et renum uti sacchari ad conflandum. Ego autem puella magica omne dulce: Sweetch!"
“It’s Veneficae not Puella Magica!” a voice I recognized pretty well interrupted Miss Ameka’s transformation, me missing the vital part where she changed appearances just to see how Nobuyuki was able to enter this space with a pissed off face and sweat all over it. “You… sneaky child!”
“Oh my, the mutt appeared, what shall I do?” she said, me tilting my head towards her again. “Well, the more the merrier!”
“You set up a barrier after we talked in the pub to prevent me from coming in! So don’t give me that bloody crap! You even said I would guide her or help her or something but you lied!” Nobuyuki fell to his knees. “I guess I’m losing my stamina pretty quickly, I need to train as well as soon as possible.”
However, I was mesmerized by Miss Ameka’s appearance at the moment to focus on him or make questions about it. I was able to appreciate her during the fight with her random apparition. Yet, I found myself captivated yet again by her looks. Her mint, curly hair was all over the place with pieces that seemed to be chocolate chips as decoration on the tips. The ribbons she had that were like candy wrappers grew to become just part of her outfit in a platinum colour. Her dress, however, seemed like an apron trying to appear as if they were layers of a red velvet cake. She had a cape as well that reminded me of whipped cream for some reason. On her hair, a single lollipop hair clip was found, while her left hand held a cream puff and she ate a bit of it.
“Delicious,” Miss Ameka said to herself after tasting her own sweet. “What concerns me of this outfit is that my chest goes flat AAA like batteries instead of that gorgeous bust 83 cup C I have…”
“Um…” I wanted to say something but I was speechless. “Miss Ameka…”
“It is Sweetch now!” she said in a commanding voice. “First things first, let’s look at your transformation. What were you thinking when that happened?”
“That is my job! I am her Familiar. I am the one that should teach her so getaway you… you side-line character!” Nobuyuki snapped, stealing the spotlight.
“How dare you!” Sweetch now munched a cookie. “I am pretty sure you did a terrible job as a mentor for her! She didn’t know the basics!”
“I’ll… get into that right now…”
This is all so confusing.
“Yui, my dearest Yui. Tell me. When you transformed, did anything popped into your mind? You see Veneficaes project an image towards people. They are hopes and dreams for us. They are our aspirations and what we truly desire. That is why, when the Rosa Crystallum activates, a part of your brains emits those signals making you transform into what you did.” Nobuyuki spoke calmly, holding my hands and looking straight into my eyes. “What crossed your mind?”
“Yuiko.” My voice came out like a tiny whisper. “I… I am pretty sure I thought of her. How would she deal with this situation? How she would keep her calm demeanour. How she would do everything perfectly unlike me.”
That’s when two pieces of the puzzle clicked.
That’s why I…
My chest size. My hair. My eyes. My whole body.
Everything made perfect sense now.
“You became your perfect ideal version of Yuiko, so it seems.” Nobuyuki sighed. “It still doesn’t help that your appearance doesn’t change that much but at least people won’t know it’s you due to your body proportions and differences in hair colour tone.”
“We got part one covered now, at least.” Mentioned Miss Sweetch. “Now, let me tell you something about this. We all have codenames. If they know our real names it could be over. The Observer could easily come for us when we least expect it during our daily life!”
“Codenames? And about The Observer… Nobuyuki, you mentioned them before, right?” I gulped. “Now that I think about it, you barely mentioned them just once.”
“Yes, I go by Sweetch. And you go by…?” Sweetch raised an eyebrow.
“Somnia.” Replied Nobuyuki. “However I want to talk about The Observer now that I have the chance.”
“The Observer, huh…” I muttered.
“I haven’t had the chance to encounter them yet so I will find this rather interesting!” Sweetch sat on the floor, expectantly.
However, I felt rather uncomfortable given how my whole world was in a paused state and I could clearly see Mr TYamada transformation as a statue that could come back to life at any moment. That’s why I rathered to stay on my own two feet to be cautious.
“Listen well, girls.” Nobuyuki fixed his throat. “The Observer is just what their name implies, an observer. As of now, they haven’t interfered directly with this world… yet, we fear they might have something up their sleeve. See, it’s their fault the Rosa Crystallum has spread into this world. They stole our last relic, the one that has made a reaction with Yui. That is why I fear they might start doing something to get it back. What most intrigues me though, is how you became a Veneficae, Sweetch.”
“Wait, wait. Hold it. I thought you were going to talk about them, not do a 360° and turn it towards me!” She stood up, astonished. “Are suspecting me of something, mutt?”
“As I said, all Veneficaes have a familiar, where is yours? How come you can transform, where is your Rosa Crystallum?” Approaching her, Nobuyuki seemed to be quite agitated.
He is taking this very seriously… I am… afraid.
“I don’t have a one and I never knew about that! And if you want to see the stupid rose so badly well here you go!” enraged, Sweetch opened up part of her blouse.
I can't see it from here.
“... You have got to be kidding me… It has begun.” Examining it, Nobuyuki’s face was darkened. “Now it makes sense why our sensors detected an outbreak of Veneficaes in this world…”
“You keep blabbering and blabbering but I still don’t get you!” Sweetch closed her blouse while he stepped away, deep in thought. “You asked to see it and then say nothing about it!”
“Do the training routine, don’t mind me.”
“You really get on my nerves, mutt…” Sweetch went towards me.
Why did I find her Rosa Crystallum odd? Even if I couldn’t see it, I could sense it. I could feel something was wrong, sending me a signal of alertness all over my body.
“Could you please stop staring at me like that?” The girl raised an eyebrow, me noticing I had been searching all over her for an answer to ease my thoughts. “Okay, now that we are back on track with zero development about all this because what your mutt over there did was add more suspense than answers, let’s start this that I don’t want to be trapped in here for all eternity.”
She took out the remote controller again, pressing a combination of buttons changing our surroundings into white space while keeping Mr Yamada on his place. My past version had vanished, as well as Miss Hazawa. It was only us three plus a soon to be monster.
“That’s an interesting device you’ve got there…” Nobuyuki turned around.
“What is it? It looks like a common remote for TVs and stuff,” I blinked in astonishment.
“You said ‘don’t mind me’ so I’ll do that.” Sweetch then turned her head towards me, “I had a… let’s say, a coworker lent it to me.”
“More Veneficaes, huh.” Nobuyuki sat on the endless white, pondering.
“Now let’s get this show on the road! First things first though, spells! We, Magical Girls, don’t chant or have amazing sticks that grant us powers. It all comes from this little crystal rose!” The mint-haired girl pushed with her index finger my chest, making contact with said object under my clothes. “That means…!”
“Internal mana or in other words mind force.”
“If you don’t want to be minded then don’t mind us! Stop interrupting the lesson you were supposed to give her as you said to me earlier!” Sweetch huffed, putting both hands on her hips. “Now listen here, newbie. We don’t chant spells, we just let our mind be a catalyst for our powers to bloom. We don’t need to lose precious time saying some long-ass stuff again as we do when transforming.”
“So that means we just need to be really focused on what we want to do…” I placed a hand under my chin. “While I was fighting I just… did stuff, never stopped to think about what I would or could do.”
“That means our powers depends on our feelings!” Sweetch coughed. “The mind is a very interesting thing. That is why I’m going to tell you about…!”
“Emotional cognition.” Said Nobuyuki dryly. “There are fundamental emotions that are fundamentally found in humans and animals. Emotions are just part of the natural order of things. They are biological systems. For example, ‘hate’ affected behaviour and cognition, is not involved in driving one to act on that hatred. However, in this case, they are still being considered as different ‘things’. Emotion and cognition are separate.”
Sweetch closed her lips in frustration while Nobuyuki continued.
“The sensation of tears on the face contributes to the emotion of sadness. That’s why I’ll twist this: we feel sad because we cry, not cry because we are sad. Our perception of visceral changes, the interaction between the body and the context it was in, determined how we felt. Our heart beating fast, perspiration, an increased rate of respiration, a flushed face, these were the building blocks of our emotions.”
In a one, two, three fashion, Nobuyuki created some steps to be above of us two.
“However, what does this mean? Emotions are further separated from the mind. Ultimately, the role of emotions is to support well-being in an organism’s interaction with the environment. Or at least that’s how our research goes. That is why a key conclusion from this research and from other current discussions of the relationship between cognition and emotion is that it is probably counterproductive to try to separate them. Instead, current thinking emphasizes their interdependence in ways that challenge a simple division of labour into separate cognitive and emotional domains…”
“Wait, stop. Nobuyuki you are throwing a wall of text into our minds!” I was at a complete loss. “Can Miss Sweetch go back to teaching…?”
“Can’t be helped, I must continue… she has fallen asleep.”
And as soon as I looked to my right, she was indeed asleep due to the hardboiled explanation just thrown towards us.
“What she was trying to do to you was this: “cognitive reappraisal”, which involves rethinking the meaning of affectively charged stimuli or events in terms that alter their emotional impact. That is why she wants you to fight against Mr Yamada again. Despite that, it seems she doesn’t quite understand how all this works.”
“Cognitive reappraisal. Reappraisal appears to depend upon interactions between prefrontal and cingulate regions that are frequently implicated in cognitive control and systems like the amygdala and insula that have been implicated in emotional responding…”
“Nobuyuki please stop! You are making my head hurt, what even is an amygdala and insula and…”
“I apologize, my dearest.” The stairs disappeared and Nobuyuki fell to the ground, standing up tall. “This is why I tried to postpone the lessons. I… tend to get a little technical on the details…”
“A little? A whole lot!” I refuted.
“In a nutshell, whereas many behaviours may be reasonably well characterized in terms of cognitive-emotional interactions such that emotion and cognition are partly separable, in many situations, true integration of emotion and cognition may also take place…”
“In other words, it’s just trial and error? You mean like, my emotions are a fundamental part for me to unleash my powers but my mind must be strong as well…”
“Kinda. What I’m trying to say with all this complicated stuff is that… you need to be careful to don’t break your mind or your emotions will go all over the place. As I said, the Rosa Crystallum is part of you now. You can get carried away, neither emotionally nor mentally… I fear what might happen to you.”
“So what are you, a scientist or something? That or you transformed into some exposition character, gosh that was DENSE.” Sweetch woke up giving a long yawn. “That was a nice little nap. You say you are her Familiar but with all that technical blabbering it seems to me you know a whole lot about this whole issue.”
“Let’s just move on with the training, okay?” Nobuyuki looked at me pleadingly, ignoring her. “You need to be able to control your inner mana. That’s how we call it.”
He doesn’t want to answer that question nor talk about this, doesn’t he? I wonder why.
“Okay,” I replied, nodding my head.
“You’re letting him go off the bat just like that!?”
“I think there is no point in discussing something that doesn’t want to be discussed, that’s all…” I sighed.
“Whatever floats your boat…” Sweetch stood up as well. “Now transform so we can get this over with.”
Closing my eyes, I focused.
“Quidquid exactum et dormiam.Omnia vide et vigilabis.Quia non venerunt. De musica suavis sit dux somnia vestra hac nocte. Quia Veneficae Somnia advenit!”
Everything happened in an instant.
My hair; my clothes; my eyes; even my body.
I looked like Yuiko in someway again. My chest had grown; my hair was long and wavy, tied in a ponytail which was wavy in the end with a large light blue ribbon and was of a very light lavender colour. My eyes were orange as well like hers and pastel too. My dress was black and the rose was outside, being crystal pink with crystal leaves.
“Now, lesson two: HeartBits. As your mutt over there explained like a showoff, HeartBits feed off this emotional cognitive thingy from the human brain. That is why your professor there went all crazy.”
“That might be true, however…” Nobuyuki interrupted again. “The HeartBit was fresh on him. It seemed to me that the HeartBit was feeding out of someone else instead but was unable to break them. The way Mr Yamada transformed is unusual for a freshly stuck HeartBit.”
“What are you implying?” Sweetch asked.
“Seraphine…. Miss Hazawa!” I yelled. “Nobuyuki, if a HeartBit doesn’t feed or break the person, what do they do?”
“Well, they usually look for another host that can quench their thirst. However, there has never been a case where that happened. At least in my field of expertise… Yet, we can’t throw your hypothesis out of the window yet. Given how The Observer works it might be plausible.”
“Don’t you mean possible?” snorted Sweetch.
“It is plausible in this case, mind you.” Nobuyuki crossed his arms and sparks flew between their eyes again. “Let me just finish here!”
“Wait… so… if the HeartBit was originally in Miss Hazawa’s body… it would explain the purple mark on her neck…” I kept thinking. “That is why after she was called by Mr Yamada, we could see all the damage it had caused on her because the HeartBit couldn’t break her and it jumped straight to Mr Yamada as soon as it got the chance!”
“Basically, yes. That would explain how it went berserk as well.” Nobuyuki blinked, probably remembering the fight.
“HeartBits are these strange machines we must defeat before it’s too late. That’s where the two elimination methods come into place. Sealing or Obliteration.” Sweetch fixed her throat to make us remember she was still here.
“And you chose the latter one…” Nobuyuki looked at her with eyes filled with anger. “I feel you know the consequences of that.”
“Okay so sealing what basically does is sealing it with a barrier so it doesn’t affect the host!” Sweetch ignored him olimpically. “Pretty convenient and self-explanatory huh?”
“Yeah, you could say so…”
“However!! There is a catch. Imagine it like a balloon. What would happen if the balloon keeps getting filled with air?”
“It would explode…” I said.
“Exactly, that’s what happens to sealed HeartBits! The barrier keeps them at bay but they continue feeding until the barrier breaks and they become even more savage and dangerous as before. That is why obliteration is the way to go! Just a swift kill to the little HeartBit and call it a day’s job well done!”
“It is not! It goes against a Veneficae’s moral and ethical…!” Nobuyuki spoke bewildered.
“Code? I don’t care if this magical thingy has its own sets of morals, I have my own and I will pursue them ‘till the end. I won’t change my mind, you stupid mutt.”
“Tch.” Nobuyuki shook his right fist.
“In the end, it depends on you, Yui Samidare!” Sweetch pointed at me. “It seems this mutt has more to tell so I’ll leave the lesson about HeartBits here! Whether he decides to pick up the lesson or toss it away depends on him. So right now we’ll focus on the fight!”
Without giving a cue, she pressed the play button and the monster Mr Yamada had transformed into, went lashing out towards me.
“Remember what I told you!” Sweetch screamed from a safe distance, “Don’t think, feel! Do your stuff that I don’t want to be trapped in an eternal winter dream with you two in here”
I yelled at the bottom of the Earth when Mr Yamada was unleashed.
Through the emptiness came the glow of two yellow eyes, like sallow lamplight eight feet off the ground. They moved with a slight sway as if the unseen body prowled like a big cat. My heartbeat stopped. The eyes did not, with rapid acceleration and a more bounding motion he came right for me. In less than two seconds I was on my back gasping for air.
“Yui!” I could hear Nobuyuki’s yell.
“C’mon, newbie! You did better during the real fight!” Said Sweetch from somewhere far away.
You are making me relive a trauma! How am I supposed to…!?
A sudden gush of pain jolted throughout my body. My stomach ached, my arms lost tension and my legs began to weaken.
I need to concentrate on my feelings… Yet how am I be capable of doing that in such a short time span if Mr Yamada’s attacks are so fast?
I dropped to the ground. My tongue was soaked in the taste of blood. Bruised and winded, with an injured leg, I did my best to stand up. My head was pounding and my world spinning.
“I won’t give up yet!” Breathing heavily, I looked towards what used to be Mr Yamada and pointed towards him. “I… will fight to protect what I love and cherish the most!”
“In that case, let me aid you now that you’ve found your resolution, my dearest!” Nobuyuki was now right beside me, holding my left hand with force. “That’s my role as your Familiar, after all!”
Thrusting the ground, Mr Yamada pounded the floor, me jumping into an incredible height barely escaping unscratched and it followed me as well.
Flying through the air, I didn't know what to do until my eyes met with Nobuyuki who was with me now. I didn't know any spell yet, however, what I could do, was follow my inner voice. That's why, without casting anything with my lips, I let my feelings flow.
For that sole reason, I flew within the alleyways, trying to lose what used to be Mr Yamada. Until I got into a clearing and stopped for a second which was a mistake in the past, but now I knew better and what was to come.
Some rays of dark matter came out from a distance and came out to me like bullets, escaping by instinct and I skyrocketed right back into the sky.
Anger wasn’t flowing into me at all, just the scene of a hurt, scared girl filled with affection and love that stored inside her heart as if it were a locket. Miss Hazawa’s smile was broken and distorted thanks to Mr Yamada and the HeartBit. It was due to both factors that she suffered.
“This is for my friend!” I nodded with Nobuyuki, he shining with an indescribable light that filled my body. “I will cleanse those distorted dreams!"
That was the minute that the shards that I threw at him before, surrounded me.
Running wasn't an option anymore.
That's why when the bullet rain began from his side with dark matter, I prepared some shards with my hands, ready to shoot them at him.
Multicoloured sparks illuminated the wintery sky while I kept advancing and launching all I could while floating into his direction avoid every dark matter knowing it was toxic for my body. I wondered that if someone looked from far away, they would think this was a firework spectacle.
I felt liberated flying in the sky alongside Nobuyuki while he transferred energy towards me.
I have been given more blessings than I feel worthy of. I still feel love, joy and happiness so strongly it makes me tingle right down to my bones. I've known pain enough to fragment my soul into such tiny pieces it took me years to reassemble my mind. When I come back from these strong emotions to a state of balance, I learn what I can from each emotion, feeling and experience.
“That’s why I won’t be stuck, living in an eternal winter inside my heart anymore!”
Everything was covered in white at the end of the world.