Chaos Angel Spanner — Chapter 12: Bad Girls Can’t Win
Part 5: Dark Side in Your Mirror (Final Revision)
Part 5: Dark Side in Your Mirror (Final Revision)
technosphere. “There’s a few things you have to know about being a magical girl,” says Jennifer to Leila in her pocket dojo. Both wear stereotypically frilly magical-girl dresses matching Jennifer’s golden hair and Leila’s violet eyes. “First, never use your power for mere selfish benefit. That’s the surefire way to corruption. Second, never assume you can beat a monster or villain using your own power alone. You never know what nasty tricks they might have up their proverbial sleeve. Third, never forget that you’re not alone. Wherever you are, you’ll always find someone like you who’ll join your fight. Last but not least, never give in to despair. If villains don’t take advantage, the corruption will.”
shira’s apartment. The girl with the violet eyes gazes at the nude beauty in the full-length mirror on the bathroom door. “The body is the soul...” Involuntarily she smiles. She decides she likes the idea.
Something stirs in the back of her mind. Suddenly her reflection turns black with an evil grin, then turns back. Her eyes go wide; her smile disappears. She wonders what happened. Then it appears: a layer of swirling darkness drifts around her and settles on her like an unclean garment. The corruption... It feels like someone else. It develops its own face with shining eyes and monstrous grin. “Who are you?”
“You think you’re Leila Shelley,” it mocks.
“This body is me. I am myself and nothing more.”
It stares at her uncomprehendingly. “You have to have a name! Surely!”
She fixes its eyes and declares with new conviction: “From this moment on, I have no name. I am the girl with the violet eyes.”
The black ghost screams and fades away.
technosphere. Leila asks, “What does the corruption do?”
“Excellent question!” Jennifer summons a hovering screen for a demonstration. “Behold!” Gameplay video of a magical-girl avatar turning dark. “When the corruption overcomes a Player, they lose their avatar, like this.” When the avatar turns completely black, it begins to attack its own party. Soon it begins to mutate, grow larger, grow more grotesque, until it becomes a giant monster, permanently lost to its former Player.
“That’s an Ego.”
“What is Egoism? The cult of this. They took the corruption and turned it into a religion.”
Jennifer peers at her skeptically over her glasses. “How do you know this?”
“I was raised in it. Corporatism isn’t economics, it’s metaphysics. The Ego is a god, and money is its blood.”
Her eyes go wide. “Wow...” She puts her glasses back up. “Most of us Players never suspected.”
“Most Egoists never play except to Grief.”
“Like Annabel Lecter...”
“Now what I really wanna know is, what happens if you meet yourself?”
ferry terminal. “Pagá usted martes,” Shira seductively coos to the lady at the Mexican food cart, “por una hamburguesa hoy.” Señora Ibáñez laughs. She knows Shira’s quirks well enough.
Mimi, Polly, Trishie, and Ruthie, numbed by the void where Nancy once was, hold onto each other for dear life. Polly asks, “Does she do this to you a lot?”
Señora Ibáñez smiles and shrugs. “Shira is Shira. What can I say?”
“My friends just lost one of their friends,” Shira says, “so I’m paying for them.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll let them have lunch free just for today.”
“Thanks! Me, I’ll just pay for Ayla”—she glances toward her, approaching with Willa, Jennifer, and Team Bremelo, then puts her arm around Leila—“and my nameless girlfriend.” Leila looks at Shira wide-eyed.
“What? Your girlfriend has no name?”
Leila eagerly plays along. “Yes! I’m the girl with no name.”
She finds Willa next to her sporting blue sleeveless coatdress, tall black flat-heeled boots, black pantyhose with fashion-model stripe down the back, and geek-chic cat’s-eye glasses: arms crossed, looking down at her with a half-smile. “Excuse me?”
Shira says, “Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you yet, but Willa’s credited on all Band with No Name records as ‘the girl with no name.’“
“If you know spaghetti westerns, it was my way of saying ‘leader of the band.’” Willa winks.
“Willa,” Leila asks, “do you know about the nameless beauties?”
“Did you know the first Rejectionists were Riot Grrrls who turned my nameless persona into a political stance?”
“Even I got caught up in it when I co-edited a zine we called Alias: Blank.”
“So you were the first?”
“No, the music biz couldn’t let me. They were already billing me as ‘the artist formerly known as nothing.’“
Suddenly, from the direction of the ferry landing, a Japanese-accented woman yells out: “Ai-chan!”
Ayla screams and hides behind Shira. Willa and all the Bremeloes turn to see Nenene Sasakawa stomping toward them angrily, arms crossed tight; her frilly black and purple goth loli dress is fashionably ripped and soiled, her high-heeled black leather boots polished to high gloss, her face smeared with Jokerish pancake makeup, her inky black hair moussed up into a vertical psycho frightwig that would have embarrassed Robert Smith or Siouxsie Sioux and makes her look a foot taller than she is. She is seventeen, Mimi’s age. “Baka Ai-chan! Koi! Hayaku! Ima!”
“Shira-chan! Tasuketeeee!” cries Ayla as she tries to hide behind Shira.
Shira crosses her arms, shifts her weight onto one leg, and stares at her rival with a cockeyed smile that says You annoy me, go away. “Well, well, well. Hisashiburi neee... Ne-chan.”
Polly looks at Nenene strangely. “You know this creature?”
“Ladies and gentlemen, Team Bremelo and Willa-obachan, allow me to introduce my old frenemy from Shibuya, Nenene Sasakawa. Ayla used to be the pet loli she treated like shit till she ran away from her two Saturdays ago and came to me.”
“Ai-chan mine, bitch. You steal her. I come take my loli-chan back!”
“Noooo!” wails Ayla. “Please don’t!”
“Don’t worry, Ai-chan,” says Shira. “She’s not your slavemaster.” She turns to Willa. “And if it turns out she is, we can always convince a talented and dangerous lawyer we know to change that for Ayla’s benefit.” She winks. To Ayla she says, “Ai-chan, please go to Willa-obachan,” then steps up intimidatingly close to Nenene and looks down at her. “So... Ne-chan.” Ayla hides behind Willa and holds onto her as tight as she can.
“Stop call me ‘Ne-chan’! My name Nenene! Sasakawa-sama to you, bitch!”
Shira looks over her shoulder and says to the Bremeloes, “You know why I call her that, besides her name? She’s way short, and ‘Ne-chan’ means ‘mousie.’ Rabid little rodent, though, don’tcha think?” They laugh.
Nenene looks like she’s about to spit on her. Then she yells at the Bremeloes, “That not first time Shira do this to me! Back in Japan she steal gangster boyfriend!” They gasp and giggle.
“Ah, yes. Koji-kun. Did you know, when I kidnapped Koji-kun to that love hotel in Chiba, I raped him with my strap-on?”
Nenene’s eyes go wide, her jaw drops to the sidewalk, her throat makes a gargling noise. The Bremeloes fail to suppress giggles; Ayla squeaks; Willa slaps her forehead and shakes her head sadly; Cory whoops. Leila blushes furiously and says, “Shira, you didn’t...”
“He loved it so much, I went all seme on him again.” Polly and Mimi gasp and look at each other; Steve stares at Shira strangely; Kio facepalms.
“Oh my god!” squeak Polly, Mimi, and Karen all at once.
“Shira!” exclaims Leila, “I’m really in love with you now!”
Nenene growls, “You bitch.”
“So how is Koji-kun these days? You drive him hikki again?”
Nenene slaps Shira, making her laugh hard. “I hate you! I no let you steal my loli-chan! Stop laugh at me!” Then she goes to confront the blond woman in the coatdress and cat’s eye glasses who is half a meter taller than her, behind whom Ayla is hiding. She peers up into her face and says, “Who the fuck are you?”
The tall woman smiles sweetly and says, “Willa Richter-Thomas.”
Nenene stares wide-eyed up at Willa for several seconds, then turns away and says weakly, “Chikku-sho.” She turns to glare at Shira.
“I tell you what,” says Shira, “I’ll let you have Koji-baka. I’m keeping my girl with no name and my Ai-chan.”
Nenene storms off back toward the ferries. “Fine. I go back Japan and find better loli-chan do what I say.” When she reaches the ferry entrance passageway, she turns around and flips Shira an angry middle-finger salute.
Shira turns around, bends over, flips her skirt up to reveal her thonged butt, slaps a bare cheek three times, and taunts, “Rabu rabu naaaa!”
Nenene stomps angrily into the passageway. Ayla lets go of Willa and runs back into Shira’s arms to hold her tight. Until the buses come, they hear Nenene shouting imprecations and kicking things, then yelling at the ferry terminal attendants when they try to get her to stop her tantrum or leave.
technosphere. Clockwork Alice and Violet Cure seek the witch through the nameless city, leading three other magical-girl players in their party for this mission. Two of them try to restrain themselves from fangirling the five-time achievements leader, but the one with an unimpressively alphanumeric handle who speaks like a SoCal surfer girl finds herself impressed with Leila’s. “Wowie zowie, babe! ‘Magical Ninja Goth Princess Violet Cure’? That’s wicked mental!”
“Say, ABC123,” she says idly, “you know that if Robert Smith really were my father, ‘Violet Cure’ would be my Rocker name? I always wondered if that’s where I got my lips...”
“Pay attention, princess,” Jennifer snaps. “We’re getting closer.”
Leila checks her power crystal. Not her usual indigo this time, but the color of her handle and of her eyes. Sure enough, it glows brighter each time she checks. They’re still on the right track. Jennifer said there’s a high-level Achievement at stake. The boss they’re hunting must be bullet-hell hard.
ABC123 says, “How come the devs didn’t bother to name this city?”
Orange Marmalade replies, “You want the most elite dungeons? Look for the ones without names or numbers.”
“Guessing from other games I’ve played at this level,” says Jennifer, “this city’s name may be a major clue to the nature of its boss. Or it’s a key to unlock higher levels, or maybe it’s the Achievement itself. Whatever it is, we’ll find out by the time we win.”
Leila says, “Me, I was wondering, is there any way you could make an avatar without a handle?”
“Whoa,” Candy Korn says, “that would require a wizard-level hack to give you a terrorist-level avi.”
“Why,” asks Jennifer, “were you gonna ask me to hack one up for you?”
“Have you ever met someone who can live at least a normal life yet gets by without a name?”
“Huh? No, actually.”
“I just met three of ’em this morning.”
Jennifer stops cold in her tracks and stares at Leila in shock. ABC123 asks, “Were they hot babes?”
“Oohoohoohoo! Girl, you get around!”
Jennifer looks toward the exact direction Achievements come from; the others follow her eyes, and soon enough the Secret Subculture Achievement appears and presents itself to Leila. She blushes furiously.
No sooner than Leila collects her Achievement than her power crystal goes bright. The witch’s arena is coming closer. Jennifer says, “We’re almost there. Let’s go.” Impatient to reach the witch, they toward her arena and finally reach it. Leila knows immediately when her blood suddenly turns cold.
Only elite cities are nameless. Witch lairs never have names, to keep Players from stealing or quick-destroying them. Even the witch’s name is usually guarded by combat-grade malware. This lair is stark black and white, clotted with tree roots. “Don’t touch the mandrakes,” Jennifer warns, “their screams can damage you but won’t help you.”
“I’ll deal with ’em when we get there,” Leila replies. She takes out her collapsible spear; it snaps out to its full length.
Candy skeptically inspects her lavender dress. “Uh, you sure you didn’t just mod a Sailor Saturn?”
“Why should I? I’m just that good with a naginata.”
The lair opens up to her. She steps over the boundary, and she’s in—but she finds herself suddenly alone—
—and the others find themselves are shocked to find her gone. “Where’d she go?”
Candy panics. “Oh, no! That ain’t no ordinary monster. It can only be an Egobeast. Nobody survives a battle with that! If you ain’t lucky, she’s gonna be real-dead!”
“Oh my god,” ABC123 gasps, “she’s doomed!“
The witchbeast rises among the screaming mandrake choir and into the thunderclouds, gnarled black and gothic, showing the motifs of personae not her own, several members of the Brinkman clan recognizable, a gigantic construction dwarfing her as it reaches its full height. She recognizes only one part of it as her own: the crescent moon and black sun emblem of her persona Luna Eclipse. In a loud echoing voice hardly even female, it demands, “What is your name?”
Alarms scream inside her, all her nerves beg her: it craves her attention. She must not give it her name. “Name?”
“Foolish little girl! I am you and you are not!”
“You mean you’re my Ego?” Her nerves answer her own question. “So this is what an Ego looks like.”
“Silence! You are but a seed. I have achieved my divine destiny and shall now take wing.”
“I see now: deprived of my body, you have taken my personal Shadow as your form. Are you my Shadow, witchbeast? Are you Luna Eclipse?”
“I am not Shadow nor Witchbeast, I am your self! My name is Leila Shelley! Surrender to me and embrace your fate!”
“You are the projection of hundreds of people, an entire noble House. Am I your projection? I am myself.” (Orange says, “This.”)
“I am your name!“
The realization hits her with a shock so powerful she shudders. “I have no name!”
The witchbeast attacks its original with massive force, shredding her costume, lacerating her flesh, making her scream in pain and helplessness. Witnessing the horror, Candy and Orange throw themselves into each other’s arms; ABC123 shields her eyes and wails, “I can’t look!” Leila’s will to live fills the power crystal with violet light, blindingly bright; Leila closes her eyes, draws upon the light, focuses and lets go—
—and the random party members gasp as they witness the formation of a high-level Repulse field, equal in power to Ariel’s, to deflect all the witchbeast’s attacks. Focus, think: she draws its power toward the field, then Repulses it with multiplied force back into the monster’s body—it screams as it disintegrates until all that remains is an echo. The arena disappears; her companions now surround her. All of them direct shocked looks toward her, even Jennifer.
“Nobody survives an Egobeast attack!” exclaims Orange. “How in the world did you do it?”
She doesn’t meet their eyes; her newfound awareness still burns in her mind. “Detach your consciousness from the Ego, break your identification with a name, accept that your transient and temporary existence—I am what I am, the witchbeast is what I thought I was but am not; my body is me, but my Ego is not, and that includes even my name—one’s true self has no name...”
“Whoa,” says ABC123 breathlessly, “that’s way Zen.” Jennifer rolls her eyes.
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Copyright © 2012 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
[Revision 4 Final, 12/5/12: The ferry terminal scene is the original 12.2 R2 with some parts rewritten. Everything else is new to the Fourth Revision.]