All is lost

The worlds drowned in fire or devoured by cold decay.

No hope for the future, nor love for the past

It is better for it not to be

We three, never forsworn, do affirm it

Not just for personal tragedy, but for good of all:

Annihilate.

This is our final message

...

The monster flailed its single arm, tearing through a brick facade and snapping off a fire hydrant. The arm was grotesquely inappropriate for the size of the monster - yet the misshapen tangle of wires clung to the concrete and flailed away. The appendage was composed of five cars strangely joined and animated. The monster connected on the other end was barely larger than its unnaturally clean and well-dressed enemies.

Three beautiful but strangely indeterminately faced women in themed outfits posed on the edge of the roof. Their ages and specifics of facial features were impossible to make out. It was frankly disturbing; I could feel my brain slipping every time it tried to commit a particular feature to memory. I had thought it a flaw of the footage, but given my current equipment there must be something else to it.

I knew the blonde with the mostly white outfit was Amaterasu, the one wearing slate grey with complex twirls of red and orange was Lina, and the one wearing uniform ultramarine with a sword slung across her back was the leader Eva. They stepped off the roof, landing intact despite the five story fall.

The black-haired leader called out "You shall not continue this automobilephagic rampage, demon! No quantity or quality of antique cars shall avail you."

Naturally I had a great view from my nest, especially with my new self stabilizing optics. My hormones appreciated the jump, mainly because they were wearing skirts. I sat back and enjoyed the show until the creature was definitely defeated (and sternly reprimanded).

Fortunately they took a moment to pose and get off a parting gloat. Perfect opportunity. I took a deep breath, let it out half way, and aligned the cross hairs.

A Good View

I had ignored it at the time. The magical girls Amaterasu, Lina, Eva will end the world. An electronic voice from a blocked number. A prank, a viral advertisement. Three months later I started getting really annoyed at the difficulty of having a conversation with my Japanese suppliers without the topic of magical girls coming up. I hadn't realized that Japan's cultural obsession with supernatural schoolgirls had reached such crippling heights.

After I threatened to drop my contract unless they were upfront about the problem my suppliers finally admitted that their failure to meet deadlines was due to disruptions caused by said magical girls. I would have ejected them right there, but they mentioned the names Eva, Lina, and Amaterasu.

I promised them I'd look into it and take appropriate action. Admittedly at the time I thought appropriate action would be asking Father for a loan of some of his more unsavory enforcers. I had not yet been forced to implement the discipline necessary to deal with particularly recondite business partners.

I never break a promise though, so I did look into it. I was on the early end of the phenomenon. Most people hadn't decided whether it was a viral promotion or a prank by one of the more organized surrealist teams. It turned out I had actually already seen some of the footage, but hadn't removed it from the category of entertainment/superstition that so much of the media obsessed about (in my defense: at the time my digest feed had somehow slipped and was running celebrity coverage coterminously).

Once I actually burrowed into the police reports and cell phone footage it became clear that something more was going on. In retrospect I had simply failed to update my estimates despite novel evidence.

I trawled through every single video and picture I could find. Then I began compiling profiles and statistics. Sixty hours later I decided that I needed to sleep.

This was truly important - but I wasn't sure who I could trust. Father had become even harder after the accident that killed Mother and put Jacob in his 'coma' (really it was full brain death, but Father wouldn't give up). This project would prove myself a worthy heir in a way none of my other plans could.

I even held out the slightest hope for a cure. Magic? Jacob was dead, but if anything had a chance to do the impossible, retrieve information lost to entropy, this was it. Most importantly this might be a genuine opportunity to get out from under Father's increasingly overbearing thumb.

This was too important, too valuable - Father would take this away from me even if I made it my Project. Who was personally loyal to me? At seventeen, even with my precocious ventures, I couldn't think of anyone I trusted who didn't work for my father first. I made a note to recruit from further afield.

Jackson had been assigned to me at birth, and I trusted him with my life. Could I trust him not to report to my father? Well I had little choice - it was simply inefficient to do the whole thing alone. I needed a lieutenant at least.

I wandered downstairs. Jackson's dark form was silhouetted at the computer. Military bearing intact he sat upright and with perfect ergonomics despite his recreation.

Bleary eyed I watched him sneak up and garrote a terrorist. "Isn't that a little too much like work?" I asked. Without pausing he responded: "I love my job."

He glanced up with a half smirk, before turning all the way to face me with a concerned expression. I winced internally - I must look pretty dishevelled. Best to cut off any comment on my poor sleep schedule: "Jackson. I need you to make some preparations while I get some sleep."

He raised an eyebrow. "What for?"

"You'll see. I even hold out hope you'll be amazed." To my dismay Jackson was less surprised than I was by the magical girls. Maybe he was just good at hiding it, or perhaps he was just jaded to the wonders of the world.

My preparations took a week. My investigation had yielded plenty of information about the magical girls and their demonic foes. The demons were a bewildering array of loosely thematic abominations. There was little logic behind their form, and while possessed of incredible and varied powers they made embarrassingly poor use of their potential.

The magical girls were hardly better. Both sides would regularly stop in the middle of combat to make a bad pun. Their idea of a surprise attack was shouting a threat from behind their target.

The magical girls would at least attempt creative solutions, but these were rarely better than tricks or combining two magical attacks into one. As for using magic to supercharge the world economy and revolutionize physics, while letting professionals deal with the combat? That was apparently out of their intellectual scope. For some reason they seemed to think calling in helicopter gunships would be cheating.

Amazingly, despite their scenery chewing attacks, the death rate was practically nil. Injuries abounded, but perhaps because of their laid back fighting style most civilians evacuated in time. As for the demons? The demons had a theme, and by golly they were sticking to it - no matter how foolish.

They seemed to be controlled by The Mechaner. This person(s) goals were unclear, but seemed to wobble between plots that would embarrass a comic book villain, and sheer insanity.

It convinced me the girls were much more valuable. As to the actual capture method: here I was fortunate. They are incredibly tough. I saw them take a claw that had just torn a concrete sidewalk in half to the stomach and walk it off. The cut was gone in five minutes. Venom from a Shelob sized spider paralyzed them for slightly longer.

The difficult thing about capturing well armed people is typically avoiding accidentally killing them. When the Russians gassed Chechen terrorists in that Moscow theater, the anesthetic agent killed many more hostages than the terrorists had. I wasn't so worried about overdose or shock. I was worried about under-kill, so the specially modified .50 BMG anti-material round was filled with the most potent disabling cocktail short of nerve gas I could scrounge up.

I also had shaped charge magazines prepared in case sheer physical trauma was needed. The first shot was aimed for the lower abdomen of the blond - Amaterasu the Bright Soul. I doubted anything less than a head shot would kill her, but didn't want to risk aiming higher.

The recoil came as a surprise, as it should. Impossibly she spun around and raised her hand "Partial Rainbow Reflection!" The bullet rebounded off the quarter dome of multifaceted light. The shattered pieces made small clinks as they peppered the window frame surrounding my sniper nest.

What The Fuck. She couldn't possibly say that before the bullet arrived. Besides - her only warning would be a slight reflected flash, no sound would have arrived yet. She didn't start moving until I fired - right? Was I so focused I didn't notice her movement until afterwards? My head hurt.

Oh wait. Combat. Jackson and his slaved turret fired on their targets moments after I had, but the girls dodged with what must have been deceptive speed, and not scared flinches. I started to line up another shot before I realized that a solid mass of rippling red light was rapidly expanding in my scope.

Shit! I dropped down behind the sandbag defenses. A strange liquid hum filled the air for a moment before I was thrown back through the wall. Covered in sand, I woozily looked back at the smoking hole where a window once sat. This had gotten out of control fast. Time for plan B.

I shouted 'take cover,' hoping my throat mike was still attached, before flipping the safety cover off an intimidating red switch. Opening my mouth and covering my ears I flipped the switch.

The hand of god slapped me in the face. Very disorienting. I didn't seem to be seriously injured, but I had a buzzing in my head that seemed unrelated to ear trauma. I hoped that wasn't a concussion from the shock wave - I had read studies on repeated shock-wave trauma in soldiers. It could do nasty things to your brain. While I could afford to drop a few IQ points, I wasn't looking forward to doing so.

Stumbling to the window I looked down at my handiwork. No sign of the Magical Girls. A sudden fear - what if I had killed them? Maybe they lost their powers when they died, and without their strange invulnerability they had been vaporized like normal people next to 200 kilograms of ANFO.

A small tenement with the front half torn away by the blast collapsed the rest of the way. Buried in the rubble a multicolored sphere of light glimmered. The sphere collapsed, raining chunks of brick and a surprisingly intact toilet on the magical girls. They looked distinctly put out.

I turned and ran "Evac! Primary evac now!" I sprinted to the other side of the building - managing an impressive pace despite my injuries. I reached my destination: a window with a temporary walkway to the roof of the grimy indeterminate use building number three directly behind this one (number two).

I crawled across the walkway. I'm afraid of heights, and while I'm not proud of it, there was no way I was walking across a flimsy metal frame jury rigged between a window and roof. Especially in this wind. Wait: what wind? The wind from the very sudden onset, quite definitely not forecast thunderstorm.

I hooked my harness into the waiting automated helicopter, and lifted off. The storm pounded the clear shell with drops the size of my bullets. The helicopter leaned twenty degrees into the wind to keep position. I moaned and tried not to throw up.

At least the storm would make it difficult to find me. My thermal optics made out a thin form on the roof I left, but I was several hundred meters away already. I had programmed some simple evasion maneuvers into this helicopter: the magical girls attacks are dodge-ably slow moving.

I should have been looking up. The helicopter's shaking intensified suddenly. A grey and red clad form floated a meter to my right, hair and clothing whipped in a frenzy. Lightning flashed nearby, illuminating her starkly. It was a dramatic moment. She was quite pretty when furious, but somehow despite the skirt, the updraft, and the soaking wet blouse this time I didn't appreciate the view.

She punched through the wind shell and grabbed my harness. She shouted something. I expect it was filled with righteous anger, but I still had my ear protection in. Then she ripped me out of the helicopter and through the thin but really exceptionally hardy wind shell. That probably did give me a concussion - I don't remember anything else.

~~~~

Chapter 2: Concussion Discussion

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