Final Frontier Plains
The clouds had taken on a darker shape. The floodgates from above could have opened at any moment.
The three opponents were positioned in a triangle. Neither of them dared to move yet. In this fight everyone was for themselves. There were no teams or alliances or anything of the kind. For all intents and purposes it was a contest to the last person standing.
Yet K-sha and Purple Heart both looked only at Noire in her Next form. Her words had been boastful, but both acknowledged her as the biggest threat at this moment. And despite not intending to work together, both of them instinctively faced their worst opponent first.
Next Black: "If you aren't going to move then I will make you."
She raised her energy blade above her head in a rough motion. For a moment she just stood still. K-sha adjusted her right leg to make a quick move on the spot. She couldn't tell what Noire was trying to do. The wind made K-sha's hair flutter in front of her right eye. She tightened her hair band and changed position, so the strands wouldn't block her vision. This breeze was an unwelcome distraction. It was all directed at Noire as well…
She realized just in time what was going on. The air was being sucked towards Noire's sword! And as it swirled around it, rainbow colors gathered at the hilt. The pull of the wind was so strong that it dragged K-sha towards the CPU.
Next Black: "Tornado…"
Now was the time. K-sha immediately dodged to the side before Noire brought her sword down. Even this early dodge was almost too slow.
Next Black: "Sword!"
The winds were released in one magnificent slash. The fringes alone managed to cut K-sha's hair a little bit and created strong irregularities in the atmosphere around them. The sharp wind was so powerful that it cut all the way towards the edge of the crater and felled a lonely tree in the distance!
This was the power of the Next form… Noire hadn't even attempted to aim. If she had, this might have become more than just a small injury. Her intention wasn't to kill them after all, but she did make good on her words… She got them to move.
And that was also the trigger for her to let loose. In an instant she rush-glided toward K-sha and prepared her blade.
K-sha: (So fast…!)
Her Gold form boost was allowing her to keep up with Noire's advances, albeit barely. The weapon on her shoulder created a small EMP wave. It wasn't able to stop Noire, but it distracted her scouter long enough for K-sha to slip under her sword and then kick her from behind. Her protected leg crashed into Noire's side, but to her shock she had reacted to the feint. The black arm protector on her left arm had blocked K-sha's attack with ease.
Her silver hair swayed in what seemed to be slow motion, before she very suddenly hit K-sha in the shoulder. The impact sent her flying several meters. Eventually K-sha caught herself and fired several salves with her golden guns. And not a second too early, because Noire was already in pursuit again. The bullet rain finally brought her to a stop. With blue arcs that resembled a net of energy all the bullets were dispelled by the azure blade.
Next Black had no weaknesses…
This pace was insane. She hadn't expected to be that much at a disadvantage. But in the end this was just fate.
Even at her peak… even with the power of the Golden Tower… Noire had defeated her with just her HDD. And with time K-sha had grown complacent. Knowing that she was accepted into the normal world… breaking with the Order. All these things had weakened her. She had thought there were no regrets, but during the contest she had noticed her own inadequacy… wasn't that why she was doing this in the first place?
She planted her feet firmly into the ground. To defeat Noire... she would have to hurt Noire. There was no way around it. Could she do it? Everything inside her was resisting this truth. She couldn't! Never!
But Noire wasn't showing any mercy either, right?
This beckoning voice… what was it? Some instinct inside her that had been awakened by unforgiving and brutal training every day of her childhood. Survival instinct.
The master had told her over and over until it was drilled into her mind. Engraved into her very being.
"A cornered fox is more dangerous than a jackal."
If she just aimed for her vitals it would be so easy…
She pressed her nails into her hands to focus on the here and now. She had other ways to deal with this kind of battle. It was obvious that the CPUs had incredible durability and stamina. One or two direct hits were not going to bring them down anyway.
All of these inner thoughts had taken a few seconds, but Noire's attack hadn't continued in spite of that. K-sha noticed that Lastation's CPU was currently distracted by a furious sword flurry executed by Purple Heart.
Purple Heart was somewhat indecisive. Their threeway stalemate was going to be broken soon. Noire had already raised her sword. She couldn't speak for K-sha, but for now it was best to focus on the silver-haired swordswoman.
When the wind slash was released Purple Heart blocked the edge with her sword. The pressure alone made her feet dig into the ground. Almost instantly after the shockwave ended Noire had already rushed towards K-sha. Purple Heart could only watch as the high school girl got flung around.
Noire had instinctively gone for the weakest link. That was cruel of her, but she probably hadn't intended to be. Still, Purple Heart wouldn't just stand around and watch.
She kicked off the ashen ground and sped straight into her fellow CPU. Noire turned her way and blocked the long blade with her own energy sword. Their clash created sparks in the air. It was disheartening how easily she blocked the attack. In fact Purple Heart was pushed back…
Purple Heart: "That power suits you well."
She said while struggling to push her opponent back. It wasn't a sarcastic remark. In this form Noire was very direct and goal oriented. She seemed always to be in some sort of meditational state. Purple Heart understood that feeling too well. There was not much left of the cocky Noire right now, which made her infinitely scarier.
Next Black: "And you are holding back."
It wasn't a question. With a spin of her weapon she deflected Purple Heart's blade and then followed up with a dive kick from above. Afterwards she created dozens of instantaneous slashes. This was her Tornado Chain.
The impacts from every angle and direction rained down on her and pushed her to the ground. She could feel the painful flashes from several of her limbs. This barrage was brutal.
In a calculated action she let the pressure of the attacks throw her back. Afterwards she kicked off the ground and floated above. Now she had the high ground (or air). The silver haired girl below didn't seem bothered though.
From up here she could take a breath and watch Noire intently. She already knew her friend's fighting style as well as her own. That was one of the reasons she was confident that she could keep up with her for a while. This was a little above and beyond their usual fights… but hesitation was the biggest enemy right now.
Purple Heart: "Show me if you can brace for this."
Intense energy started to swirl around her and she held her blade vertically in front of her face.
Just as she was about to release her technique she noticed something from the corners of her eyes. K-sha was doing something. In time it became clear what that was. A couple of rockets hailed down on Next Black to blow her to pieces!
The explosions created smoke and dust clouds in the air and shook the crater. Of course Next Black wasn't even harmed. She had protected her face with her arms and taken the explosions with nothing more but a few scratches.
But this opening was good enough!
Next Black had seen the rocket propelled explosives coming due to her scouter. It warned her of incoming projectiles. The first two she had cut down, but the rest was moving in irregular patterns. Instead of trying to destroy them all, she instead let them crash around her. With her boosters it was easy to dodge to the only place in the wave of explosions that wasn't harmful.
Even so the air and ground shook from the destructive rain. With a swipe of her sword she cut the smoke apart to regain her vision. Her scouter would have warned her of incoming projectiles, but she preferred to be sure.
Just as the opening in the clouds appeared she came face to face with Purple Heart's determined expression.
Next Black: "You!"
Purple Heart: "Neptune Break!"
Not good! Purple Heart had activated her EXE skill and Next Black had been too distracted to react. Her feeble attempt at blocking the incoming beat down was pushed away by the speedy back of Purple Heart's blade.
Left, right, above!
This speed was even surpassing Next Black's improved senses.
Below, behind, right shoulder!
She gritted her teeth as she felt the impacts of each slash against her.
Purple Heart threw her sword into the air. That part confused Next Black, but then she felt Neptune's enforced kick to her chest! She was literally kicked into the sky. Purple Heart caught her blade mid air and then rushed straight after her.
Next Black: "Hah!"
With steeled tenacity she managed to stop her momentum and then used her booster to counteract Purple Heart's speed. The long black and purple blade that was supposed to cut her defenses instead got dragged down by Next Black's boot. Purple Heart was pulled along and then they both hit the crater with a loud bang.
Next Black towered above the crouched down Purple Heart triumphantly.
She had just broken the Neptune Break.
Next Black: "This isn't our first dance. We both know how this will end. Do you belittle me so much that you think you can keep holding back? What fight are you keeping those reserves for?"
Purple Heart coughed and pulled herself up on her sword. Her limbs were shaking from the excess, but she didn't stay down. Her face was hard to read and Next Black didn't comprehend her reasoning. All she knew was that those purple eyes were not looking at her. Purple Heart's true opponent wasn't Next Black.
Next Black: "So that's how it is."
She clicked her tongue. Her aim here was to break up their fight. If Purple Heart was unable to keep fighting that would meet that condition. But those eyes told a different story. And it made her mad. Even in this calm form she could feel the heat building up in her mind.
Was she angry that she was being ignored? Or was it something else entirely…?
Before she could delve deeper into those problematic thoughts she noticed several small projectiles hitting the earth between them. Purple Heart was just as surprised to see the metal sticks that were protruding from the dirt.
Next Black turned to the side to see K-sha with guns in hand, aimed at them. She had missed.
No. K-sha wasn't such a bad shot. She wouldn't miss form this distance, let alone so perfectly placed between their feet. Meaning…
Next Black: "Explosives."
Just as she exclaimed that the sticks sprang open and revealed red blinking lights. A fast paced beeping signaled the imminent explosion. At this angle she would hit both opponents simultaneously.
But that wasn't good enough. Next Black dashed backwards and was hit by the heat of the explosion, but nothing else. Afterwards she jumped into the air and then crashed straight into K-sha!
Except K-sha had already used a cord she had attached to a rock to pull herself away in the moment of impact. Next Black's speed was much greater, but this attack was predictable. Her armored foot crushed the ground until it cracked open.
Her eyes were focused on the eye-patched girl ahead, so she didn't notice the small black metal discs inside the split earth below her. The impact from her kick had set them off.
Next Black crossed her arms in front of her face as the explosion of the landmines hit her. Everything turned white for a second before the fires and metal shrapnel skewered the entire area.
Bursting out of the fire, Next Black advanced beyond the explosion. She hadn't taken much damage, but she was now even more determined to reach K-sha.
That was the sound of a step on another mine.
Next Black: "Wha-?!"
K-sha was standing in front of her without any fear. She was almost in arm's reach! Next Black was hit by the mine's explosion. With another step she pushed through!
Click, click, tick…
Every step she took to dodge the explosions led to another activated mine! Just when did this girl prepare all this?
As K-sha kept retreating, Next Black kept chasing through a field of mines. Knowing that she would only get hurt more by running after K-sha, she instead set off into the skies. Up here were no mines.
K-sha: "Target acquired."
Her dull eye was focused on the single target in the air. As Next Black had penetrated the smoke of the explosions to reaffirm her location she had become an easy target.
K-sha: "The ground, the air, even another dimension… no place is safe for my opponents."
With a strong pull of her trigger she released her anti-air artillery. Powerful bullets, energy blasts and rockets showered Next Black. Even she couldn't keep taking this many hits for long! K-sha was lacking in power, but she made up for it by being prepared. Noire's spontaneous fighting style couldn't even come close to this level of preparation.
Next Black: "Enough."
A shockwave was released from the center of the explosions and bullet rain. Next Black had extended her arms to the side and dispelled every and all shots at her with pure energy and wind.
Instantly after that shocking display of power she descended to the ground. With a spark in her eye she raised her energy sword. The entire plain rumbled between K-sha and her. The pressure around the battlefield had suddenly turned upwards and…
The black earth split open between them, into a giant rift! This was also one of Next Black's moves. It was mindboggling, but she managed to rip open the entire area with ease. All the mines on the field uselessly exploded in this unnatural disaster.
Sheer power triumphed over careful planning.
Now there was nothing that could stop Next Black's advance. K-sha felt cold sweat run down her face. This was apparently the end of her trickery. Now she was forced to fight Noire head on.
Next Black ducked under Purple Heart's attack. She wasn't foolish enough to forget about her other opponent now. Just as they exchanged another flurry of sword swings, K-sha joined in. Now it truly was a three-way battle. K-sha had already demonstrated that she would attack Neptune as well, but in this close quarter battle it was hard to choose your target in the first place.
Next Black blocked K-sha's bullets with her sword while moving back to escape Purple Heart's blade. Then she grabbed Purple Heart's right arm and forcefully smashed her into K-sha.
Purple Heart: "Ungh…!"
Their collision was painful and made them both wide open for follow-ups. Next Black delivered. A kick penetrated Purple Heart's processor unit and pushed her (and K-sha below her) into the dry ground. Their bodies left imprints in the rock and dirt.
Both of them were coughing loudly and could feel several concussions across their bodies.
Next Black: "This battle is over. I don't intend to hurt you any more than this if you comply."
The energy sword in her right hand vanished. She was absolutely serious about her proposition. To her the result was already determined. Executing the punches was merely a formality and these two should already have realized that.
Purple Heart: "Can you still move?"
She asked the black haired girl below her. Her purple pigtails were starting to loosen up from all the damage and she was hunched over, covered in bruises and dirt… but she still asked such a stupid question instead of worrying about her own shaking arms.
K-sha: "I don't… require your… pity…"
And even more vexing was this girl's attitude. K-sha was looking like she had been crushed by a truck and then some more. And yet she was getting up. With a harsh push she got Purple Heart off her and looked at Next Black. Her back was lowered; her arms were dangling down, unable to hold her golden guns anymore.
Purple Heart was supporting herself on one knee, but she retrieved her sword nonetheless. As she unsteadily returned into a fighting stance she gave Noire a slight smile.
Purple Heart: "As you said, this isn't our first crossing of blades. You know that I will not back down on things important to me."
She wiped the blood and sweat from her cheek.
Purple Heart: "Do you not feel some exhaustion as well? I remember you complaining to me that it was unfair when we beat you three on one before, although you were the only one transformed."
Next Black: "I'd prefer if you didn't bring that up…"
Even now Noire could show a cute side. The way she pursed her lips in dissatisfaction for example.
K-sha: "For Noire… for Noire…"
She was mumbling to herself in a rather delusional way. The other two didn't notice it, because of their exchange. The young girl seemed to be at her limit. Not physically, but mentally.
To make her true love happy… To defeat Miss Neptune…
She clutched her face in pain. This dark instinct was still ravaging the corners of her mind. Defeating Noire… was that the only way?
Selfish desires were mixing in with her reason. Things felt so black and white all of a sudden. Victory was the only path left to her. At…. all… costs…
They were really hurting each other. Uni and Nepgear could only watch with pained expressions as they saw the beatdown in front of them. No matter how they thought about it, this seemed wrong.
They didn't dare to interfere, but they could also not look away.
Noire was merciless, but she didn't aim for any vitals. She really just gave the two contestants a forceful beating. But Neptune and K-sha weren't stopping.
Nepgear didn't know why Neptune wouldn't use her Next form. Was she scared of going too far and hurting Noire? That didn't seem to be it. Her sister was too skilled in that form to lose control. But it did look like she was saving up her strength for something else.
Uni: "Is it because of what she said before…?"
Finally the twintailed girl spoke up again. With one elbow leaned on her right hand and her head supported by the other she looked on in contemplation.
Nepgear: "What do you mean?"
Uni: "Miss Neptune implied she would use her Next form against K-sha. Is she still keeping her trump card for the fight after they beat my sister?"
That was… ridiculous. At least Uni felt that way about it. Couldn't they see that Noire was going to crush them at this rate?
And K-sha was holding herself really well, but she was acting odd for a while now. The aura surrounding her made it seem like she was somehow cut out of the world around her. It reminded her of the time back when she was manipulated by Kurome's dark energy.
As they looked on they saw Neptune engaging Noire once again. But something was different.
Nepgear: "Is Miss Noire... slower?"
That was exactly right. The fatigue was finally settling into Next Black. And it was less due to the fact that she had taken so much damage, but more because of the incredible sustain of that form. Honestly, they usually lasted only a few minutes. Even if Noire was really determined, she could only go on for a little while more. It was a problem created by her holding back to not seriously injure her opponents.
It seemed that Neptune had taken that into consideration. That's why they were trying to dwindle her down rather than to beat her right now. K-sha must have been aware of this as well, but her Gold form was also excessively energy reliant.
The question right now was simply who would succumb to exhaustion first.
Neptune put Noire under pressure despite her beat up appearance. While Noire managed to get hit after hit in, Neptune got up every time and attacked even more outstandingly than before. She would probably have said something along the lines of "The protagonist will always get up again to beat the bad guy."
But in this case there was no bad guy to beat up. Nobody who was morally wrong. Whoever won was probably just as correct and wrong as the others.
Impossible. Next Black was huffing somewhat fierce as she brought Purple Heart to her knees yet again. She was well aware of Neptune's tenacity, but this was ludicrous. It was like she was asking to be completely beaten to a pulp.
Noire did not completely understand what Neptune and K-sha had been doing behind her back. She wasn't dense, so she knew it was a lot more important than she gave them credit for. Her insistence on stopping their fight was quite ironic now that she was the one doing all the harm. There was more on the line than just preventing harm from them though. She had to stop their contest.
Even as she beat her friends with her own hands, she still felt that it was important to do this. That it was right. If she managed to get through their thick skulls right now, she would be able to be more reasonable later on.
Next Black: (Just stop resisting.)
She was taking long breaths and adjusted her shoulders. It felt like she was carrying a huge weight on every inch of her body. How long could she stay in this form?
Next Black: "I am done with this. You force my hand."
She stopped Purple Heart's blade with her gauntlet alone. The purple haired CPU widened her eyes at that. Warily she retreated a few steps and focused on Noire's weapon.
Next Black: "You know my specialty already. I stopped yours, but I don't think you will be able to do the same in your state."
Purple Heart: (That stance… she is going to use Infinite Slash.)
Most people would have considered that overkill. There was certainly no way for Neptune or K-sha to beat that attack right now. Until now Next Black had used the back of her blade to hit them. That way all her attacks were blunt. But now she spun her energy sword around to show its sharp edge. This one was not going to be as weak as her previous strikes.
Purple Heart felt her heartbeat increase. Right now Noire wanted to ascertain her victory at any length, only stopping short of killing them of course. She must have noticed her limit approaching. Her tough exterior hid the desperate feelings inside. She could feel that they both were the same in that regard.
Purple Heart: "If I take it all… will you forfeit this match?"
Next Black: "…"
They stared into each other's power button shaped pupils. Each reflecting the other's determined face. Noire was silent for a moment that stretched out into what must have been infinity.
Next Black: "I promise on my pride as Lastation's CPU."
Purple Heart: "There is no greater vow than that."
The always gallant Purple Heart seemed satisfied. Taking on all of Noire's emotions, just to deny them... How ironic.
Next Black: "Prepare yourself then Neptune."
Intense impulses of energy were flowing through Next Black's sword. The blue glow intensified to the point where it resembled a sapphire sun. A release of all this power in a nigh infinite number of slashes would bring down any opponent.
Purple Heart just had to take it. Take all of this powerful bloodlust. This unlimited power of… emotion…
Purple Heart: "Watch out!"
Next Black: "…!?"
Blood splattered over Purple Heart's torso. She stood in front of Noire with outstretched arms. Her sword that had never once been broken in battle… crumbled. Burst to pieces.
Smoke was rising from the bullet hole in the purple haired woman's body.
Next Black: "Neptune!?"
Planeptune's CPU collapsed and fell into her hastily grasping arms.
Silently Next Black transformed back into her human form and grabbed Purple Heart closer, holding her wound shut as best as she could.
Shaking in despair Noire looked up and spied the source of this catastrophe. That one shining golden eye.
Noire: "Why… K-sha?"
This was it. She had done it now. No turning back.
Seconds ago, before the trigger was pulled, K-sha had moved to a specific location. She had buried something in the ground before the fight with Neptune began. A certain weapon that she had stolen from Uni's room. The prototype.
Her arm sank into the still loose earth like it was going into water. With a heavy jolt she pulled the entire black rifle out in one go. The dirt covered tool of death slipped into her hands almost naturally.
This was the strongest weapon she had ever wielded. And combined with her special trump card… it should be able to pierce anything, processor units included. Not even the Next transformation would give enough durability to resist this shot.
K-sha: "Why am I thinking this?"
She gritted her teeth and pulled out a single golden bullet. This thing would be accelerated and propelled into the enemy's heart with the entire focused force of the prototype's blast. In a way this was stronger on a single target than anything Noire could do. Even her Infinite Slash. It could beat it.
K-sha: "Why do I need to hurt Noire?"
She combined the weapon platform on her back with the prototype. This would directly link it to her own energy pool.
Finally she pulled out her trump card. A thing that had been tightly pushed into her uniform. Something that she had been holding close to her heart just for today's confrontation.
A golden piece of metal.
Just touching it with her fingers sent golden sparks down her arms and made her right eye start to glow in the same hue. This was a part of the Golden Towers. The origin of Gold Third's power, but also their greatest downfall. Something that Kurome Ankokuboshi had used to manipulate B-sha, C-sha, S-sha and even K-sha herself.
After the destruction of the Heart Dimension the darkness had faded. The towers had already been destroyed. K-sha had found this in the ruins of the tower in Lastation. It shouldn't have had any power left, but it was actually brimming with it.
Just kill her. It will solve your problems. You want to survive, right? It's all part of training. There is nothing wrong with killing an enemy. You can't be her lover anyway.
Oh. So that's what this was.
K-sha: "You are dead already so shut up."
Her face turned cold and she clutched the golden piece tightly as if she wanted to crush it. The remains of darkness inside it had been weighing on her this entire fight. This pitiful piece of Kurome's power was still trying to control her actions even now. That was the reason for the flashbacks and the voice of her former master.
K-sha: "I would have used it anyway, so go ahead and fade away."
She resolutely slapped the golden piece into the core of the prototype. Unimaginable energy flowed into her weapon. The darkness that was supposed to spill into K-sha's heart was dispelled. No, that wasn't the right term. Swallowed described it much better. This laughable attempt at corruption was already fated to fail. K-sha had beaten it before, she wouldn't get sucked into it again.
Yet this didn't mean she hadn't made an equally horrifying decision on her own.
For just a few seconds she mulled it over in her head. Her dull golden eye stared up at the clouds. A single early raindrop hit her forehead and made its way down to her chin in a wet line.
To make Noire happy.
She needed to hurt Noire.
This would be painful. Uni was watching her. Noire was witnessing it. Miss Neptune would suffer.
But this was for the best.
With an almost relaxed demeanor she laid back down and viewed her target through the crosshair.
Right now Noire was gathering energy to defeat Neptune with her strongest blow. No matter, K-sha's attack would blow away even that attack with ease. Right now she could feel the power simply course through her veins. The pulsation gathered in the energy core of the prototype. It began to synchronize with her heartbeat.
This beautiful silver-white hair that was swaying in the wind of her attack. The slender body clad in blue and black that had been dancing across the battlefield. A face so determined and pure. Just witnessing Noire's beauty for one last time was all she needed right now. This was her last selfish desire. To see Noire in her greatest state, rather than what was to come next.
This scorn that she would carry with all her being.
Her finger was caressing the trigger and…
K-sha: "Please forgive me."
Inwardly she scolded herself for letting that last line slip. Even though she was supposed to be ice-cold and detached she still asked for forgiveness in the end. How silly.
Purple Heart had jumped in front of the bullet instinctively. Her sword - intended to block the shot - was crushed and took the brunt of the force, but the bullet still pierced her torso. Pain was rushing through her body.
It really hurt. This was a pain she hadn't felt in ages. Something that brought her close to death. A terrifying feeling of being overcome by the reaper himself.
Noire had caught her before she could hit the ground, but the shock of the injury was so strong that Neptune was unable to say anything.
She could only lean in Noire's arms as the following scene unfolded.
Noire: "K-sha…? T-this… this was an accident, right? You didn't want to shoot her, right?"
Purple Heart could feel her shaking. Noire was very upset right now. Her first instinct was to try and come up with an explanation that would make it easy to justify this.
K-sha: "…I aimed at you Noire."
The high school girl said almost emotionlessly. She stood a few meters away now. Her hands were bruised and covered in burns. The prototype had collapsed from the overloaded shot. Her Gold form had dissolved at the expense of her entire power put into a single shot. Right now she was just a beaten and bruised girl in the first drops of rain of what felt like a rough shower about to come.
Noire: "R-right! You wanted to defeat me! I forced you to go overboard. It's my faul-"
K-sha: "But I knew Miss Neptune would shield you."
No convenient explanations. There was no room for interpretation with K-sha's frank words. Noire froze up. Her hand was clutched around the hole in Neptune's flesh that was still letting out red life juice.
Noire: "You… knew?"
She really didn't comprehend. Or maybe she didn't want to.
K-sha: "It was the highest probability. I shot from an angle that made it easy for her to see it coming. My shot was too fast for her to pull you away though."
Noire was heartbroken. The completely detached K-sha was just standing there and explaining her plan to injure Neptune…
K-sha: "I am shocked. Even my strongest shot didn't manage to take her out. Miss Neptune sure is strong."
Noire: "T-take… take her out…"
This was a really bad injury.
K-sha: "If it had been me, I would have been dead."
She added almost casually.
K-sha: "If she doesn't get treatment I will give her roughly an hour. CPUs are hard to kill-"
Noire: "STOP ALREADY!"
She yelled at K-sha with a confused and angry voice. Neptune in her arms felt her clasping her back strongly to find support.
Noire: "Why?! Why did you try to kill Neptune? This is going way too far for a stupid contest!"
K-sha: "I see…. So it was stupid to you."
She smiled self-derisively. If one could call something like that a smile. It was more akin to frown that was flipped uncleanly.
Noire: "Of course not… but y-you can't hurt her!"
K-sha: "She chose to cover you with her body. I didn't force her to do it."
Noire: "Still! You knew Neptune would try to save me!"
Neptune could gather what Noire's confused thoughts were conjuring up now. She was heading in a very bad direction. And K-sha kept fueling that fire.
K-sha: "It seems like it. Honestly I didn't think she cared enough. No wonder she was such a problematic obstacle."
Noire: "Obstacle?! Is that all Neptune is to you!?"
Purple Heart felt powerless. Her body was not obeying her. She had to say something. Her dry mouth just had to form words…!
Noire: "I can't believe what I'm hearing… I … I misjudged you! And I even considered you my friend…"
K-sha: "I defeated Miss Neptune. I won the contest. So we are best friends now, right?"
She replied matter of factly. There were no words that could have been worse right now.
Noire: "Did you lose your mind!? How could you say something like that while Neptune is… Neptune…!"
Noire was always composed when it counted. Even when everyone was in a bad state she wouldn't lose it like this. And even now she still tried to be the voice of reason. There were no tears in her eyes and she didn't attack K-sha. But eventually she would give in to those dark emotions.
The way she clasped Neptune in her arms was the action of someone trying to cling to a cliff. If Neptune died right here, then her last hold would be cut off.
K-sha: "I didn't manage to kill her, but that wasn't part of the deal. She lost either way. Although she might lose even more if she doesn't get help."
Not that it mattered to her, was what her eyes were saying.
Of course the other person who was closest to Neptune was equally desperate to get to her. Nepgear almost stumbled over her feet as she ran down the hill and jumped straight to Neptune's side. She grabbed her sister from the side, so that Noire didn't have to carry her entire weight.
Noire: "Nepgear… look after her."
The twintailed CPU got up. She hesitantly let go of Neptune. Her movements were stiff. Purple Heart's fading mind was screaming at her body to get up.
What was Noire going to do? K-sha was just standing there as if she didn't care what happened next.
Noire: "K-sha you…"
Her boots stepped through the coarse earth. The first drops of rain had created spots of mud.
Just as she came closer to K-sha she was stopped by another silhouette. Those black twintails, similar to her's were covering the younger girl's face. Her arms were stretched to the sides as if to block Noire's passage.
Noire: "Uni… get out of my way."
Uni: "Don't do it big sis."
Her voice was shivering. Clearly she was afraid. Not just of Noire's baleful gaze, but also of what K-sha had done. Right now she was split between protecting her friend and her devotion to her sister.
Yet she still blocked the path.
K-sha: "Hey Uni. You are in the way. Noire wants to declare me the winner. Move or I will have to take you down as well."
Her eyes widened in surprise. Like an arrow piercing her heart, those words stabbed her soul. How could she say that to her? Even though she wanted to believe in her…!
Noire: "Get away from her Uni."
It wasn't a request, but an order.
Uni was struggling to keep her knees straight. Her dress was jittering on her shaking body. Despite all of that, she could not move.
The bruised girl clicked her tongue. She put a hand over one eye and her hair fell over the other half of her face.
K-sha: "You are making this difficult… just vanish already!"
It sounded like she was getting impatient.
Noire: "You are that far gone already…"
She was starting to turn colder. Whatever doubts she might have had, the way she treated Uni was just proof of her state.
Noire: "K-sha I will-"
Purple Heart: "So this is the full extent of your determination."
The three black haired girls turned their heads around to look at the unexpected speaker. Purple Heart was standing on her own two feet! Nepgear was giving her a shoulder to lean on, but still; she was conscious and able to talk.
Nepgear: "M-my abilities are limited… th-the wound is only closed temporarily."
The explanation was quite simple. Nepgear had used her limited medical skills to help her sister. But they needed someone skilled like Compa to get her out of the worst.
K-sha's face was still hidden, so her reaction could only be told by her tightening hand over her left face half.
Noire: "Neptune, don't move! And don't talk!"
Her worried voice was somehow giving Purple Heart more strength instead.
Purple Heart: "Please don't fall for it Noire."
She coughed a little and then cleared her throat.
Purple Heart: "I understand your feelings completely now K-sha. You really are stronger than me after all…"
Purple Heart: "If it had been me, I would have been dead."
She repeated K-sha's previous comment. Her eyes were turned down.
Purple Heart: "Any human would have been. You want nothing more than to stay at Noire's side forever… but you think that would only lead to sadness."
Noire: "What? How is this connected to anything? She tried to kill you!"
Purple Heart: "You really think a scratch like this would best me?"
That was a pretty bold declaration considering her sad state, but Noire couldn't reply immediately. In truth that was something she thought as well. Even though Neptune was in critical condition… she always believed that she would make it.
Purple Heart: "I don't think K-sha thought so either."
She smiled through the pain.
Purple Heart: "I was surprised. You really did shoot Noire with the intent to kill. It must have been hard, even if you knew I would intervene."
K-sha: "It wasn't… hard at all...!"
She resisted, but her voice broke too fast.
Purple Heart: "You know, I never believed you were a convincing actress. It makes me wonder how you managed to hide your true identity during the Gold Third crisis."
She actually managed to laugh in this situation!
Noire: "Has everyone lost their minds?!"
The CPU candidate picked up faster than her confused sister.
Purple Heart: "K-sha is trying her hardest to become the villain of this story."
Like a hammer of truth, Neptune crushed the shell of lies that was surrounding the high school girl in an instant. One could almost see her physically break down.
Noire: "Th-the… villain?"
Purple Heart: "Yes… hrm… She is doing all she can to be rejected by you. By her friends. She knows that you are way too kind and forgiving."
K-sha: "Why do you-!?"
Purple Heart: "Like I said, you aren't that good of an actress. They accepted you even after that whole deal back then, right? It must feel like you have no choice but to go to the worst extremes. But you can't bear all that. Don't be arrogant!"
She sank to her knees in the black soot.
Purple Heart: "You do some nasty things to help out a fool like me. I am moved."
She took a step towards Noire and K-sha. Nepgear hastily tried to support her, but Purple Heart shook her head and walked on her own.
Purple Heart: "But that's not really what I want. Or what you want."
K-sha: "I… I don't know what you mean…"
She was barely able to talk straight.
Purple Heart: "I beg you again Noire, please do not hold it against her. She did it all to prove a point. And she is just afraid… of hurting you in the future."
Noire:" I get it now…"
She closed her eyes and frowned. Purple Heart and K-sha were right at her sides.
Noire: "I get that you are both complete idiots!"
She used her fists to punch both of their heads. The impacts almost instantly created bumps and brought them down to the ground.
Purple Heart: "Eh?"
Noire: "You have been thinking about something so meaningless this whole time?!"
She looked at them with righteous anger.
Noire: "As if I would care about something like that! I am not so frail that I need your protection! Fighting at my side, or protecting me with your life… why would I ever worry about something like that? I am Lastation's CPU! I only do everything and that includes protecting my friends. Whether you can stay at my side forever or not is not the point. What really matters…"
She crossed her arms and averted her eyes.
Noire: "W-what really matters is that we are happy together!"
That really was… unexpected.
Purple Heart: "…cute."
Noire: "What was that?!"
Purple Heart: "Haha… I think you are acting cute right now."
She repeated with a chuckle. Noire's cheeks flushed a little in embarrassment, but before she could raise her fist again she was interrupted.
Purple Heart: "You see K-sha? Noire never worried about something like that. There is no reason for you to give up your happiness yet."
K-sha: "Really… am I… not… the worst…?"
Tears gathered in her eyes. All of her mental defenses were already broken. Neptune's and Noire's words left her no way to keep up her façade.
K-sha: "Can… can I really be forgiven?"
Her sorrowful voice was hurting their hearts. This one was up to Noire alone.
Noire: "I already said this a dozen times, so for the sake of Celestia, try to remember it this once. We are friends. And that won't change whether you are human or even a demon lord."
She lowered her head with a shaking lip.
Noire: "A-and… I'm… s-s-sorry for doubting you!"
Nepgear: "She apologized?!"
Uni: "She apologized…!"
Noire: "Stop repeating it! I was wrong and almost said something really horrible! I am not so conceited as to ignore my faults. But you two also made a mess. And Neptune is in pretty bad shape because of it too."
K-sha: "I'm sorry…! It was the only way…! I thought so at least… to defeat Miss Neptune… and to get rejected by you."
Purple Heart: "She forgave you and I was also in the wrong."
K-sha was shaking as she was moved to tears. From her perspective Noire really was a goddess in every sense of the word.
K-sha: "I'm truly sorry. This was all my misunderstanding. And I know that Miss Neptune was trying to help me. So I want to ask you one more time Noire. I know it's a bad time and Miss Neptune needs to get treated, but…"
She grasped her red skirt and gulped. Her face was covered in a fierce blush.
K-sha: "Please tell me honestly. Not in any vague terms or some excuse."
She squinted her eyes and faced Noire head on.
K-sha: "I still love you Noire! Please, will you go out with me?"
The atmosphere got stuck in limbo. Noire began to sweat.
K-sha: "P-please tell me how you feel! I will accept even a rejection, but please, please, please tell me!"
She stuttered and took a step back.
K-sha: "Will it be me? Or Miss Neptune? Please choose!"
Purple Heart: "…"
Now her shock meter exceeded the natural limit and measured on the planetary scale!
Noire: "I- but, why I mean- What? I c-can't just…. When you put me on the spot like this…"
She clutched her hands together.
Noire: "W-why did you bring up Neptune anyway? She doesn't think like that at all!"
She thought that she had found the only escape route. Instead of giving K-sha a straight reply she focused on the irregularity in the question! Her eyes sought support from Neptune.
Purple Heart stayed silent. And then she rose from the ground where she had been resting.
Purple Heart: "I haven't been the best protagonist until now, hm?"
Purple Heart: "A hero has to be kind when it counts. But even more importantly… honest."
She grasped her hurting heart. Wait she didn't have an injury there…
Purple Heart: "I have been neither around you, have I Noire?"
An almost subtle pillar of numbers splashed across Purple Heart and she shrank down a few sizes. Now she was just good old Neptune. Relying on her mature form for this wouldn't be right.
But that made the following even harder for her. There were people around, sure, but her overheating mind was blending out Nep Jr., little Uni and K-sha completely. Even on a world scale with just Noire and her on it she would still have felt like vomiting out her guts on the spot right now. That's how nervous she was. K-sha had put an unreasonable curse on her!
Neptune: "Honesty is hard. I understand how you feel now. Maybe I have been the biggest tsundere all along?"
She rubbed the back of her head, ignoring the sting in her chest.
Neptune: "Ahahah remember what I said at the start of all this? How only weirdoes fall in love with you?"
Noire: "Really now?!"
Neptune: "Don't look at me like that with your cute furrowed brows! I am getting to the good part now."
She grinned like she had just taken a course on mad mime method acting.
Neptune: "Turns out… I'm a weirdo. I mean that's been kinda obvious all along, but I'm really full-blown nuts. That is… nuts for you Noire."
Forget planetary scale. That pathetic shock meter got crushed and turned into dust. Noire's shock meter exceeded the limits of just this planet. Right now she was shocked on a galactic scale!
Neptune: "Wow am I blushing? I am totally blushing, aren't I? Maybe that was a little too direct. But I don't care anymore! Nowa, you totally maxed out my affinity gauge! Our Lily rank is level 11! You converted all my happiness stats into Noire points!"
Instead of lowering her voice and fading out in embarrassment Neptune instead did the opposite and added fuel to the fires of destruction and set the whole world on ablaze! If she had to burn down in utter embarrassment she would at least take Gamindustri with her!
These declarations were so extreme that it almost felt comical. But Noire had never seen Neptune blushing that much. If it had been a joke… if it had been just another Neptune prank… she wouldn't have been embarrassed. She would have laughed at Noire right now… b-but those wet upturned eyes with that awkward smile…
Neptune: "Sorry to say this at this point in the timeline… but I don't think I can settle with just being best friends anymore. Not that I was all that good of a pal until now anyway."
She scratched her cheek and looked into the cloudy sky. It seemed like the grey constructs were starting to part all of a sudden.
Honestly, there were lots of things Noire wanted to say right now. Like making a quip at how terrible that confession was. Or how she couldn't believe that she was confessed to twice in a row after all that drama.
But actually she was just frozen in stasis, completely unable to even close her mouth or eyes.
The shock was so strong hat she had literally lost her ability to speak.
She wasn't the only one. Nepgear and Uni looked like they wanted to be swallowed by the earth and just generally disappear from this place as fast as possible. Neptune could at least have chosen a more private place! A place more private than a remote crater region that nobody ever stumbled into…
IF: "There you are Gear!"
At the edge of the crater they noticed the brunette with a cell-phone in hand. Right behind her was Compa. They were blissfully unaware of the current state of affairs.
With hawk like eyes the guild member noticed Neptune's injury.
IF: "Nep, you are hurt! Compa go fix her up please."
Compa: "Nep-Nep! Ge-Ge! We are late."
Compa looked exhausted. They had probably been running all the way here.
Nepgear: "H-how did you find us?"
IF: "We followed Gear's trail."
IF jumped over a rock and closed in as well.
IF: "Hey… you all look pretty beat up. So we were too late."
Uni: "L-late? You knew about this?"
IF: "? I guess. Histoire send us to retrieve Nep and Gear. There is some trouble-"
She made a buzzer sound and crossed her arms in an x-shape.
Compa who was about to inspect her injury stopped in the middle of getting the bandages. IF tilted her head.
Neptune: "The plot can wait for later! This is definitely more important. Take a hint."
She was pouting.
IF: "I don't get it…"
Neptune: "You owe us an answer Noire! I didn't break almost all possibilities for the franchise to continue just so you could turn into an ice sculpture."
What? Why was she so cranky now? Was this… really Neptune? She was so incredibly emotional and shifty. This mood was completely new.
Neptune: "That isn't omni-speak or whatever our language is called."
Noire: "I'm… overwhelmed… no not that… I… you… but?"
She was completely hopeless. To be frank she hadn't actually processed Neptune's confession yet. Otherwise that pretty face would have exploded into pure red right now.
There was just one little feeling that managed to sneak into her vocal capacities.
Noire: "I… don't want to hurt you two… My precious… friends."
This was an unusually pure reply. Noire's brain was overheating, so only the truth managed to become reality.
K-sha: "I will never leave you behind Noire. Even if you never requite my feelings or if you start to hate me. I will always be your friend."
That brilliant smile was very reassuring. In the end K-sha was just a girl in love. How could she ever give up on Noire?
Neptune: "Do you want me to repeat all of that cheesy stuff again? 'cause I will! I don't have any shame left."
That was a different kind of reassurance… the scary type.
Her full red lips formed the next words in silence.
(To be continued)